INSEAD Participant Interview
Learning to be vulnerable
Jason Le, Head of Scalable Acquisitions with Google’s Online Partnership Group in APAC, was looking for greater insight into his own leadership style. The Leading for Results programme opened his eyes to the power of empathy – and vulnerability.
Jason, what was it that brought you to INSEAD?
I wanted to change. And change is hard – particularly when it’s yourself you want to change. I lead a team here at Google and in my 2020 annual performance review, I had access to feedback from my team members on my leadership and personal style that revealed certain areas for improvement.
It’s vital but also very challenging to receive input about your style and the way that you come across to others, because the first thought is: how can I change this? Your leadership style is something that accrues over time and is underpinned by consistent and repeated patters of behaviour. It’s very hard to change because it’s about changing yourself.
So you were looking for the space and support to reflect on and improve your leadership style. Which programme did you choose and why?
Yes, I wanted access to the diagnostic insights, the tools and the space to disconnect and reflect on what leadership might look like – and how to empower others to deliver better results for themselves and the organisation. I chose the Leading for Results programme both because it came hugely recommended to me by a colleague, and because it was a great fit in terms of the kind of leadership refinement I was looking for. I was already very familiar with the INSEAD experience having taken both the B2B Marketing Strategies programme and the Business Strategy and Financial Performance programmes previously. So I knew the calibre of the school. And I was really looking forward to getting to real insights from faculty and from my peers in a safe and open space, guided by experts.
What were your first impressions of the programme?
The first thing you do is a 360-degree survey. And then you share your results with the class. I remember asking everyone not to ‘judge’ me and stressing that I was here to learn, but surprisingly everyone had the same reaction. And this is really key to the learning. Because you are with other people who are struggling with similar issues, but with different situations and stakeholders, there’s both an empowering sense common ground and ample opportunities to learn from each other. There’s a psychological safety there that empowers you to open up, to feel less lonely and more understood – and more importantly, to realise that change is not impossible.
Did you have any “Ah Ha” moments in the programme?
The programme leverages a really effective methodology that drives deep reflection: engaged reflection learning. And with the group coaching, break out groups and then just continuous feedback and assessment without judgment, you’re really encouraged to share your “intentional” self. The programme encourages you to embrace a certain vulnerability which is something I realised had been missing in my leadership style.
I think it’s common to put on a front and conceal your insecurities, when you are a leader. But the problem with that is it is not authentic. In keeping up appearances, or hiding your own vulnerabilities you can end up coming over as aggressive or intimidating. And that puts people off communicating with you – it hinders them from delivering the best of themselves. For me this was a real blind spot in my leadership, and the programme was just powerful in unblocking all of this. I learned it’s not just OK to show vulnerability, it’s actually vital to building trust – with your peers, your people and your fellow participants.
How did you find the live virtual format? Was it more challenging for you to learn in a virtual setting?
And what about faculty?
INSEAD faculty and coaches are just wonderful and endlessly supportive, both in the reading and preparation they provide, and in the education they give you. You instantly connect and build your network with your professors – your wisdom network.
What would you say are your key takeaways from the programme?
I think the main thing for me is that you have to show vulnerability to build trust. And without trust, you don’t have anything. Linked to that is empathy – and being truly mindful of diversity in the organisation. Showing empathy in a diverse and global team is really key and it has to be extended to every single member, from younger to older colleagues, to single people or working mothers. The likeability and openness that come with vulnerability and empathy are the levers that power networking, brokering, connecting people and delivering meaningful change.
For a long time I felt stuck in my own behaviour. But this programme has helped me find the way out. It’s given me an understanding of myself that is actually fantastic. And for that I am truly thankful.