INSEAD Participant Interview

Becoming a more effective senior leader with INSEAD’s LEAP:Leadership Excellence through Awareness and Practice programme

Mabel Yap

Director of the Professional Training and Assessment Standards Division at the Singapore Ministry of Health, Singapore

"For me, it’s this emphasis on personal development that makes LEAP unique. We were guided through a wide range of awareness exercises, which were helpful in identifying areas for improvement in our leadership behaviour." says Mabel Yap, past participant of LEAP: Leadership Excellence through Awareness and Practice

Tell us about your career path so far.

I’m currently the Director of the Professional Training and Assessment Standards Division at the Singapore Ministry of Health (MOH). I oversee medical and healthcare professional education standards, from pre-registration to specialist training.
 
I have been in public service for 32 years, since I graduated as a medical doctor, and subsequently specialised in Public Health. I have always been very interested in research so after a few years I decided to embark on my PhD study with Wageningen University in the Netherlands. That PhD project led to a revision of BMI cut offs for Asians internationally. I have worked in public hospitals and clinics, the Health Promotion Board (a statutory board under MOH), besides being an adjunct associate professor with the local universities. For the last 10 years or so, I have a series of management roles within MOH itself, helping to inform service planning and policy.
 

What drew you to the LEAP programme? Were you facing any specific leadership challenges in your role at the time?

About 10 years ago, there was a major review and revamp of the specialist training and assessment system in Singapore. It was around then that I was involved in this massive move, from a mostly apprentice-typed training to structured training and assessments.
 
It has been a challenging journey, to say the least. For one thing, it was an area that was foreign to me and it was necessary to educate myself and build up a team to manage the changes to some 40 types of medical specialties. The scope of work also rapidly broadened to include other healthcare professionals, and the entire spectrum of education (from undergraduate, pre-registration to specialist training). So the challenges were both internal, to build capacity and capability and externally, to change mindsets of many senior healthcare professionals, the mindset was: “I’ve been teaching medicine for 35 years – why are you now telling me what to do?”
 
So, I was drawn to LEAP as part of a general drive to “update” myself and develop my leadership style as I took up my new responsibilities. I wanted something that would make me both a better person and a better leader.
 

Why did you choose INSEAD? Did you consider any other courses or institutions?

I didn’t want to do a very short course or an MBA programme. I wanted something that was immersive but that wouldn’t take me away from my desk for too long. LEAP involved three bite-sized stints away from the office, spread over six months, which seemed right for my needs.
 
Also, since I have been in mindfulness as part of my personal journey, I was intrigued to see a programme with ‘Awareness’ and ‘Practice’ as its focus I hadn’t seen an executive education programme with that emphasis before, and it really jumped out at me.
 

What would you say were the main takeaways from the course?

Unlike most of my fellow participants, I’m not from the world of business. So it was reassuring to discover that despite our different backgrounds, we all shared similar challenges in our senior leadership roles. Everyone was united in searching for insights that went beyond the jargon about what makes a leader truly effective.
 
The programme focuses on both the organisational and personal aspects of leadership. It combines big-picture insights into leading change at an organisational level with a behavioural change process that is quite profound.
 
For me, it’s this emphasis on personal development that makes LEAP unique. We were guided through a wide range of awareness exercises, which were helpful in identifying areas for improvement in our leadership behaviour. To meet our behavioural targets, we were supported by sessions with a personal coach, and also checked in regularly with a smaller “home group” – which in my case was five people – to support each other in our practice and journey. We all came from very different backgrounds and the diversity enabled us to better understand the issues and provide out of the box suggestions. Sometimes, I think the home group got to know me almost better than my husband does!
 

How is what you learned on the programme helping you in your work and enabling you to meet your challenges?

One of my most meaningful discoveries revolved around the importance of listening. My team tells me that I now have a more receptive aura and that it helps them pay attention to me when I speak. I believe that’s because I now listen more to them. Rather than charging from the front, I try to lead from the side. I try much harder to engage and ensure I get a wider range of input before making decisions, rather than doing all the talking.
 
Having a home group and group coaching sessions that continued beyond the programme is also a great help. We keep track of each other’s progress, and provide valuable advice and cheer each other on.
 

What would you say to someone who is thinking of doing the programme?

I’d highly recommend it to anyone who has reached a fairly senior position in their organisation and wants to become a more effective leader. Bring an open mind and heart, and chances are it will be life-changing. It certainly was for me.

 

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