INSEAD Participant Interview

Interview with a past participant of AVIRA: Critically assess your leadership style

Deborah David

Finance Manager of the African Circle Pollution Management Limited, Nigeria

"I’d say that attending AVIRA is like getting an X-ray of how you are as a senior leader. AVIRA will expose you to cutting-edge ideas, refresh your outlook and give you the energy to do more. It’s a truly remarkable experience, and one I’d wholeheartedly recommend." says Deborah David, past participant of AVIRA: Awareness, Vision, Imagination, Role, Action.

Can you describe your current role, and your career path up until now?

Initially, I trained as an accountant. Over the past two decades, I’ve honed my leadership skills via stints in senior finance roles at global companies here in Lagos, including KPMG, GlaxoSmithKline and Centrica Energy.

Right now, I’m the Finance Manager at African Circle Pollution Management Limited. The Nigerian Ports Authority is a leading client, but we also deliver environmental and waste management services to organisations across the oil and gas industry, as well as local and federal government agencies.

I came to the role in 2012 when the company was undergoing process change – some top executives had left under certain circumstances. It was challenging, to say the least. However, it’s been an amazing opportunity to help reinvent the finance function, rework and shore up relationships with clients and stakeholders, and bring everything back up to an outstanding level of performance.

 

Why did you decide to “go back to school” with an executive education programme like AVIRA when you’re already a senior leader in your firm?

I believe it’s vital to continually upgrade your skills if you want to be a productive leader who delivers great results. The business landscape doesn’t stand still. I wanted an immersive experience where I would be exposed to cutting-edge thought leadership, benefit from coaching and meet peers in senior management. Also, AVIRA takes place over just 5 days, which was the right amount of time for me to spend without being too long away from the office.
 

AVIRA has a major emphasis on self-awareness and reflection. Why is that important to you?

When you’re locked in a routine and working under time pressures, you can become oblivious to better ways of doing things. You don’t pause to appreciate new approaches or models.

Being totally immersed in the day-to-day also makes it harder to keep a grip on your long-term career goals. I was seeking answers to all sorts of questions. What’s my leadership legacy going to be? Have I accomplished what I set out to achieve? How do I unearth new potential in myself and move forward? AVIRA gives you the space to step back and assess such things from the perspective of a senior leader in an organisation. So, that emphasis on reflection was one of the central reasons I wanted to attend the programme.

 

AVIRA also has a practical focus, built around the concept of helping leaders close the knowing–doing gap. Was this aspect useful for you?

Yes, it’s one thing for leaders to see what the problems are in their organisation; it’s another to actually solve them. AVIRA focuses on this gap, helping you to isolate issues that may impede how you execute. Again, coaching, peer feedback and the high-quality input from the programme leader helped me to evolve my approach here. I found it remarkably effective.
 

Tell us more about how AVIRA helped you to develop your leadership approach.

I now use more “pull-power” than “push-power”. Instead of simply driving for results, I try to understand what’s preventing others from reaching their goals.

I must give credit to INSEAD’s faculty, who took such an insightful and holistic view of my background and development as a leader. I’ve achieved a lot in my life, but it hasn’t been easy. I lost my mother at a young age and had to look after myself. The coaching I received during the programme helped me to see that my attitude to leadership stemmed very much from “it’s up to me to solve the problem”, rather than “let me do this collaboratively and look for a helping hand”.

This breakthrough has influenced my personal life as well. I make more time for a balanced life now, eating together with my family around the table every night. Previously, I was so driven by work that this rarely happened.

 

So, how would you sum up the impact the programme has had on you as a senior leader?

It was transformational. I changed my entire leadership style, and that’s largely because the programme takes a holistic view of participants’ development as leaders, rather than just a narrow focus on business issues. Feedback from coaches and peers is followed by an opportunity to reflect on what you’ve learned, what it means for your organisation and how you’d apply it when you return to work. From that experience, I emerged as a brand-new leader.
 

What would you say to someone who was thinking of enrolling in the programme?

I’d say that attending AVIRA is like getting an X-ray of how you are as a senior leader. AVIRA will expose you to cutting-edge ideas, refresh your outlook and give you the energy to do more. It’s a truly remarkable experience, and one I’d wholeheartedly recommend.
 
If you are a senior business leader keen to refresh your outlook and to see the bigger picture for your business, visit our webpage for  AVIRA to find out more about the programme content.

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