“Being a leader isn’t just about doing something well technically"

Alexandre Devulder

Past participant of Executive Presence and Influence

Alexandre Devulder is Head of Field Sales Operations with one of the world’s foremost consumer electronics manufacturers.

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Alexandre Devulder is Head of Field Sales Operations with one of the world’s foremost consumer electronics manufacturers. It’s his job to coordinate an external sales force that sells his company’s products in Germany , and to address all the training and support needs of this team. For Devulder this constitutes something of a new challenge. Prior roles in his company have been internally focused, and leading a team that sits outside the organisation and includes large numbers of contractors is anything but easy. For a start, there’s the question of how to motivate someone who isn’t a direct report.

“I’ve been with my company for twenty years and making this kind of transition with external workers is fraught with new challenges. How do you engage people outside of your formal reporting structure? How do you know that they have what they need to feel motivated and to want to make that discretionary effort and take those risks on your behalf?”

In this new role, a position he has held for the last two and half years, there’s been a continuous need to learn, he says. And it’s this very need that brought him to the INSEAD Executive Presence and Influence programme in 2022.

“I know INSEAD very well. I’ve already taken programmes at the School so I’m aware of the quality of the learning. So when my manager and I reviewed my performance and pinpointed some additional needs in terms of motivating people, I automatically looked at this programme.”

For Devulder, INSEAD was a trusted learning partner and one that could provide the external and diverse perspectives on leadership development that he needed. He was also intrigued by the action learning project (ALP) element – and keen to see how he could apply the learning in real time and with tangible results as he progressed through the programme.

“Here was a learning experience that was online and therefore gave me the flexibility to work and learn simultaneously. But the ALP dimension would also give me a chance to leverage new approaches and ideas and apply them along the way, recording the impact and the success to see what was working for me.”

Going into the programme, Devulder was surprised by the quality of interactivity afforded between himself, faculty and peers. Study groups within the cohort, interactive forums, question boards, and ongoing feedback from his fellow participants made it feel as though he were “in the classroom at all times,” he says. There was no barrier between himself and the learning. Then there was his ALP experience.

“The whole thing was just so fluid. We were challenged to make videos of ourselves and share them with the cohort for insights and feedback that felt immediate and motivating, so much so that it felt like we were face-to-face,” he says. “The ALP was a really huge highlight though. I’d already decided what I wanted to focus on ahead of starting the programme so I was able to bring this to my learning and think ahead about how I would use techniques and tools going forward.”

For Devulder, one individual in his external team represented something of a personal challenge: he wanted to really improve communications and relations with this person who had a history of undermining his results and methods.

“Through the programme and with the ALP, as I worked with my coach, I realised that I had to turn it around with this individual and bring greater emotion and more story-telling to our interaction to build warmth. I also really understood the power of vulnerability – of being open about those moments that you don’t hold all the answers – in order to build a more collaborative working relationship.”

This understanding informed one of the greatest ‘Aha’ moments of the learning experience, says Devulder; the knowledge that influence and engagement hinge not only on professional and technical competence, but also on warmth and trust.

“Being a leader isn’t just about doing something well technically, it’s also about making people feel something positive. Professor Andy Yap said it really well: it’s less about what you say and do and more about how you make people feel.”

Coming out of the programme, Devulder says that he is implementing these kinds of breakthrough insights to real effect and tangible impact in his work. He is starting to see the fruits of these efforts, and the improvements have also been noticed by his own managers. As he applies new techniques, he is achieving results, he says.

“A recent meeting resulted in my recommendations being taken forward and a lot of positive recognition from my bosses.”

That being said, he is conscious that the learning journey is far from over. The “real learning” begins, in fact, when you leave the programme.

“I have continuous feedback sessions with my manager to review how things are progressing. A recent meeting revealed that in some instances my communication is more preventive than motivational. So I went back to the learning and tried a new approach. The impact of the programme is continuing to unfold in this sense.”

So powerful has Devulder’s experience with INSEAD been to date, he says, that he now plans to take another, INSEAD’s Lead the Future programme – it will be his fifth programme at INSEAD.

“Leadership is a journey and you never stop learning. Going to INSEAD is a really exciting and entertaining way to keep moving forward. The programmes here are different, they’re inspirational. And they give you that chance to step back and think; to stop and make new associations so that you find solutions that might otherwise be beyond your reach.”

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