A Surprisingly Personal Learning Journey

Mohammad Janna

Human Resources Director, AbbVie

A recent coachee of INSEAD Virtual Executive Coaching

HR Director for Saudi Arabia with US pharma giant AbbVie, Mohammed Janna was looking for greater self-awareness. His INSEAD coaching journey gave him far more than that.

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To lead other people, you need to first empower them to open up and expose certain vulnerabilities in order to unlock full potential. And that requires you to open up your own vulnerabilities too.

This is one of the key takeaways that Mohammed Janna of AbbVie Pharmaceuticals has gained from Virtual Executive Coaching. A seasoned human resources leader, with more than 12 years’ experience leading high performance teams, Janna was looking for deep insight into his personal strengths and areas to develop in 2021, in order to better drive employee engagement – and align HR functional goals with business objectives.

“INSEAD has a best-in-class reputation across Executive Education and executive coaching, so I knew that I would be in good hands, going into this kind of deeply personal, transformational experience. I wanted the very best intellectual sparring partner with whom to explore and to improve my own self-awareness, and really pinpoint those areas to build on and improve.”

Based in Saudi Arabia, Janna found the virtual format of the programme hugely attractive as it provided instant accessibility with minimal disruption to his working schedule. The virtual experience also afforded a certain facility in terms of opening up, he says.

“Taking the programme online and virtually gave me ease of access and zero travel costs, so that was incredibly helpful for a start. But there was also just a greater sense of comfort. Communicating virtually makes it that much easier to open up and to be vulnerable, which is what you need both to be coached and to coach – and lead – other people. I honestly found the virtual aspect so much better than I would have found the on-campus experience in this sense.”

Janna’s coaching journey was an expertly calibrated experience. It began with setting out expectations and agreeing on honest and transparent feedback. There is a trust, he says, engendered between coach and participant from the start that builds immediate commitment to the personal objectives agreed.

“We kicked off the process by securing feedback from my peers, my reports and my managers to give insight into how I lead, and what kinds of priorities I should have based on specific needs. This was an illuminating and refreshingly honest experience built on deep trust, commitment and a good deal of bi-directional listening.”

One of the most striking parts of the coaching process, he says, is the acutely personal nature of the interaction. While your coach remains a “stranger” – someone outside of your immediate personal and professional ambit – the perspective, approach and focus are unfailingly supportive and positive. It is, he adds, quite a departure from the norms of day-to-day life.

“You can receive coaching from your employer or a peer within the workplace, and while that’s great and to be hugely encouraged, the focus will almost invariably be on the business – on the things you can develop to support the business. With Virtual Executive Coaching, it’s laser-focused on you as a person. And this is where real change can happen. As you focus on yourself, you enact the personal changes that can then impact the business.”

Coming away from the experience, Janna says he not only developed a greater sense of self-awareness, he has come to a better understanding of others too.

“Coaching helps you really understand the bigger picture – of yourself and your role, but also of how other people think and what they need from you. It gave me really critical insights into the strategic mindset of our business leaders, and the communication tools and confidence to lead conversations with the C-suite.”

Others have noticed this change too. Janna has been met with positive feedback from his peers, CEO and the Board of Directors who have welcomed new approaches and his renewed sense of purpose.

“This is an extraordinary journey. It’s full of surprises and it’s ultimately been a truly transformational experience for me and for my colleagues who have noticed the differences in my attitude and approach.  I would say that I have benefitted from every second of my time at INSEAD.”

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