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INSEAD executive education column

What business leaders really think of executive education



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Matthew Ensor, business director (advisory services) at Beca, and an alum of INSEAD executive education, explains what happened when he found himself eager to grow his skill sets to the next level. 

Asia’s rise has created unique opportunities for both foreign and local companies. However, these come in a environment that forces leaders to become comfortable with uncertainty and define strategies that work at home, regionally and globally.

In responding to this landscape, companies haven’t lost sight of the need to enhance the skill sets of existing executives. After many years as a leader, this was a position I found myself in.

I asked myself how I could achieve the growth required, and realised executive education programmes have become an effective tool in grooming high-potential candidates for leadership roles.

It was also clear that both companies and executives need considerable return on their investments – particularly when an organisation wants the results, but is unfamiliar or inexperienced with the process.

Stepping stones

Having been one of the first executive education participants in my company’s 95-year history, the uncertainty both on my part and within my company was high.

There were considerable expectations on my shoulders to show that the investment would be worthwhile – even if what I was expected to deliver was unclear at the time.

I encountered some challenges early in the process.

To begin with, you only have one chance at choosing the right programme, and it is vital to select the right course at the right business school and – almost most importantly – at the right time in your career.

Each school has a unique teaching approach that will resound with different people, which makes research important.

You only have one chance at choosing the right programme, and it’s vital to select the right course at the right business school and, at the right time in your career.

I chose to complete my programme at INSEAD, having found their philosophy that business can be a force for good agreeable with my personal outlook.

I also had to bring four separate elements together: a scholarship by the New Zealand government; demonstrating a fit between executive education and my career plan; securing the buy-in of my company’s CEO and MD; and ensuring the support of my family.

I can confidently say I was able to bring these together, but only through careful planning.

My experience delivered on honing existing skills, teaching new ones and creating opportunities to absorb best practice from fellow executives.

Personally, I was interested in learning how I could scale my role across Asia, and I was pleased to learn international best practice that I could take back to my company.

Despite scepticism, I came away with a strong belief that great global leadership can indeed be taught.

ALSO READ: How to perform a skills audit

Hard vs soft benefits

However, executive education can also help individuals achieve so much more than tangible, ‘hard’ benefits.

It not only changed my approach towards business – putting into a new context everything I had done in my career – but also addressed aspects of my personality that I never would have otherwise seen reason to adjust.

I came away with the tools to understand any situation that comes my way, as well as the confidence to use these tools. This new-found self-belief means I always know where to start, regardless of the threat or opportunity at hand.

My underlying approach to decision-making was also influenced.

Where my preference had always been to make business decisions based on all the information I could find, it was emphasised that with moving up the ladder comes a need for making decisions quickly and intuitively, perhaps with conflicting or ambiguous information.

The true discovery was that many executives make those intuitive decisions heavily based on their past experiences, and I was able to improve my instincts on how business works, so that I can make better ‘quick’ decisions for my company.

Longer term effects

For perhaps the first time, I had been opened up to honest, unabridged feedback, receiving coaching from both my professors and fellow participants.

This candid approach showed me where I could improve to get more from myself and those around me – both of which ultimately benefit my company.

It also gave me confidence in my potential as a leader through being able to benchmark myself against other world-class executives.

I was able to improve my instincts on how business works, so that I can make better ‘quick’ decisions for my company.

The impact continues to be felt every day. My organisation conducts complex projects that span several countries and cultures, which I can now approach with the skills I learned around effective cross-cultural collaboration.

I am also now directly tasked with infusing these skills throughout the business.

Executive education may be an investment of both time and finances for HR departments, but all good things start with investment.

The reward from this investment is an ability to more effectively and quickly break down the uncertainty of change, keeping the company or individual ahead of the market and competing entities focused on doing more of the same.

This alone represents a return of several times over the original investment in an executive development programme, and one that will be felt for decades to come.

Image: Shutterstock



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