Five Takeaways in Five Months of GEMBA

Laith Najjar

Five months into INSEAD GEMBA programme, I have been challenged from all aspects: academically, socially, personally, and professionally – all in terms of pushing me out my comfort zone and breaking those limiting boundaries.

Things like managing priorities, researching, managing self and group work, engaging with wider audiences, looking inwards, and unlearning things that held me back are examples of enablers in this journey.

It is this kind of pressure that allowed me to grow and challenge myself in times of discomfort, causing a mental shift in the way I approach work and life choices.

Here are my top five takeaways from the GEMBA experience thus far – having completed one-third of the programme:

  1. In-person time is precious

We, as a class, learned that seeing each other in person is not something to be taken for granted, which made the times spent on campus or socialising more treasured and appreciated - a basic supply/demand dynamic. Additionally, classmates dialling in virtually (aka Zoomers) hold a special place among the class, because you get to know a person very well for a few months, have several projects together, before you meet them in person (more like meeting a pen friend) - a distinctive experience indeed.

  1. Faculty and the career development team are stars

Hearing about the faculty does not give them enough justice, versus actually going through classes.

We have come across world-class faculty thus far, pioneers in their domains, with passion to educate.

The major bonus was their ability to blend theoretical concepts with (a) real-life application and examples (b) insights into how all of this translates into a COVID-hit economy. That helped participants to better relate to their jobs/personal life and retain information out of sheer understanding and relevance.

Personally, I am also getting great value by attending optional webinars and workshops (around two to three on a weekly basis) run by INSEAD, exclusively for current students and alumni – by having guest speakers, subject matter experts, or alumni interviews. This helped me link a few dots for my next career move and enrich my network.

GEMBA '22 Class Photo - Campus and Zoom
  1. Choice of electives is an important boost for your next step

By March 2021, participants are asked to select their electives for the summer module, taking place in INSEAD Fontainebleau campus in France. This is said to be one of the most exciting times in the GEMBA. My thought process while choosing the electives was to hone certain skills/topics that can be leveraged immediately or in the short term, to reap the benefits of applying them in the real world.

The wide array of topics to choose from for electives was so appealing, guaranteeing that I will return as an alumnus in future years.

  1. Self-initiation is key

The opportunities lie not only within the INSEAD-arranged engagements, be it classes, networking events, or workshops, but rather these can also be self-created/initiated given you’re part of a larger network of high-achieving professionals, always open and welcoming to a peer participants. People are putting much more effort into connecting, whether for group work or socially, given that location and proximity is not a barrier anymore with more adoption of virtual tools like Zoom or MS Teams. This virtual reach was one benefit that came into play as we progressed in the programme – especially as it became a primary method of communication in most people’s day-to-day in the past year.

  1. It’s not an easy ride

Being nominated as class representative for my section, I got to see the sort of challenges faced by both students and the programme team to make the GEMBA a success despite all the challenges.

The ability to remain flexible and agile were key in going around all the obstacles and unknowns of COVID, with the aim to ensure that the best experience is provided to the participants.

Additionally, as a participant, it required me to take my personal time management skills to another level to be able to meet the demands of the job and GEMBA simultaneously, which leaves you with a feeling of pride and achievement upon completion of each milestone – fuelling you to the next.

From a self-exploration perspective, there is a wealth of lessons I learned about myself. The most notable one was the entrepreneurial potential that I thought I never had due to operating in a corporate setup the majority of my time. In the spur of the moment, I registered for a two-day (consecutive 48-hours, with breaks) startup bootcamp for the fun of it, and by day two, I ended up pitching an idea in front of a panel and winning the first place along with my partners.

Overcoming self-limiting beliefs is something that is encouraged and applied during the GEMBA programme, paving the way to one’s aspirations.

It is strongly encouraging to feel equipped with the right arsenal of tools, network, knowledge, and community – in times of a pandemic themed with countless unknowns and turbulence. Cognitive dissonance is a known theory in psychology, that does not apply to my decision of going through the GEMBA despite the circumstances. I’m grateful for holding onto my decision last summer to make this experience memorable – in fact, it came out with many unexpected silver linings.

With eight months to go, the GEMBA still has a lot to offer!