How INSEAD Produces Leaders Who Can Effect Change: Insights from Leaders in the GCC Region

Katy Montgomery

INSEAD is known as the business school for the world.

What some may not know is that one of our core values is closeness to the international business community. This means that we partner with the international business community to explore and disseminate management knowledge as we believe in the role of business as a force for improving people's lives. This is also why INSEAD has multiple campuses beyond the original location in Fontainebleau, France.

These locations include Singapore, Abu Dhabi, UAE, and San Francisco, USA. We have chosen these locations so we can have “boots on the ground” and be the first to know what problems businesses are facing in these regions of the world and the initiatives governments and organisations are taking through the vehicle of business to improve their economies, citizens’ quality of life, and global reach.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to travel to the Middle East and visit with prospective students and alumni in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and Dubai and Abu Dhabi, UAE.

The GCC consisting of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates represents some of the fastest-growing economies in the world.

To support further growth, promote safe and healthy communities, and increase awareness of the region a number of these governments have created ambitious strategic plans to influence and execute major change.

My conversations with INSEAD's current and future community members on these growth initiatives were enlightening.

This reinforces the reason that INSEAD has a physical space in the region. It is one of the most fast-paced and well-resourced business hubs in the world.

INSEAD produces leaders who can affect change effectively and efficiently. While in the region, I spoke to several INSEAD community members about change initiatives in the area including, but not limited to, Saudi Vision 2030.

Here are some of my takeaways for successful change from a range of leaders in a range of industries (healthcare, finance, technology, consulting, government):

  1. Change starts with oneself. If a leader is not self-aware and fails to understand their own barriers to change successful change is unlikely.
  2. Self-awareness includes knowing your triggers, realising when you may employ social defences to protect yourself against anxiety, and understanding the emotions you are feeling and why.
  3. When leaders advocate for change there is a fine line between communicating urgency which is necessary for change to occur and articulating the new opportunity as a threat which can lead employees into fight or flight.
  4. Thus, it is important to create stories about why change is needed that are relevant to the organisation’s values, ideals, and needs of followers. Communication should be colourful using emotional language that is specific to the region’s culture but also the organisation’s culture. This can include symbols, examples of how the project will be successful, and future visions that are appealing and inspiring.
  5. Everyone in the organisation should be able to articulate the same “story” about why the change project exists.
  6. Creating a psychologically safe environment is crucial to successful change. Organisation members should be able to ask questions, admit weaknesses, offer ideas, and critique the status quo.
  7. If a fair process is employed in implementing change, even members who do not agree with the project will eventually support the initiative if they believe their voices were heard.

Change is beyond numbers. Change is fundamentally about people.

The GCC region is experiencing and affecting change at an unprecedented speed. Leaders will need to understand themselves as an instrument of change and the role of emotions in change management.