Nothing Can Stop Us

Joao Costa

The GEMBA has been an unforgettable experience so far.

Recent times have made everything more challenging and at the same time more meaningful because all those previously trivial and taken-for-granted moments now become rare and valuable opportunities to create memorable stories and friendships.

It has been four months since the official start of the programme, and I have somewhat gotten used to this high level of uncertainty and agility!

We have completed two modules so far, the first in October last year and the second in January this year. Every module is an experience in its own.

In October we had a French lockdown imposed after our first day opening ceremony! So essentially we all met face-to-face for a couple of days in Fontainebleau and suddenly we were forced to "zoom in" for classes thereafter.

Did it stop us to learn and network? Not at all. It just made it more interesting and challenging!

Until just a few weeks before the second module in January, we had no idea if the campus would re-open. When we finally received the good news that INSEAD got the approval to open its campus, it was like the day when I got the acceptance letter – thrilled to know we would be learning and networking together on campus.

Nonetheless, not everybody was able to come, so roughly 10% of the class "zoomed in" - a hybrid experience. Did it work out? Oh yes, with the level of audiovisual tech on campus and the camaraderie of our class, I know the "zoomers" felt part of the family.

So my take is the following: great people make great experiences, no matter how challenging it is.  

At this point in time as I write this post, we have no idea if the next module in March we will happen in Singapore, France or "zoom land". You get used to it ;)

The most frequently asked question I have gotten since I started the programme is: "How is it? Is it as good as "they" say?" 

It is a very fair question considering INSEAD's reputation.

My answer has been: "No, it's not as good as they say, it is above and beyond what I thought was the very best."

Let´s start with the quality of the faculty I have met thus far: Theodoros Evgeniou, Vladimir Mares, Lily Hua Fang, Sharon P Katz, Ilze Kivleniece and Mark Mortensen. They are top notch, super high calibre, with incomparable experience in their domains and outstanding pedagogical skills. They are so good and engaging that the problem is that you want more and really it is a privilege to learn from them, albeit for just for a few weeks.

Secondly, for me a key plus point is the structure of the programme. On the one hand there is a very consistent flow and sequence between the different core courses and you see the implicit and explicit connections between different courses and modules – it just makes a lot of sense and the next courses build up on the previous ones.

On the other hand, the learning is super practical – most of the time we are working with real-life company cases with real-life group work and real-life executive colleagues – and it is completely up-to-date to the point that we discuss and learn about post-COVID related matters, real-time events and latest business trends. 

One of the biggest challenges I have faced so far is the work-student-life balance. Perhaps it is because it's just the beginning of my learning curve, perhaps I'm over-investing in the preparation for each module, perhaps it's just a challenging moment in my job or perhaps it's the personal part with a second baby girl on the way.

Or maybe it is a combination of all this. Honestly I don't know. But what I'm learning is that some things can go a long way to ease the pain: align expectations at home and work, activate and count on a strong support network, and beef up my stamina with the magic triangle: food, sleep and sports (I could add meditation but after many failed attempts I gave up!).

One of the biggest surprises to me was the speed of bonding with my classmates.

I would have never expected that so early on in the programme, I would have already developed such strong relationships.

There is a level of altruism, sharing and support that is difficult to describe. The empathy is high and, amplified by the pandemic, we always want to make sure everybody is alright. We're very supportive of our colleagues going through difficult times with their loved ones. The quantity and quality of friendships in such a short period of time is really unbelievable.

I must say I've never experienced this before, and it brings the learning experience to an all-new level because this journey becomes not only a lifelong learning experience but it creates a lifelong family and friends.

A community that will be there to help and support me and to whom I will give nothing less than my very best. I feel lucky!

We have also started one of the backbones of the GEMBA programme: the Leadership Development Programme (LDP). I confess this was one of the key reasons I joined the INSEAD GEMBA since I truly wish to improve as a leader.

I'm lucky to have had a few leadership, coaching and 360 development programmes throughout my career, and also the opportunity to lead large organisations "forcing" myself toT develop as a leader on-the-job. Nonetheless, I'm positively surprised with the beginning of the LDP journey thus far for two main reasons: first, we interpret the 360 degrees feedback "out of the office", in a safe environment where you can really open up and deep dive with no strings attached.

Second, the group coaching with a professional coach and with your classmates is a totally new experience. I had my first full-day session with the group and I think I've shared things about myself that I never did before, allowing me to go to a much deeper lever of self-awareness and understanding into why I behave as I do. This safe environment, backed up by a lot of insights from observers, facilitated by our very professional coach and with peer-to-peer feedback, made the experience eye-opening and a stepping stone towards my personal leadership development plan. I am now anxiously looking forward to continue this life changing leadership journey.

I guess this is it for now, stay tuned for the next episode!