One Journey, a Lifetime of Reflections

Vandana Ahuja

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”      
Carl Jung

Joining the Executive Master in Change (EMC) programme was a desire I had had for over two years. I first applied for the programme in 2017 only to be disappointed to miss the deadline by a few days. Though disheartened, my interest in this unique programme that blended disciplines of psychology and business education was undiminished. And so, receiving confirmation few months later from INSEAD enrolling me into the Class of 2020 was absolutely my wish come true! Undoubtedly, I was excited and ecstatic. 

I envisaged gathering tools and interventions from this programme that would augment my repertoire of HR leadership and consulting skills, enabling me in my profession to be a coach for executives in my organisation and an internal catalyst of change. What I could not imagine then was the powerful experience that was going to unfold during the eight EMC modules.

Little did I know that I was about to embark on an incredible journey stimulating deep self-inquiry and self-awareness.

My class comprised of 33 participants who were selected after a thorough pre-evaluation process to onboard participants who had a genuine curiosity to go deeper and beyond the levels of the conscious and visible realities and were willing to explore their “inner theaters”. The diversity in my cohort spanning 20 nationalities lent richness of perspectives, cultural contexts and tones making an enriching ground for understanding nuances that have significant impact in shaping individuals.

There couldn’t be a better ecosystem under one roof to tap into and leverage learnings stemming from such diversity and experiences.

My class had a near equal gender split making it one of the most balanced INSEAD programmes. The gender representation is vital and contributes to an equal voice on one hand and on the other provides opportunity to learn from context of the two key gender demographics.

As the programme progressed, opportunities unfolded through various learning tools – classroom sessions, group sharing that brought forth varied perspectives, insights from a culturally rich cohort, practicums and even simple “reflections” and free-flowing “associations”. 

I gained a progressively deeper lens, carefully guided by and navigated under the expert supervision of the immensely immersed and accomplished faculty led by Professors Roger Lehman and Erik van de Loo, that connected one’s self within at a fundamental level to understand 1) the drivers of human behaviours, 2) the impact of personal experiences through our life journeys that contributed to making each of one of us unique.

One of the significant breakthroughs I encountered in the programme was during the case study – a fertile ground for self-exploration, layered with discussions with one’s peers and faculty. The opportunity and fluidity of exploring what resonates most for oneself is encouraged in case studies, bridging theoretical concepts with real experiences to connect the dots so that the full image becomes clear. 

That was indeed how I uncovered self-doubt, insecurity, fear of rejection, exclusion at the core of the “perfectionist syndrome” which many of us are plagued with. It was like seeing the mirror inside out – suddenly from the perfectionist trait/personal attribute that people take pride in, to it being a vulnerability, was a revelation. 

From understanding at a deep level the origins and manifestations of this defensive mechanism I gained:

  • A valuable awareness and realisation that perfectionism is not “perfect”. It’s laden with maladaptive and dysfunctional behaviours which individuals exhibit in their everyday personal, work lives.
  • A finer appreciation for self-compassion (that many a times we perfectionists are prone to overlook while being acutely self-critical) and adequacy of being just “good enough” which indeed is enough. 

I have witnessed the positive impact of this self-realisation and its many benefits transcending across my personal life and my place of work: 

  • Appreciating the differences and uniqueness of others around us. Leveraging their individual strengths rather than expecting them to measure up to one’s self-created perfectionist standards can go a long way in enhancing productivity at work through increased motivation and involvement of people.
  • Leaders can find themselves liberated from the perfectionist syndrome and shifting their focus to results rather than dissipating energy to deliver perfection. In doing so they may also free themselves from micro-management and control-centricity which is often counter-productive. 

The EMC offers an opportunity of self-discovery that allows participants to take their learnings into as many different directions as they would like, and in doing so dive deeper to become more and more aware of the unconscious and its connect with the levers of human behaviour. This has the potential for profound and far-reaching impacts in one’s personal and professional lives.

One is encouraged and consequently enlivened to look “beneath the surface”, listen with the “third ear”, be empathetic, mentalise and in doing so develop a better understanding of others - their driving force, motivators and underlying behaviours. Among many others, this is of immense value for leaders in organisations who are at the helm of teams and define and drive organisational culture. 

A key proposition of the programme is the environment of psychological safety that is created by the faculty allowing deep introspection, emotional awareness and tapping into the unconscious to discover the underlying hidden drivers of complex human behaviours. 

The power of providing such a nurturing environment cannot be emphasised enough. This can have far-reaching impact that each of us is empowered with, if we can create this in our spheres of influence - at work and at home. 

I had the privilege of experiencing this in action at a workshop in the leadership series for the executive team that I’m conducting in my organisation. The openness and connection amongst participants that was created stemming from “feeling safe to share”, facilitated an unspoken bond, trust and the sense of being “one team” as never before, as was confirmed through feedback by the audience. 

This experience motivates me to think of the immense positive impact and results that can be accomplished within organisations if only leaders can create and nurture an environment that fosters psychological safety. The level of trust, collaboration and drive that can be created is not difficult to imagine. And the ensuing mental well-being and active engagement of employees that can be achieved is an invaluable asset. 

Invigorated by this thought, as an HR leader I’m encouraged to contribute in making a shift in the hard-wired ways that companies implement change, transformation initiatives delivering through templates, due-diligence of processes, whilst somewhat (unintentionally) neglecting the human capital aspect that is fragile during transitions and needs ever more assurance. Being aware of these nuances can contribute to taking steps in the direction that will hopefully make successful change endeavours in companies where success statistics remain rather dismal. 

And finally, the thesis and implementation essay provide further academic rigour to the programme where participants must synthesise their learnings and assimilations, and augment them with real-life impact.

This also lays the foundation for participants to take forward their learning into their (many) individual spheres and interests, and continue to create teams of well-adjusted and well-adapted individuals who are empowered to foster strong partnerships and relationships, making lasting positive impact for themselves and others.

For all of the above and many other valuable new-found lifelong lessons, I feel fortunate to have been an EMC participant. I would reckon leaders of today to partake in the EMC journey and gain insights of a lifetime. Thank you Manfred, Roger, Erik, the entire EMC faculty and INSEAD for providing this stimulating experience for life that reinforces “Becoming is better than Being.” (Carol S. Dweck).