Three Years On – Reflections of an EMC Alumnus in a Changed World

It was a joyous day back in October 2019 when all my EMC Wave 25 colleagues and I gathered once again in Fontainebleau for our graduation ceremony.

When looking into everyone’s eyes, I can think of only one word to describe what I saw – GROWTH.  

For some this growth was deeply personal, enabling transformations of an individual kind that were liberating and empowering in the most meaningful of ways. For others this growth was more professional in orientation, inspiring work-related breakthroughs leading to business success.

But who knew at that point in time just how important the newly developed EMC skills and training would be in the months and years to to come.

It wasn’t long after graduation that the world changed. The COVID-19 pandemic shook the world and all our global communities, personal and professional.

Never in my lifetime did I expect to live through such an historical event and I’m certain this view is shared by many.

The feelings of helplessness, isolation, fear, uncertainty, and vulnerability were shared by everyone throughout the world. But through my lens, this is where my own personal EMC growth and development came into its own. The skills I developed through the programme helped me in profound ways and I’ll outline a few below.

Reflection

The ability to reflect deeply allowed me to make sense and contextualise the madness that seemed to be going on around me. I was able to see things in ways I would not have been able to prior to the EMC and to gain new perspectives about what was going on around me, with me, and within me.

Night vision

This skill allowed me to see things from multiple layers to get a better grasp on things that were happening at the individual, organisational, and systemic levels all at the same time.

Vocabulary

My EMC training and the theory that was covered during the programme provided a new vocabulary to discuss some intricate human dynamics.

This was particularly helpful in conversations with others to support and help them through the moments of crisis they faced through the pandemic.

My ability to speak about dynamics they experienced and then support with academic theory (albeit translated a bit for the average person to understand and be interested) was able to give others reassurance that what they were experiencing was in some way normal, human, and to be expected.

It helped them to embrace their own humanity and vulnerability – especially those who have been life-time high achievers or control freaks who found themselves somewhat powerless which was hard to cope with. 

Heightened awareness

Well okay, so this one is not really biologically related but more a result of having space in my life.

I specifically recall a day early in the first lockdown in the spring of 2020 when I was walking near my home and was overwhelmed by the loud volume of the birds chirping. It was amazing to realise that this beautiful nature was just outside my door, yet I hardly ever took note of it before because of all the noise that existed in the environment.

And this awareness extended to other humans as well, being able to be sensitive to things about them I was not previously, and to provide attention and extend more empathy when needed which only served to enhance my human relationship, both personal and professional.

I suppose now, three years after graduating from the EMC, I take note of all these things a lot less than shortly after graduation. Because being able to continuously apply the newly developed EMC skills and techniques are no longer a forced action because they have been integrated into my daily life and have become somewhat seamless to the way I do things and the way I am, as a professional and as a person.  

But on another level, three years on for my Wave-25 group has also been a rich and robust learning experience. Everyone in my cohort is still in contact on a regular basis through our WhatsApp chat group.

And at this point, I think everyone has come to really enjoy and look forward to the birthday wishes and messages that are exchanged among our whole group on a regular basis. In a way, these short birthday messages are a mechanism or medium that facilitates our ongoing and continuous connection with each other, which also serves as our regular reminder of the strength and closeness of our EMC Wave-25 cohort community.

That may not be the case for all cohorts, but for us it has been a meaningful bond as we continue to support each other with both personal and professional challenges.

One of the privileges I had personally was being able to organise an Alumni conference for my Wave-25 cohort which took place at the end of March 2022. Originally my intention to organise this in 2020, the year after our graduation, but things had to be put on hold during the pandemic.

It was such a pleasure to see how many people were so engaged and excited to reconnect in person after a few years had passed and, in a way, the conference also became both a container and an outlet for channeling our collective anxieties as well as a symbol of moving forward after the EMC programme ended.

It was a special three days for all who attended, and we even managed to connect with those who were not able to attend via some virtual hellos. My reflections from the Wave-25 Alumni Conference can be found at the end of this blog.

So, three years on, how would I evaluate the importance of the EMC programme?

Well, all I can say is that for me, it was one of the most personally moving experiences of my life, an investment that has paid back in ways that can be measured beyond financial terms, and an experience of growth that has changed my life for the better and also enabled me to change other peoples’ lives, which is a real dividend. 

For anyone who may be thinking about becoming a participant of the EMC, I encourage you to do so and if you’re still on the fence, I encourage you to go for it!  

Have courage and faith, you will not be disappointed. Have some fear and apprehension, these are human conditions, and you will learn how to embrace these and make them work for you.  

But most of all, have curiosity because, as I’ve always referred to the EMC in the numerous blogs I’ve posted on LinkedIn about the programme and my experience, the EMC is not simply a journey, it’s an ADVENTURE of a lifetime that will bring you a kind of wealth you simply cannot imagine until you experience it!

Very happy to speak to anyone considering embarking on the EMC journey, just connect with me on LinkedIn and please introduce yourself through a short message.

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EMC Wave-25 Alumni Conference reflections below:

The last time I had the pleasure of blogging about my INSEAD EMC programme would have been around October 2019 when my amazing Wave-25 cohort all gathered on campus in Fontainebleau for our graduation.

It's been a long time and the world has changed in ways we could never have imagined back then, but I'm filled with joy to be able to welcome about 25 members of my Wave-25 cohort to London today as we start our EMC Wave-25 Module 9 Alumni Conference this weekend.

We're starting with a private reflection for our alumni group, followed by an EMC Masterclass being delivered virtually direct from INSEAD in Fontainebleau. We then have the privilege and pleasure of networking with some potential EMC participants who will be joining us for the Masterclass.

We're all eager to share how transformational the EMC programme is and how it impacted our own lives. Mother nature has also given her approval with the beautiful sunshine in London today, so we can network on the hotel terrace while maintaining safe COVID protocols. I am very excited to get things started, only about 30 minutes to go now until it all begins!

Six months of planning has gone into delivering this weekend conference, but it's never work when it's something you feel passionate about and for people you care about dearly!

 

Day 1 of our INSEAD EMC Wave-25, Module 9 conference was nothing short of special. But to be honest, I was a little preoccupied yesterday shortly before everything started with how I would react to seeing everyone again. Time has passed. People have grown. And the world we live in has changed. 

We dove right into our opening reflections yesterday, no opening speeches or welcome messages ... just dove in with courage and anticipation. I was not expecting the reflection to be so intimate and intense right away, I thought we would build up to this through the weekend, but things didn't turn out that way.

It transported me right back to the first group session we had in Module 1 with my "mother group" members Beatrice, Evelyn, Rene, Sheila, and Thorsten. That session took place in June of 2017. How incredible it was to realise that the trust that we established back then and the psychological safety within our EMC group has endured.

It was such a special gift to me when I realised this. 

The Masterclass was impactful as we spoke about very current topics of things learned through the pandemic and the terrible invasion of Ukraine, albeit from a systems psychodynamics perspective. Thank you to Erik van de Loo and Michael Sheil for delivering the Masterclass, it made us all feel like we were back home in Fontainebleau. 

Today we start our peer learning, the heart of our conference where we share with each other how we're applying our EMC education in the real world to make impact in our own ways. Looking forward to all our sessions today as I'm sure something profound will come out of them, it always does, which is yet another gift of the EMC programme.

And also looking forward to being joined by yet more colleagues from our Wave-25 cohort who could not make it to London yesterday for various reasons. Sometimes disruption sucks! But it also happens and what's important is how we deal with it when it occurs.

I'm glad we've been able to be agile and improvise as needed so far. Let's hope we don't have to do too much of that for the rest of the conference, but then, that would just be boring.

I am glad we're continuously learning to embrace change and deal with it more effectively and productively as the days/weeks/months/years go by, a welcomed residual effect from the EMC, especially in these current times we are living in.

As one of my colleagues put it yesterday, we are feeling more grounded having completed the EMC, but the world seems to be turning upside down these days.


Day 2 of our INSEAD EMC Wave-25 Module 9 Alumni conference was full of useful and insightful information to help us practice what we preach.

We started with morning reflections as usual, and the day soon took a bit of a dark tone with thoughts and associations of troubles, issues, and challenges we are facing in current time.

We then broke into our "mother" groups to unpack some of what came out during the reflections and also just to reconnect with each other in smaller groups and strengthen the bonds previously established. Even after all these years, very personal new insights emerged for me and I'm thankful to my colleagues who gave me the space to explore some hidden challenges that were buried deep in my subconscious.

As usual, I shed a tear or two (or three or ten). 

We then regrouped and focused on some practical items with our first peer segment led by colleagues Bieke Teerlinck and Wissam Adib who shared their experiences of setting up a coaching practice.

This session was then followed by a segment by Paul Chater on the TILT leadership innovation tool he prototyped and piloted recently. It was a brilliant way to integrate and synthesise several EMC tools and concepts learned during the course as well some new bits.

The afternoon kicked off with a group-led session about collaboration to revisit a small network born out of our larger Wave-25 group and thanks to Marc Shonagen, Christele Galpin, Wissam Adib, Michael Walter, Renata Catalan Rodrigues, Paul Chater, Thomas Siebert, Ricardo Senerman, and Theo van Iperen for their contributions on their personal experiences of joining and in some cases exiting the network. If I've missed anyone I will edit this post and add their name here later.

It was an honest and heartfelt account of their experience of the network to date and their hope of what the future may hold. 

Colleague Beatrice Melin then provided a courageous testimony of her very personal journey through the EMC and how that impacted her self-perception. It was good to revisit some of the themes covered during the course and to make things real by discussing in relation to a real person and the dynamics experienced through the programme. She also introduced our group to a couple of new tools to be considered for our personal coaching toolkits and for self-development.

After a somewhat heavy and packed day where a bit more reflective space would have been helpful (some useful feedback for next time), we ended on a lighter tone with a panel discussion on group process and how six of us brought our EMC theses to life through the writing of a book that is currently in production and will be released early summer 2022.

Thanks to Liz Florent, Theo van Iperen, James Hennessey, Ricardo Senerman, (and myself) for sharing our experiences. Our colleague Fernanda Pomin was not able to join us, but she was with us in spirit and I hope we represented her well. 

Time to start day 3. Let the learning continue.

Day 3 of our INSEAD EMC Wave-25 Module 9 Alumni conference did not go to plan. The tension that built up from the day before necessitated some movement and flexibility, so we tried our best to accommodate this.

I was grateful for those in our group who cared enough to give me feedback and also to the entire group who adapted in real time and showed compassion and understanding when things turned a bit pear shaped.

I personally learned many key lessons through the day, and I will post a separate reflection about these once I've had the time to gather and organise my thoughts.

We started the day with our usual opening reflections, and this was followed by our planned session by colleagues Thorsten Selmaier and Isil Dedeoglu who facilitated a discussion about their own transition experiences and the courage needed to change the paths they were on.

The conversation was enriched by the contributions of the entire group sharing what could have made the transition experience safer and less overwhelming once the EMC programme finished. It was a helpful conversation that served a valuable purpose.

A recurring theme through the discussion was psychological safety and we spent some time discussing the value this has for so many different kinds of situations.

And we learned as a group that in order to create this safety, it's also important to level set with a common definition of psychological safety that aligns all our expectations.

We didn't solve this of course, but we'll work on this over time as a group to determine a relevant definition for our Wave 25 community.

When we had some space to explore unplanned topics, our community used the time to brainstorm about how we could carry on this tradition and set our sights to planning Module 10.

We used the learning from the previous day to start to think about how things could be done differently next time and constructively build on what was started as an experiment this past weekend.

I felt both joy and pride when this happened and my association at that moment was of passing the baton in an athletics relay and better yet, passing on a torch as is done during the Olympics. Yes, that's a better association because I really felt that there was an appetite to work together to find a way for these gatherings to endure well into the future.

And things were put into action with the agreement of a date and location for Module 10. At that moment the image in my mind was of breaking through a barrier of some sort - I guess it may have related to the barrier of the elusive Module 9, but now we were already thinking about Module 10. Let's see what the future holds but it was a good feeling.

We ended our alumni conference with a surprise virtual appearance by Roger Lehman, our Wave 25 course director. It was the perfect way to bring our gathering to a close and a wonderful reminder of the transformational experience we all had through the EMC and now, even beyond. 

It's been about 1.5 weeks now since our INSEAD EMC Wave 25 Alumni conference wrapped up and I've had a chance to gather my thoughts for my own personal closing reflection of what I experienced. I'll sum it up in three points.

The first point is about leaders having the capacity to contain. This can be about hopes, fears, ambitions, expectations, anxieties, and a whole host of other inner dynamics that we as humans carry around within us at all times.

When I organised the conference to welcome all my peers to London, I had not even thought of this being part of my role as I stood in front of the room for the welcome address.

But I realised as the day went on that there was an unspoken expectation that this was a role I play and to be honest, I'm not sure I was prepared for that, and I certainly didn't plan for that.

In an organisational and group dynamic context it reminded me that leaders must be agile and ready for the role they have prepared for, as well as the roles they have not in order to get the best out of the groups they work with.

The second point is about the creation of safe space. This is much spoken about these days in the world of work, and especially on LinkedIn, at least within my network that is.

Creating safe space is critical to generating creative innovation, inclusion and belonging, personal and group productivity, and most of all trust among group members. Without these, no one can be their authentic selves, good or bad, and there will always be hidden challenges that hold the group back from achieving its full potential.

The trust that's established has another benefit that I witnessed during our conference, it makes the experience more meaningful for the people involved.

And finally my third point, an extension of the concept of safe space creation, is that leaders also have to play the part of preserver of psychological safety.

As noted above, a lot is said about creating safe space, but is it now time to take the conversation forward and start to explore how, once that safe space is created, what can and needs to be done to PRESERVE the psychological safety over time?

I noticed this as roughly 2.5 years had passed since my group all saw each other last, and I could tell there was some mild apprehension and perhaps even a bit of scepticism that the psychological safety that was created among our group so long ago would endure in the present.

Through my lens this was a collective group dynamic, an early subconscious culture of the group so to speak. But it didn't take long for us to realise that the safety remained, however we had to work at it, and will continue to do so as a group, in order to improve it over time.