International immersion fosters agility among insurance leaders

An immersion into different cultures is giving senior leaders from the South African insurance industry an opportunity to expand their world view and develop the skills they need to address the complexities and challenges of operating in a post-pandemic business environment.

A group of 20 senior leaders from local insurance companies touched down in India on Saturday 25 March on the first leg of an intensive international immersion to India, Malaysia and Singapore. The delegates are all participants in the Insurance Sector Education and Training Authority (INSETA) International Executive Development Programme (IEDP), a Postgraduate Diploma in Management Practice (PGDip), custom-designed by Henley Business School Africa in partnership with the INSETA.

The purpose of the PGDip, an NQF 8 level qualification, is to equip business leaders with new skills to navigate the many challenges facing the insurance industry. According to Gugu Mkhize, Chief Executive Officer at the INSETA, the industry has been shaken up by the COVID-19 pandemic and other key trends, demanding more of leaders in the space.

“Whether it is the continuing digital revolution, regulatory changes, cyber security, product development and innovation, or expanding global markets, our current environment requires a constant state of innovation and in order for companies to continue succeeding insurance leaders must be able to handle any curveballs thrown their way,” she says.

Immersion in difference

It is for this reason that agile leadership, which increases leaders’ situational awareness and adaptability in complex, quickly changing environments, is a key focus of the IEDP programme.

“Agility not only promotes high-speed decision-making, but it also fosters higher productivity and performance levels,” says Linda Buckley, Executive Education Director and Head of Learner Experience at Henley Business School Africa. “More agile leaders are generally capable of seeing more options, engaging stakeholders more collaboratively, and making more informed decisions.”

Buckley says that the inspiration behind the international immersion element of the programme was to expose delegates to different contexts and allow them to explore the insurance industry in substantively different markets to the ones in which they operate, giving them a previously unexplored perspective on life, work and business in foreign environments that they can then link to their own contexts when they return to South Africa.

The delegates’ first stop was India, a leading emerging economy, followed by a visit to the Henley campus in Malaysia. The trip concludes this week with a stop in Singapore, a highly developed economy.

Coping with complexity

“A global perspective is needed in South Africa now more than ever. With the many complexities we operate in as human beings, leaders find themselves in a space where they need to unlearn, relearn and learn faster than ever before,” says Buckley,

“At Henley our focus is on the individual and it is important to design experiences such as this immersion with the delegates in mind, and with the understanding that foreign or different experiences might create discomfort and uncertainty. As leaders these are emotions that we need to become aware of so we can manage ourselves effectively,” she says.

Programme director Gené van Heerden adds that Henley believes that transformation happens in the mind, heart and hands of the individual. “And when you immerse yourself in contexts that are different to what you know and challenge yourself to better understand your own emotions and feelings, and learn how to navigate through these, you may find yourself in a better position to open yourself up to important shifts that need to happen.”

When designing this international immersion Henley took as its starting point INSETA's vision – ‘to develop a transformed leadership potential to respond to rapid and complex industry change with agility and a positive, innovative, visionary mindset’.

Dean and director of Henley Africa, Jon Foster-Pedley says that this kind of partnership is at the heart of the business school’s approach. “Working together, we can do more. We value our learning partnerships with corporate and government partners such as INSETA because through deep collaboration we can create better outcomes,” he says.

“At Henley we are passionate about the people who pass through our programmes and it is fulfilling to work with learning partners such as INSETA who are committed, as we are, to building the people who build the businesses that build Africa.

“We want to challenge delegates to think and act differently because of the opportunity they see by applying empathy and integrating that into the depth of understanding and experience they each have about their industry, to create a mindset of possibility and innovation.”

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