Cutting Through The Noise: INSEAD & The Demand For Deeper, More Comprehensive Programs

This month, INSEAD announced the launch of a new flagship online certificate program called LEAD, its first 12-month online executive education program laser focused on training leaders to achieve global impact.

One lesson of the COVID-19 pandemic: There is no “new normal,” not in business, and not in the business of executive education.

The pandemic was just one in a line of great disruptors that have reconfigured everything from how we learn, how we work, and how we move about the world.

“I’d say that with all of the uncertainty we’ve lived through, there’s a greater need for leaders to be able to distinguish between signal and noise. There’s been a lot of debate around virtual working, remote working and leveraging digital during the pandemic and in its wake, and it’s hard to know precisely where to focus your energy and resources – and where not to,” says Charles Galunic, LEAD program director and INSEAD’s Aviva Chaired Professor of Leadership.

Charles Galunic

This month, INSEAD announced the launch of a new flagship online certificate program called LEAD, its first 12-month online executive education program laser focused on training leaders to achieve global impact in an increasingly complex and rapidly changing world. The program is longer and more comprehensive than INSEAD’s other exec ed offerings, and it comes at a time when more executives are looking for greater depth and flexibility.

“Where leaders sometimes struggle is discerning the real signals – the real trends and shifts that are affecting business. Since the pandemic, we’ve seen disruption to supply chains and with the geopolitical crisis, we’re seeing shifts in the way we source energy and the growing need to secure new points of supply. So there’s a lot of noise,” Galunic says. “And I think one area where executive education can really be useful is helping organizations scan the environment and assess what really matters strategically to them, and what is noise.”


LEAD is a departure for INSEAD’s exec ed portfolio which previously centered more on individual, specialized courses that could be completed in a few days or over several weeks. LEAD goes further and deeper, seeking to meet broader demand for more comprehensive programs focused on leadership and transformation. It’s also part of a larger trend in exec ed programs that mix delivery formats to maximize flexibility.

Exec ed’s online move began even before the pandemic. In 2019, most of the biggest players in the market had already ramped up their online offerings, going from a handful of traditional management classes to a comprehensive suite of courses in cutting-edge topics like AI to blockchain. The University of North Carolina’s Kenan Flagler School of Business, for example, offers nearly 30 online executive education courses, up from just one in 2016.

The pandemic only accelerated the move, with a slew of open-enrollment offerings in increasingly specialized areas at nearly all the major business schools. As pandemic restrictions waned and skies opened to travel, there’s been a bit of a reconfiguration. Not a reset per se, but a demand for deeper, more in-person opportunities–or at least the chance to meet up with classmates and faculty in real-time during live virtual sessions.

“I think there is more appetite for something deeper and longer, definitely at the moment. But the market moves pretty quickly,” Severine Guilloux, tells Poets&Quants. She is INSEAD’s Chief Officer of Marketing who helped develop the LEAD program as the former executive director of Open and Online Programmes.

For example, Wharton’s General Management Program is a series of six open-enrollment programs, including two electives, designed to be completed over the course of two years. Students can choose to do the program completely online, on campus, or a combination of both. A year-long certificate program at Stanford Graduate School of Business, also called LEAD, helps executives learn how to foster innovation and implement positive change within their organization. It requires two courses per quarter and delivers material in a mix of online and live virtual formats.

The table below offers just a small snapshot of other more comprehensive, blended format leadership programs at 10 top business schools. While not an exhaustive list to say the least, it offers a glimpse of both the breadth and variety available for deeper exec engagement.

“We have many people actually doing three or four shorter online programs, so that told us that executives were ready for a longer journey where you do a lot of learning online. That’s why these programs are coming to market, not only with us, but with other business schools,” Guilloux says.

“So, yes, there's a trend. How long it will last will, will the market go back to shorter offerings, difficult to tell. But right now there is demand.”


LEAD–Lead, Engage, Advance, Drive—will welcome its first cohort in November 2022. It expects about 30 students this year but will expand to a few hundred students over the next several years, says Guilloux.

INSEAD leveraged its existing strengths in leadership, general management, and governance strategy in developing LEAD and targets a different type of student than, say, its EMBA. That is high-potential managers, mid-level leaders and senior executives looking to accelerate both their careers and ready their organizations for the complexities ahead.

Severine Guilloux

The program follows a 4-3-2-1 structure built around three core pillars: Scanning and understanding the business environment they work in, reconfiguring their assets and resources to adapt to changes, and value sustaining for the long-term. In short: Sensing Value, Delivering Value and Sustaining Value.

After a live, virtual onboarding, students complete four core asynchronous modules with live touchpoints and both group and individual assignments. Core courses include Fostering Innovation in Age of Disruption, Strategy in a Digital Age, Leadership in Disruptive Times, and marketing financial analysis. Each is five to six weeks long.

Students then have two live virtual sessions to present their core projects, which are based on their real-life business problems they bring to the program, and complete three electives to tailor their program to their careers and interests. Finally, they have one capstone–a face-to-face experience with the entire cohort at INSEAD’s Europe campus that coincides with graduation. Throughout, students are partnered with learning coaches to help track their projects and network with each other and INSEAD faculty in a series of virtual meetups.


One important lesson coming out of the pandemic is that while online delivery will continue to be a requirement for some executives, a business school must be flexible. Some students still want to come to a world-class campus and all the advantages an in-person program offers. Others like the connection and networking opportunities of a synchronous, live online program without the need to travel. Still others, whether because of work demands or learning preferences, would rather have 100% asynchronous modules to beef up particular skill sets.

While it is 90% online, LEAD is INSEAD’s first product that targets the students looking for all three but with a deeper, more comprehensive experience than one-off offerings.

“There are many online certificates on the market, many are fully asynchronous. We wanted to have some live elements and on-campus opportunities to ensure participants do network and have a cohort feeling. That's the challenge when you learn online,” Guilloux says. “The value that INSEAD brings is the quality of people you can interact with.”


LEAD’s 12-month journey format allows participants to bring real-world business problems from their own organizations and work on them in real-time throughout the program. It has the rigor expected of INSEAD courses, but offers the chance for immediate impact of putting into practice the tools, theories, and faculty and peer feedback at their organizations.

“LEAD is unlike any other programme that we offer at INSEAD in that it gives participants the tools and frameworks in those areas that as a general manager, they need to be real experts. These areas go beyond functional or operational expertise or the leadership of teams. They explore broader strategic thinking … and the long-term value sustaining that fall under the purview of someone who is really leading a whole organization every day,” Galunic says.

“In a sense, LEAD hits the bullseye of relevance across the breadth of topics you might find in a business school or in executive education. It occupies that sweet spot in learning and understanding that sits at the core of organizational leadership, and what you need to become a truly rounded, integrative and effective leader of business today and for the long term. There’s no other programme that I know quite like it.”

Deadline to apply for LEAD’S first cohort is November 14, with the program starting on November 29. The cost is €19,950.


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