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What to Look For in an Executive MBA Program

How an advanced business degree can shape executive leadership
 
 

Sponsored by Seattle University

In today’s economy, with issues like income disparity, climate change, and new technologies creating uncertainty every day in the business community, wise leaders are needed more than ever. As a result of globalization, not only has the number of stakeholders affected by a decision increased by an order of magnitude, the nature of those decisions has changed to include not just business, but social and political implications as well.

One of the best ways to prepare for senior leadership in this evolving environment is by investing in an Executive MBA. Unlike a traditional MBA in which students have an area of focus, EMBA programs generally cover all areas of business but from the strategic perspective senior professionals need. This approach provides managers with a comprehensive framework that can guide decision-making in pluralistic organizations and societies.

Given the choice, what should prospective students look for in an EMBA program?

Focus on Personal Development and Legacy

Kathleen McGill, manager of executive education outreach for the Albers School of Business and Economics at Seattle University, frequently hears from top executives that their company’s up-and-coming leaders need to further develop qualities like deep self-awareness, insight and empathy in order to impact their company and its culture in a significant way.

Ideally, in addition to business skills, an EMBA program would also focus on developing personal traits like self-awareness, authenticity and humility—all hallmarks of legendary leaders. These qualities are also the foundation for establishing ethical goals and in modeling ethical behaviors found in healthy organizational cultures. Moreover, they must be present in a leader who wants to inspire others.

In 2019, Outreach, Inc. was the highest-rated company (with 150+ employees) in Seattle Business magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list. CEO Manny Medina also won an Executive Excellence Award in 2019. The connection? While Outreach has gone through huge changes in the last five years, Medina has never lost sight of the big picture, stating that he is always considering the question of “what is the cultural legacy we want to leave?” When legacy is a priority, leaders are prepared to act as stewards of their communities and spheres of influence for the long term.

Leadership Curriculum

Most EMBA programs include courses on leadership. However, there are notable differences between traditional leadership training that focuses on managerial aptitude and proficiency and addresses the question, “What can I do?” versus an experiential approach emphasizing self-exploration and real practice to answer the question, “Who am I as a leader of others?”

Traditional EMBA leadership courses include textbook reading, lectures, and class discussion, all of which are valuable. An experiential curriculum is similar but also requires personal reflection, self-examination and application of what is being learned. Incorporating insights gained through self-reflection into a challenging leadership project can result in powerful, formative experiences that significantly change people. Experiential leadership education has the added benefit of allowing students to fail in a leadership situation without the consequences they might face at work.  

Examining beliefs and values also offers practical value. First, it helps professionals identify organizations with which their own personal values align, leading to long-term career satisfaction. Second, an articulated set of values can greatly simplify decision-making in complex situations.

But does this kind of training belong in a business school setting? According to McGill, it absolutely does. “Commerce and government are the two biggest engines driving economies. With the power business has to literally shape societies, the necessity for thoughtful, ethical, humble leaders could not be greater. From that perspective, guiding students in the development of those competencies, particularly within a business framework, can arguably be one of the most important things an Executive MBA program offers.”

Format and Program Features

While online programs offer flexibility, it’s hard to duplicate the intimate learning environment found in a live classroom setting. Programs employing a cohort model reflect the workplace where group decision-making and teamwork are a part of professional life. Smaller programs have the added advantage of allowing everyone to participate in class discussions.

There are a range of other features to consider in an EMBA program. Can the class schedule accommodate work and family life commitments? Are there entrepreneurial opportunities built into the program? What sort of mentorship or advising is offered to assist and support students? How much access do students have to faculty and professors’ expertise?

Because EMBA programs are intended for those who will wield influence within organizations, an ROI calculation should include more than increased compensation and job opportunities. While difficult to quantify, an expanded world view, increased self-awareness and empathy, and a sense of responsibility to use the power of business for positive impact are all invaluable outcomes to contemplate and perhaps incorporate into the investment equation.

For more information about Seattle University's Leadership Executive MBA program, click here.

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