BLG Leadership Insights Managerial Competence Political Competence

What Happened to all the Executive M.B.A.s?

Executive M.B.A. programs have been growing in popularity in the United States since its inception at the University of Chicago in 1943. Traditionally, they have been used by companies to advance promising internal employees whom they want to develop into their future leaders.

Over the past several decades, it was quite popular for a company to identify pools of “rising talent” and sponsor them as candidates for Executive M.B.A. degrees at various higher level educational institutions. If candidates were admitted to the program, a tripartite relationship would be established between the sponsoring employer, the prospective student, and the university.

For a while, the benefits of an executive M.B.A. have seemed quite clear. Employees can continue working in their present organizations while obtaining a degree similar to an M.B.A. at a fraction of the normal cost and time. Additionally, the practical skills they attain from the program can be applied to their positions immediately as well as after program completion.

Subsequent to completing the degree, employees aim to rise faster within their organizations and increase their salaries. Likewise, many companies are content sponsoring employees who return to the company with increased loyalty, thereby helping the company with long-term succession planning. The degree has thus served as a promising strategy for leadership development and retention.

However, a recent article from the Wall Street Journal highlights changes in sponsorship trends for executive M.B.A. programs. With tighter budgets companies have been cutting back their investments in educational sponsorship. This results in more students taking it upon themselves to finance their executive M.B.A. educations, leading to more mixed outcomes upon program completion.

According to a survey of about 290 member schools by the Executive M.B.A. Council, only 27% of executive M.B.A. students received full financial sponsorship from their employers last year, down from 34% in 2007. In response to fewer sponsorships, more and more students are using career services offered by their schools in order to open alternate doors for them, rather than simply returning to their previous or current companies.

In response to increasing demand, many schools are offering greater career-coaching services to assist their executive M.B.A. students find new job opportunities. The article sites The Anderson School of Management at UCLA and the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University as prime examples of schools that have invested in personalized coaching services.

But does the decrease in executive M.B.A. sponsorships and the emergence of more career-coaching programs indicate a trend we should be concerned with?

While such trends could seem indicative of companies being less interested in investing in their own human capital, the answer to this question really depends on what glasses you are wearing. From the vantage point of companies, it could just be that they have not found executive M.B.A. degrees quite as useful in practice as they seemed in theory. From the perspective of schools, it could be that they are simply responding to students who have been urging for them to provide more options of post-graduate work. Or students may now be more are willing to finance their own degrees knowing that they will be less obligated to return to a previous employer. The best we can do for now is to keep a keen eye on the trajectories of our most recent executive M.B.A students to see what paths they follow.

BLG Leadership Insights Features Managerial Competence Political Competence

Leadership for Entrepreneurial Techies

Here’s a myth that is widely believed in organizations:  The detail-focused, bottom-line driven entrepreneurial techies are repelled by anything that smacks of leadership training.  There is a feeling throughout organizations that the techies are put off by the tender underbelly of organizational life and that “managing people” really isn’t their strong suit.

But, it is time for this myth to be confronted and debunked.  The reality is quite different.

For the last number of years, I’ve been training high potentials in the technology industry in leadership. Not too long ago, I had the privilege of walking into a room of 26 such individuals.  Each ran their own business; each had a keen awareness of their technologies, market, and products; each is highly successful in their core business; each is a survivor of a competitive, rapidly moving environment; and each is defined by their superiors as a “high potential.”  But by nearly every other conventional standard, they have already fulfilled an impressive degree of potentiality.  They have already proved their leadership capacity.

My challenge was to speak to them about leadership.  What words of wisdom could I offer such an impressive group?  I couldn’t pretend I was an expert in their business, or knowledgeable about technology.  What I could do was to bring out the specific micro-skills—the little things that they do every day—and put them in a leadership frame.  I wanted to make them as comfortable with the notion of mobilizing and moving others as they are with their own technical expertise.  The men and women in that room were established leaders in product innovation and market penetration—but they are moving up the corporate ladder and further away from their technological home.  With greater responsibility, they will be challenged with mobilizing groups, keeping teams together, negotiating over ideas, and enhancing and engaging others.  These things are easier to do in a unit that shares a similar expertise, goals, and vision. These things are harder to do when trying to marshal support from more people—from different units, with different priorities, and different visions.

The old myth is that technological entrepreneurs have a lack of awareness of how to practice the “soft skills  of leadership.”  What I’ve learned over the last number of years is that high potentials who come from technology and are experts in the core business function are the first to understand that moving up in the organization requires them to supplement their leadership skills with the micro-skills necessary to move one’s agenda forward.  The challenge of any program for high potentials directed at internal, technical, business entrepreneurs, is to bring Leadership down from the mountaintop into the reality of every day leadership—that is, with leadership a small “l.”

Leadership On the Edge

Leadership Gaps Put Companies in Limbo

A culture that identifies and cultivates leaders is essential to firms that cannot afford leadership gaps that arise from unforeseen circumstances. Creating this type of culture is a challenge.

According to the Wall Street Journal article, Sudden Leaders Loss Leaves Firms in Limbo,  “Many managers don’t think their companies have a sufficiently strong leadership pipeline. About 39% said that their own company’s leadership pipeline is inadequate, versus 10% that said it was ‘robust.’ About 47% said their pipeline was adequate.”

Read the rest of the story here…