What to Look For in an Executive MBA Program

How an advanced business degree can shape executive leadership
  • An EMBA or Leadership MBA that is flexible and takes place online is ideal

Sponsored by Seattle University Leadership Executive MBA

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 from the strategic perspective senior managers need. This approach provides managers with a comprehensive framework that can guide decision-making in a 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, Seattle University’s manager of executive education outreachfrequently 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 have a big impact on their company and its culture.  

Ideally, in additional to business skills, an EMBA program would also focus on developing personal traits like authenticity and humility which are the foundation for establishing ethical goals, and in modeling ethical behaviors found in healthy organizational cultures.  

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 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 priorityleaders 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 significant differences between traditional leadership training that focuses on tactics and techniques, and an experiential approach that focuses on self-exploration and real practice. 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 learnedIncorporating insights gained through self-reflection into a challenging leadership project can result in powerful, formative experiences that significantly change peopleExperiential leadership education has the added benefit of allowing students to fail in a leadership situation without jeopardizing their careers.   

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 greaterFrom that perspective, guiding students in the development of those competencies, particularly within a business framework, can arguably be one of the most important things a 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 lifeSmaller 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 power within organizationsan 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.  

Click here for more information about the Seattle University Leadership Executive MBA.