The ABCs of the EMBA
The Executive MBA (EMBA) is designed for mid-career professionals who want to fill a gap in their top management skills in order to become more well-rounded senior leaders and executives.
Here are five key skills that business leaders can improve on or gain with an Executive MBA programme.
A company may have a perfect strategy, but until its management implements that strategy, the whole thing is just a story. That’s why executives need strategic foresight: the ability to think strategically, but also the ability to implement.
“Most companies believe that after careful strategic review, analysis and planning, they have a winning strategy. However, our latest research shows that 70% of companies fail to get what they want out of their strategic plan and that the problems usually begin with execution. The result of this is both organisational failure and individual stress and frustration, especially for the executives charged with implementation,” according to INSEAD (France).
EMBA programmes address the need to bridge the (occasionally wide) gap between strategy development and real-life implementation by helping professionals identify hidden traps, create tightly focused priorities, allocate resources, overcome organisational inertia, etc.
Technological expertise for a digital reality
There is growing demand for executives who can drive transformational change. Since this transformation is more than certain to involve technology, executives need to be aware of how it impacts their company and the industry as a whole.
Let’s take the banking sector, for example. Banks have inflexible legacy systems that need to be moved to the cloud if they are to remain competitive. In addition, they are playing a diminishing role in the financial system and are facing extensive competition from fintechs and Big Tech companies such as Amazon, Apple, Meta and Alphabet.
Of course, senior leaders in the banking sector don’t have to be data scientists, but they need to have their eyes wide open as the business landscape changes rapidly and dramatically. To address these shifts, many business schools are helping fill that gap between business and tech skills by including coding and data analysis courses in the curriculum. Queen’s University: Smith School of Business (Canada) teaches more focused subjects such as Big Data/AI and broader ones such as Digital Strategy and Execution. The goal is to address the new challenges related to “the fusion of the digital and physical worlds transforming existing business models and ushering in an unprecedented convergence of people, business, technologies and things”.
No leadership without integrity and humility
Although not skills per se, these character traits are indispensable for the executive of today. You can develop skills, but integrity is something you choose.
When asked about the most important attributes of an employee, Warren Buffett says he looks for three things when he hires people.
“We look for intelligence, we look for initiative or energy and we look for integrity. And if they don’t have the latter, the first two will kill you, because if you’re going to get someone without integrity, you want them lazy and dumb.”
When it comes to humility, some may think it has no place in the often-brutal world of business. Henry Kravis, one of the founders of private equity firm KKR, tends to disagree. “We live in a world of fierce competition and arrogance will kill you,” he says, adding: “The point isn’t to show that you are the smartest guy in the room.”
While you are unlikely to find a specific EMBA course titled “Integrity and Humility”, the idea is that these values are an intrinsic part of the whole journey. The ultimate purpose of the programme is then to develop not only highly skilled, confident and future-driven leaders, but to also instil in them a sense of humility and desire to empower others.
Communication is always key
The ability to communicate is one of the sub-skills of the leadership skill set. However, communication deserves special attention, especially in an age when immediacy and transparency are highly valued.
Communication today is much more difficult because there are many more stakeholders now than before. “Speaking convincingly to the concerns of varied audiences—knowledgeable and unsophisticated, internal and external, friendly and sceptical—calls for mental deftness and stylistic versatility,” Boris Groysberg noted in an article for Harvard Business Review.
Executive MBA courses help professionals become more skilled communicators and thus better presenters, public speakers and writers. Even presentation skills themselves are about much more than a strong slide deck. Persuasion and influence are powerful tools to be used by C-suite executives and should be reflected in all aspects of communication, according to Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania (US).
EMBA communication courses typically include multiple practice opportunities, video recordings of speeches, role play simulations and feedback. A course titled “The Leader’s Voice: Communication Skills for Leading Organisations” at Columbia Business School (US) taught in 2020 involved self-reflection and outward awareness to teach communication skills. “Self-reflection includes understanding our motivators, our current communication habits, and our leadership aspirations as to how we wish to be perceived. Outward awareness includes one-on-one as well as group/team communications,” according to the course description.
Leadership is in everything
The ability to lead people is of central importance for executives. A large portion of the coursework at EMBA programmes is dedicated to helping participants learn to be better leaders. Teaching methods range from individual leadership courses to coaching and 360-degree progress feedback.
When taught as a standalone part of the curriculum, leadership courses “are usually organised in thematic workshops (power and influence, negotiation, public speaking, stress management, team building, conflict resolution, etc.) that last one or more days and are taught by faculty, careers services or external consultancies,” according to GMAC.
As many of the professionals who enter EMBA programmes are already high-level leaders who want to improve themselves, leadership becomes an essential part of almost every aspect of the EMBA. One of the most useful features of these programmes is that they enable participants to apply what they learn in class immediately to their jobs. When they return to campus, they share what worked and what didn’t.
Another outstanding feature is the discussions with the other participants in the programme, which magnifies the impact of the learning experience. The EMBA class is typically composed of professionals with diverse backgrounds, so one problem is viewed through many different lenses and perspectives. In that sense, bettering yourself as a leader goes beyond a single course or workshop: it is the very essence of the Executive MBA.
Participants graduate with a better understanding of their talents and awareness of areas to focus on. Only then are they able to increase their impact and find their unique leadership style.