For years, executive coaching has become increasing popular in Corporate America. Many CEOs and senior executives now have personal leadership coaches for both self-development and private counsel. But coaching MBA students while they are in business school was rare and more often done on an ad hoc basis by counselors in the career development center.
No longer. A greater number of business schools, from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School to Emory University’s Goizueta School of Business are now making individual coaching available to their MBA students. At Wharton, first-year MBAs can sign up for four one-on-one sessions and a pair of group workshops with coaches who raise self-awareness of their leadership strengths and weaknesses.
As staff writer Maya Itah points out in a story on PoetsandQuants.com today, whether that coaching is mandatory, voluntary, leadership-focused or all about communication skills, MBAs have been using it to zero in on specific self-development challenges, cultivate better people skills and map out career goals.
For the schools, it can be a costly addition to an MBA program. UT-Austin says it is spending $5,000 per student on coaching. Yet, as schools compete to produce the most polished grads, the trend is likely to spread. “Unlike an executive coach that might be working with the vice president of a company, typically that executive coach can’t be in the room and actually observe,” says Mindy Storrie, director of leadership development at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina. “The benefit of having it as part of your MBA program is that oftentimes, we can have that same person in the room.”
Much of the coaching at Kenan-Flagler focuses on molding students into workplace-ready leaders. By contrast, coaches at Goizueta Business School take more of a bird’s-eye view. “We really want them to find a career that fits with them and their goals—not only their career goals, but their life goals,” says Wendy Tsung, executive director of MBA Career Services. “What kind of house are you living in? Do you have family around? How big is your family? What kind of climate are you in?”
Few business schools have become as deeply invested in coaching as the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. MBA students there can sign up for as many as 60 hours of self-improvement coaching which ranges from how to negotiate a job offer to how to make a convincing and compelling business presentation.
A few months back, I was invited to be a fly-on-the-wall for a coaching session at Rotman orchestrated by a leadership coach working closely with three first-year MBA students. The MBAs had made it past their first round interview and written exam with McKinsey & Co. for a summer internship. Now they were about to go in for a second round interview with a McKinsey partner.
The person who served as their coach was well qualified for the position. Scott Rutherford, who teaches management consulting and integrative thinking at the school, was the first Rotman MBA ever hired by McKinsey in 2001. Rutherford spent four years in the firm as an engagement manager and has been coaching McKinsey consultants on the side.
The one-hour coaching session is less a rehearsal than it is an attempt to boost self-confidence. Few business schools have anything like it. As Rutherford told me, “I am not aware of anyone who is going to the psychological level of calming the internal self, which I firmly believe in and I know McKinsey looks for.”