Personal Development - Henley Business School Suomessa

Personal Development – the strange case of the course missing from most of the world's top Executive MBAs

I’ve been curious to find out how central is Personal Development (PD) in post-experience management education. To that end, I’ve done a little desk research on whether or not top business schools talk about PD, reflection or reflective practice in their Executive MBA (EMBA) curricula. The results were quite intriguing.

I took as my sample the Economist 2015 ranking of EMBA programmes, the most recently available version as it’s a bi-annual exercise. Interestingly, the Economist website explains that “programmes are ranked on two broad measures: personal development/educational experience and career development”, which sounded quite hopeful. A closer inspection of what they meant by this, however, revealed a longish list of criteria for measuring “personal development/educational experience” that cover a lot of the usual quantifiables of who attends and who teaches in the institution:

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Nevertheless, it was a starting point and I thought I could dig a bit deeper by scrutinising each school’s website. I decided to visit all the top 50, looking for the words “Personal Development” on either the main landing/overview page, and/or the EMBA programme overview/summary page(s). A mention on any within this set would count as a hit, with an “unclear/ambiguous” option when it was close but not explicit (i.e. they all but say it). Next, I wanted to count how many had PD (or something equivalent) as a credit-bearing course or module, as opposed to a set of add-on workshops/services with no credit. Of these, I then looked at how many had made PD a core, compulsory course. Finally, I checked to see whether the EMBA course, curriculum or surrounding blurb made specific mention of the terms “reflection” or “reflective practice/practitioner”, which are key words to understanding our approach to PD at Henley.

Here’s what I found:

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So, the vast majority of these top EMBA programmes don’t mention Personal Development in their public sales/marketing, and very few see self-awareness or development as integral to the course. In fact, 86% of them make no explicit reference to reflective thinking. Although this doesn’t prove that these elements aren’t there, or aren’t addressed in other ways, it does indicate that PD is not defined in those terms. From my cursory survey it would seem that the majority of EMBAs rely more on promoting aspects of the programme dealing with strategic analysis, global business, networking and achieving ROI with “next level career” moves than they do trying to communicate the emotional, personal impact of going back to school in mid-life. Above all, and in just about every case, leadership development is hammered home as a major part of the course, and a key outcome, but this was nearly always in reference to reaching organisation goals, not personal ones. In many cases, EMBA websites had separate sections to cover career skills inputs, including provision of coaching, but these also tended to be about the external view of branding and development.

Is reflection actually missing?

There are no professional or statutory requirements for what the curriculum on an EMBA, or an MBA, should contain, though it’s a brave school that doesn’t cover pretty much what everyone else in their region does. It turns out that both PD and reflection are mentioned in the documentation for the three major business school accreditation bodies. For example:

“Reflective thinking (able to understand oneself in the context of society)” (AASCB, 2013, p 32)

In fact, AACSB has this aspect as an expected skill area for all general business courses (undergraduate, masters and doctorate), which rather raises the question as to why is it so uncommon.

Though it doesn’t mention reflection, the standards and criteria document produced for EQUIS accreditation by EFMD (the European Foundation for Management Development) does say:
“An essential function of all institutions of higher education is to facilitate the
intellectual, social and personal development of students in preparation for their
future lives as responsible and creative citizens.” (EFMD 2016, p. 29)

The third (and smallest) accreditation body that business schools may encounter, AMBA, gives PD a minor leg up in its guideline documentation, stating “(ix) encourage lifelong learning and personal development” as the last of its baseline expectations from accredited programmes (though, as with EQUIS, there is zero mention of reflection or reflective thinking anywhere in the document).

It is therefore encouraging that there are some UK schools and programmes that incorporate PD and reflection, including Henley in 36th position. In fact, UK programmes were rather rare in the Economist EMBA top 50 ranking, so an additional trawl of school websites from the UK might give a fuller picture. It could be that the discourse in executive management education in Europe is generally more inclined self-awareness as a core element than that dominant in the north American (US, actually) market.

This makes the development of framework and theory for PD a rather exciting prospect.

Originally posted on LinkedIn Pulse

Chris is Associate Professor of Management Learning and Subject Area Leader for Personal Development at Henley. He has over 24 years of experience in management education and training. Chris teaches on the MBA and runs corporate workshops and seminars related to management development in many parts of the world, including South Africa, central Europe and the Middle East. His research is focused on the use of Reflection in Personal Development in post-experience Management Education.

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