Prepare for a place on the board - MBAs Guide - Postgraduate - The Independent

Prepare for a place on the board

An MBA isn't the only option if you're considering scaling the corporate ladder

A group of senior executives are exploring Wordsworth's historic home, Dove Cottage, at Grasmere in the heart of the Lake District. They're being introduced to the unusual art of reflective management and part of the International Masters in Practicing Management (IMPM), a qualification more advanced than the MBA.

The course was launched 17 years ago and is run jointly by Lancaster University Management School and McGill University in Montreal, Canada. It seeks to address the challenges and cultural imperatives for modern businesses, as well as to prepare people for board-level positions. The IMPM has benefited from the renewed interest in board-level education and a rebranding that challenges MBA orthodoxy. "There is a general agreement that organisations have to manage themselves, not in terms of profit, but more broadly in terms of their impact on the environment and society. In the long term, this is the only way the capitalist system can survive," says Lucas Introna, the academic director of the IMPM.

The qualification's five modules are taught in Beijing, Rio, Lancaster, Montreal and Bangalore. "It's international, but it's local. We give participants a flavour of the business issues and the global mindset, particularly in emerging economies," says Introna.

Although there are plenty of alternatives to the MBA at the pre-experience level, with specialist Masters degrees in domestic and international management, there seems to be a gap in the market for board-level education – partly because potential candidates for such courses can turn to professional coaches or take executive short courses.

The 18-month IMPM programme resembles a global executive MBA. But Introna, a specialist in business ethics, points to a fundamental difference. "MBAs are essentially focused on function. They will teach you strategy, marketing and accounting, but students are not taught the practice of management. A good manager is responsive not only to the demands of shareholders but to society and the environment."

Another key difference between the IMPM and the MBA is that modules are taught not by function but by overarching themes, called the "five managerial mindsets". These are reflective, analytical, worldly, collaborative and action. The mindset approach helps participants think differently, so they gain new insights into challenges they face. Instead of teaching strategy, finance or HR in a series of silos, the IMPM talks about collaboration in strategic, internal and supplier terms. In Beijing, for example, the IMPM covers culture and history in the context of an emerging growth economy; and at Lancaster the course homes in on helping executives develop reflective management practice and personal authenticity.

The IMPM's philosophy, framed by its co-founder Henry Mintzberg, is that management is a continuously evolving practice that is a blend of science, craft and insight. As the author of Managers Not MBAs, asserts, the art of management is not something that can be taught by an MBA. "The IMPM is about doing a better job, not just getting a better job," says Mintzberg, Cleghorn professor of management studies at the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University.

A similar philosophy underpins the Cranfield School of Management's four General Management Programmes (GMPs), each of which is designed for a key transition in a manager's career. Programmes last between 14 and 17 days and are delivered either in consecutive weeks or in a modular format, with the intention of meeting the needs of busy executives. Unique to Cranfield's GMPs is the year-long relationship on all programmes. At review sessions held three months and a year after the course ends, Cranfield faculty discuss with each delegate how they are applying their leadership knowledge in their business.

On each of the GMPs, participants find themselves among a group of around 24 people of similar seniority and experience. They offer intensive peer review, coaching from experienced practitioners and exposure to business leaders who share their approaches to problem solving. "What makes Cranfield's GMPs different is that they are shorter than similar programmes elsewhere and they offer a very personal focus. We work very closely with each participant. There is a very strong personal leadership development component, contextualised within each participant's professional role and business situation," explains Dr David Butcher, director of Cranfield's Centre for General Management Development. The cost of the programmes range from £10,700 to £15,700.

The IMPM programme costs $55,000 (£34,550) and attracts between 25 and 30 participants for each cohort, drawn from a range of countries including the US, Canada, South Korea, Japan and the UK. The programme has a core of corporate clients, including Lufthansa, Panasonic, LG and Posco, the South Korean steel manufacturer. SMEs and NGOs are well represented, ensuring that the education experience covers all the bases.

To embed the benefits from the programme, companies sending participants are invited to set up "impact groups" – small teams of change agents within the company who can be mentored by the course participant. Members of the Lufthansa impact groups conduct regular "coaching ourselves" sessions on IMPM teaching topics, and are invited to participate free for a few days in one of the course modules. The aim being to spread and exchange best practice. "The big benefit we've found is that managers really come back with a different mindset and actively drive change in the organisation and put it successfully into practice," says Kristien Weidenmann, executive education manager for Lufthansa School of Business, the German airline's corporate university.

Lufthansa has been sending three to five of its senior managers to the IMPM programme each year since 1996. Weidenmann is a member of one of the four IMPM impact groups. "Our group is working on a project to boost the percentage for women in first-line management levels up to 30 per cent more than the actual status quo," she says, referring to the scope of the organisational impact of the IMPM.

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