Virtually everyone agrees that ongoing education is essential in the pursuit of career success. That said, there are a number of questions confronting today’s managers and executives regarding their own education:
• How much education does a successful executive need today?
• Should all business executives pursue an MBA?
• Is an advanced degree worth the time and money that will need to be expended?
• Should they seek education through traditional or non-traditional methods?
• What are the most effective processes for assuring continuous learning?
The answer to each of these questions is, “it depends” on where you are in your career path, whether you are satisfied with that path, and where you want that path to lead. Three keys to making sound decisions regarding your own education are:
1. Your Purpose
YOUR PURPOSE: The key here is to begin with the end in mind. Acclaimed business author, Clayton Christensen, asks the poignant question, “How will you measure your life?” When you have discovered the answer to this, educating yourself to that end will become your mission. This is a critical element in answering questions regarding education for every manager, executive, or aspiring executive. Why? Because education should be relevant to your personal purpose in life—and correspondingly—in your career.
RELEVANCE: Relevance simply means that you have assessed what it will take to develop the skills and attributes to achieve your purpose. To truly achieve relevance, one must generally take some time to study others who have successfully navigated the path to success for that purpose. While this is the beginning of the education process, the goal here is to identify how these role models educated themselves—and to consider how to use those insights in developing your own education plan. As you consider the path taken by others, be sure to continually ask yourself, “How do their paths—and the steps within them—correlate with my purpose? Does it truly pass the test of relevance for me?” As important as role models are, this is about you—and no one else!
COMMITMENT: When your life and career purposes are clear and your education plan meets the standard of relevance, the issue of commitment must be addressed. Commitment is a function of cost versus benefit. Having met the standard of relevance, the benefits of your education plan should be clear. However, this doesn’t mean that you are committed to that plan. True commitment will come when you have counted the costs, in terms of dollars, time and effort. An MBA today, for example, will often cost upwards of $70,000, will require 2-3 years of study (either in a full-time or evening/weekend course format), and will demand significant, intense study and preparation. It will cut substantially into your time for other pursuits, including family, recreation, and community. The benefits may seem clear and very relevant to your purpose, but are you fully prepared to pay the cost to enjoy those benefits? If not, you are not committed!
One of the important costs to be considered in executive education is waste. This is closely related to both the concepts of relevance and commitment. If the education plan you decide upon does not closely correlate with what you need to learn to be successful in fulfilling your purpose, it has waste in it. It is a defective plan because it includes too many elements that don’t fit your needs. Too often, curriculum-based platforms (including MBA programs) include courses that have no direct value in relation to one’s purpose. Because the challenge of such programs is to provide a broad-based array of courses to meet the needs of the masses, some waste is inevitably a natural effect. There may be 30 courses to be taken and passed over a two-year period, of which only a third are really relevant to your personal purpose.
This speaks to the importance of educational effectiveness, but it is also important to understand that education should also be efficient. It is increasingly important for executives and managers to be able to “learn in the moment of need.” In the course of our daily work lives, we regularly find our understanding of a given issue or subject is inadequate. We don’t have the time to “go back to school.” Indeed, we often even have too little time to read a book or research the subject. With the advent of the internet, we increasingly expect our answers to come almost in “real-time” through Google or Wikipedia. Our attitudes have shifted significantly; anything slower than “right now” seems inefficient.
This sense of inefficiency bites us in other ways as well. If coursework requires travel to a campus or other venue, this may prove to be less efficient than doing online studies. However, the loss of face-to-face discussion with others may make such a time investment well worth it. Other time issues that must be considered as potential waste are the necessity for writing papers, taking quizzes and exams, and other normal processes used in traditional educational environments. These may be very appropriate, or you may find them to be “necessary evils” that waste your time.
As you consider your personal educational plan, don’t fail to seriously count the costs to determine if the benefits of your plan are worth it. Making an absolutely firm commitment to your plan is essential to your success in fulfilling your purpose.
In summary, whether you are a CEO, a seasoned executive, or a manager aspiring to move into the executive suite, your personal education plan should be a function of your purpose, relevance, and commitment. With that in mind, let’s examine a bit more thoroughly the educational options available to you:
• Traditional curriculum-based educational programs, typically oriented toward degrees such as MBAs, etc.
• Personal study—reading, books on tape, e-books, etc.
• Mentors and coaches
• Business forums and meetings
• Online training including webinars, social media, chat, blogs, vlogs
• Experiential learning through internships, sabbaticals, or projects
The following table helps to delineate the strengths and weaknesses of these options—and will help you in assessing their relevance to your purpose and understanding the costs and benefits of each:
|Executive Education Options||Strengths/Benefits||Weaknesses/Costs|
|Traditional curriculum-based educational programs||
|Mentors & Coaches||
|Business Forums &Meetings||
Richard Tyson is the founder, principal owner and president of CEObuilder, which provides forums for consulting and coaching to executives in small businesses. For 21 years, CEObuilder has successfully brought about an outstanding financial return for CEO and executive clients through providing leading-edge content in the areas of strategizing, team-building, problem-solving and managing for results, as well as the use of proprietary learning and coaching.