Learn to lead: Still more business courses for IT pros

University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business

Executive education works best when there’s a focus on cross-enterprise leadership, and that’s what sets the University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business apart, according to its Executive Director, Gavin Brown.

Richard Ivey’s executive program has been running since 1926, offering two programs for C-level executives: Financial Analysis, a one-week finance course for non-financial managers; and its Executive Program, three weeks of intense education in strategy, finance, marketing, IT, operations and leadership where CIOs join other executives to gain a deeper understanding of all business disciplines. This aspect is valuable for CIOs who are often isolated in the organization, says Brown.

“With CIOs, we’ve seen that during times of intense change, there’s a natural reaction to seek comfort within themselves. They look for industry conferences, and functional conferences with other CIOs,” he says. This can inhibit their performance in the organization.

“It’s not just about excellence in your function, but how all the functions in an organization tie together.”

Aside from the obvious challenges of convincing organizations of the value of executive education, Brown says Ivey is grappling with the same issue facing other executive education program are: access to talent.

“Any school would tell you – if they were having a moment of honest reflection – that faculty is one of the biggest challenges. “Getting the right blend of academic expertise with real-world application ability. A lot of academics have a lecture model, not a teaching model. When you reach the C-level, it’s about facilitating great conversations and moving ideas around the room.”

Queen’s University’s Executive Development Centre

Queen’s University’s in Kingston, Ont., offers a variety of executive development programs – ranging in length from one week to three weeks – but the two most frequently sought out by CIOs are the General Management program and the IT Management program.

The five-day IT Management program has been running for about 15 years, and teaches IT leaders how to transform business models, improve customer service and streamline supplier relationships. Typically 25 to 30 IT directors or CIOs participate in each course, and the candidates come from a variety of industries.

The program focus shifts, depending on economic conditions and technology developments, but in the last few years its mantra has been how to do more with less, says Tom Anger, executive director of Queen’s Executive Development Centre.

“It’s targeted to the issues and challenges facing CIOs and directors of IT,” he says. “They look at strategic management for that function within the organization. In the last couple of years, there’s been a focus on how to move ahead in a time of restraint. Some functions within an organization lose funds more quickly, and the IT area is one of them.”

Queen’s three-week Executive program is built on three core principles: strategy, management and leadership, and is ideal for CIOs looking to move into upper-level management positions, says Anger.

“From a career advancement standpoint, those who attend the three-week executive program are the ones trying to move forward in the organization,” says Anger.

McGill University’s Executive Institute

McGill University’s Executive Institute in Montreal runs six programs for senior leaders, including what it calls “a mini-MBA for changing times,” a three-phase program designed to provide a comprehensive understanding of strategy, marketing, accounting and people skills.

The university has been refining the program since its inception 55 years ago, and the key component that separates it from the others is coaching, according to Louis Gialloreto, executive director of McGill’s Executive Institute.

“Our model is different,” he says. “It’s for people who don’t function at their best in a classroom setting. We have the classroom, of course, but we have mandatory coaching before the program starts and 60 days after the program ends to find out what worked and what didn’t for the individual.”

CIOs also avail themselves of McGill’s 12-day Advanced Leadership program, a custom forum for individual companies that send five or six key executives – from marketing, operations, finance or IT — to work on a key issue or strategic challenge facing their organization.

In response to demand for a shorter, more focused program, McGill launched its Executive Leadership program, a five-day forum based that teaches senior leaders strategies for management through an entire economic cycle. The five days are bookmarked by three hours of executive coaching before the session and one hour following it. Gialloreto admits the training market has been soft, but says McGill has already seen a lot of interest in the shorter format.

“The question is is the market recovered enough so that this is a good time to launch a new program?” he says. “So far our signal are that the market is ready.”

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