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The MBA is Dead - Getting the Conversation Going

The MBA is dead.  Strong words.  I like to keep my eye on the articles in the Harvard Business Review – the B-school bastion.  Over the past year or so there have been a number of articles specifically about coaching.  In one recent article - featuring a picture of a creature in a business suit with the head of a gorilla and a sports coach blowing a whistle loudly into another poor creatures ear – coach was described as having two purposes: either for people in transition OR executives who are worried that they might be a jerk.  Very nice.  And of all the articles on coaching, this was the best one.  For the most part, the B-Schools are panning coaching.

I was talking with my coach, Lance Secretan, (www.secretan.com) the other day and we were lamenting that the B-schools (and by and large the big business thinkers), just don’t get it! (IT, specifically meaning coaching).  Then it occurred to me, “Wait a minute! They DO get it.”  They are panning coaching because they KNOW that they are dead! 

In the 1980’s B-school was the BIG thing.  I have an MBA myself to prove it.  If you wanted to get on the fast track in your career or business, it was the only way to go.  But now, in the new millenium, learning about business is not the path to success in business, career or leadership.  LEARNING TO UNLEASH THE GREATNESS IN PEOPLE IS THE THING!  People are the thing.  The best way to learn about the greatness of people is in coaching school!

The MBA is dead! – The Certified Coach is the New MBA.

This theme will run through a series of articles here in your Today’s Coach during the summer.  Here is point number one:

Unleashing the greatness in people is the fast track to success.

When think about what I learned in business school: marketing, accounting, finance, how to manage factory full of union laborers, how to plan a TV advertising campaign with direct mail follow up, UGH!  Even if the schools have upgraded the curriculum since then, it’s still the same basic stuff.

People are the thing!  Imagine if you are a manager and you have a reliable process for bringing out the greatness of everyone on your staff!  Imagine you are an independent trainer who teaches time management and you can follow up the program with a 3 month coaching contract that ensures that each participant lives the system and re-designs his or her environment.  Whoa.  Imagine you are an executive with a BIG project and a tight deadline.  Normally it would be stress city.  But with coaching skills you will be highly aware of the patterns that create overwhelm and you’d coach every team member to feel fully (body awareness) the stay focused simply on what to do next.  MAGIC!

To thrive in business today – becoming a certified coach will serve you far greater than any business model.

Next edition…

The MBA is dead part 2: Training without coaching is entertainment

So what do YOU think?  Post your comments below.

June 22, 2005 | Permalink


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Hi Dave -

Interesting contention and I have a bigger question: where is your assumption that a degee in understanding the basics of creating, nurturing and expanding a business enterprise - that MBA that I also have - is in competition with coaching techniques?

Back there in MBA school - probably a marketing class - I learned that one of the least effective ways to pump up my product is to knock the competition, assuming I understood exactly who my competition is. It assumes a stupidity on the part of the consumer, an inability to form impressions and draw informed conclusions.

A well-rounded MBA program adds a wealth of technical skills, provides an opportunity to work in teams, expand on creative and solution-focused solutions. Probably important to any business owner or corporate manager.

Coaching is a distinctly different set of skills, though equally critical for anyone who expects to ever form relationships and draw on them for the varied elements of life, whether professional, personal, health-related or social; let's call that the whole human race.

We can continue to extol the impact of having access to a trained coach or learning the skills ourselves without knocking the choices of business people to expand on their skills or speed of promotion or range of opportunities with the discipline and thinking process required to obtain an MBA.

Posted by: Andrea Feinberg | Jun 23, 2005 6:55:22 AM

I agree with Andrea. I also have an MBA, but the skill sets are different. If you want to coach senior executives, then you need to understand their language and their perspective. They don't want just counselling or a good listener. They want someone who can make a valid contribution to their thought process. I know that some coaching schools say that you should never give direct advice, but you do need to be able to give options and to understand the options they come up with. My MBA gave me a perspective on business that I could not have got any other way. If you want to be a business coach you had better learn about business. Otherwise stick to "life-coaching". (No offence meant to life coaches, they play a valuable role in society.)

Posted by: Eric Sutherland | Jun 23, 2005 7:54:53 AM

Dave: I do not know about the MBA being dead, but it will certainly go through a metamorphosis as will the way we see and use education and degrees. As a coach I routinely see execs in their 50's passed up for the next level of authority and leadership in their corporations because they worked their way up through the ranks and do not have an MBA. I think that Lance Secretan may be very right in that now more than ever there is a need for coaching at every level in the corporation, but as with the corporate model moving from vertical to flat, I think we still have a ways to go before the powers that be see the light and the power of coaching, but it is coming. And hopefully so is the flatter corporate model and communication model.

Posted by: Irene Becker | Jun 23, 2005 8:04:53 AM

I just finished my Masters degree but did not choose an MBA. I wanted a degree with human focus over financial and management focus. I just graduated with a degree from Seton Hall in Strategic Communication and Leadership. The program is a blend of business with heart and soul and communication and leadership (with a learning of the difference in leadership and management). Additionally, I am completing my life coaching training at Coach University.

I am an example of this article. I want to lead others in business with heart (and work with individuals who want to build their personal foundations)....and hire the accountant.

Posted by: Dianne Garrett | Jun 23, 2005 9:36:22 AM

I agree with Andrea and Eric (first two comments). It's not one or the other, it's both. The MBA gives you the mechanics (technical skills), coaching gives you the people skills.

I especially agree that if you are coaching a business owner, you best serve your client if you have a strong business background.

I value a provocative statement--but this one has gone too far.

Posted by: Terri Zwierzynski | Jun 23, 2005 9:47:32 AM

Hi Dave

The business school of Royal Roads University, an accredited and innovative university in British Columbia, Canada, offers a graduate certificate in executive coaching. Same school that offers the MBA.


As someone with an MBA in PR and Communication management, I would have advised you to take a more coachlike approach to this issue - rather than declaring war on the B-schools. But you've got people talking. Time will tell if your stance helps or hinders those of us working to promote coaching in organizations.

Sue Johnston, MBA, ABC

Posted by: Sue Johnston | Jun 23, 2005 9:57:36 AM

Well I am adding agreement to the comments made about the futility of making disparaging remarks about MBA's or any other education. I had to listen to the same kind of remarks in my coaching school about therapeutic models vs.coaching and how coaching is so much better. My MA has gotten me in the door way more often than a coaching certification. I've considered going for an MBA just so I can learn more about the business world and be of greater service to my clients.

Posted by: Molly McCormick | Jun 23, 2005 10:09:08 AM

As a 30+ year consultant without a MBA and a 10 year coach without a credential my opinion is why not take the high road? - Everything you're talking about seems very outer directed which would suggest ego nourishment! Lead with your foot don't point with your finger and surely attract don't repel - Inclusive not exclusive - what's the point? - Spread joy!

Posted by: Paul Coulter | Jun 23, 2005 10:56:00 AM

As Mark Twain would say, rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated.
There are great changes taking place in the field of management. The boom in academic studies of management in all its disciplines is leading all in interesting directions. At Harvard, the case study (learn by immersion/induction) reportedly has given way at least in intro classes to the more structured method of instruction.
There is still no good substitute for a rigorous study of scientific management. However, as globalization proceeds, there is a demand for young managers with both the academic background, international exposure, and cross-cultural skills, to help lead corporations as they expand.
The role of the coach, it seems to me, can be internal or external. For the young manager, it provides valuable experience in areas where the exec has a knowledge/experience gap. For the rising star, it's more important to have a coach wise to the ways of corporate infighting and skulduggery.
So, just as an MBA is not a guarantee of success, neither is a coach. Both can be valuable tools. But, as they say in carpentry school, it's a poor workman who blames his tools.

Posted by: Joseph F Dunphy MBA MFP | Jun 23, 2005 10:59:24 AM

OK, Dave, you got my attention.

Hopefully most of us have realized and gone beyond both the misperceptions we had *and* the limitations of our education.

In my high school, for example, there were the Advanced Placement (AP) kids, College Prep, and then Business. As an AP kid, you can imagine the chances I'd even consider an MBA.

Now, however, *some* business schools are doing truly amazing things. Look at David Cooperrider at Case Western's Weatherhead School of Management and his Appreciative Inquiry approach. Brilliant!

So I trust MBA programs in general are morphing into something better, as I hope we all are.

And speaking of business, in contrast to coaching, the Coachville site and emails often seem more about generating business for its staff than coaching. Maybe that old MBA marketing stuff wasn't so bad after all.

Posted by: John Burik | Jun 23, 2005 11:01:58 AM

Hi Dave,
Congratulations on your marketing savvy! You know how to get our attention - but I challenge you on both what you've said and how you've said it. How uncoachlike to attack: wouldn't there be a more helpful way to challenge B-schools to shift their thinking? Are there not possibilities for evolution? Or is that your objective at all?
As for the veracity of your contention, I see a different picture. True that the "old school" approach has lost relevance in today's environment. But there are some wonderful things happening. Eight months from now, at the age of 45, I will proudly add MBA to my business card. As a learner at Royal Roads University in Victoria, Canada, I am having one of the most enriching experiences of my life. The Leadership stream in which I participate embraces all the best of coaching - and more. In fact, it is through RRU that I first learned of Coachville.
The MBA is not dead, Dave, it is evolving.

Posted by: Teresa Quilty | Jun 23, 2005 11:29:39 AM

To me Dave's pointing out that an MBA is dead is like pointing out that VCR tapes are dead as the medium for recording TV shows and movies. The marketplace has moved on to the more efficient and versatile DVD medium. Panning MBAs wasn't his intention.

Just as EQ is now regarded as the more relevant differentiating factor in predicting business leadership success than IQ is, we are beginning to understand that the requirement of having specific subject matter knowledge isn’t required to help another person learn that subject matter (it’s even detrimental to the process). Certain coaching modalities are the place where these concepts are showing up.

The paradigm shift to recognizing that inductive reasoning is the more effective and efficient way of solving problems than deductive reasoning is, is well underway.

Posted by: Robert Cornish | Jun 23, 2005 1:13:00 PM

Dave... I don't think you get "it".

The MBA is not dead and coaching is not going to replace it.

Your article was cheerleading at it's worst.

MBAs are not dead. Coaching is not going to replace it.

As last resort for people who don't know what they want to do in life, but aren't ready to leave school for the real world (a traditional truth for many whom go into MBAs and JDs), sure.

But... don't we have enough of those types in coaching already!?

Until we (coaches) put more time into delivering across the board -- coaching ordinary people from good to great (and not just coaching other coaches)...

Until we stop screaming how wonderful coaching is (if only anyone would stop and listen) and simply connect what we're selling to what people are buying...

We as a profession won't get "it". ("It" being professional respect as something more than glorified motivational speakers and "feel good" gurus.)

For people whom pride ourselves on "getting to the profound", we sure seem to have a hard time getting to and staying focused on our profession's "profound".

Mark Farmer
founder, http://CoachesMastermind.com

Posted by: Mark Farmer | Jun 23, 2005 6:07:56 PM

I do not think the MBA is dead, people still seem to be impressed by it on my card. I'm glad I have the education and experience to understand where the limitations are. The MBA can get you in the door to play, but it is the experience and practical coaching skills that keep you there.

When you know the correct language and the memes behind the chaos, you are able to guide your clients to success. Being able to talk about hidden costs effecting NPV and ROI are important.

The wave of the future is for B-schools to include coaching classes. And for coach training schools to be more organized and professional.

On a personal note: I use my MBA and coaching skills as a Holistic Healer. I'm a licensed massage therapist, reiki master, channeler and certified hypnotherapist. Connecting clients to the universal love energy is my greatest vision of service. This has the greatest ROI for me now.

Wendy Sloan
[email protected]

Posted by: Wendy Sloan | Jun 23, 2005 7:13:12 PM


I think that the debate about MBAs could be taking us off track here. It seems that you have inspired people with MBAs to defend their investment, and I think that is generating more heat than light.

I see two distinct issues that I believe should be recognized separately.

One, coaching provides provides a very different opportunity for managers and executives than do the core business disciplines taught in MBA programs, and, in my experience, the two can complement each other very well. It takes strategy, structure and such things, plus, good people skills, continuous learning, and managers who are willing to cop to how they really behave, to make a business great. Neither package is enough on its own.

Two, I would be surprised if coaching did not threaten the intellectual status quo of business schools. This has something to do with coaching's focus on self-knowledge and personal transformation, which universities in general shy away from, and business schools share this bias. But I think there is a more important reason. The coaching industry is inherently entrepreneurial in its origins, attitudes and practices, while the business schools are profoundly oriented to large, bureaucratic businesses.
There is a clash of world views here.

It is no secret that business schools do not teach people how to be entrepreneurs. Years ago the Harvard Business Review published an article showing that almost all the graduates of the Harvard Business School became corporate managers and consultants, and almost none of them went out to start successful businesses. I doubt this has changed much. You don't go to business school to learn how to start a business from nothing.

Coaching is anything but big business. It is a spin off from the personal development workshop industry, which is a very entrepreneurial, out of the box part of the business community. Almost all external coaches work for themselves, or for small companies, and many left their previous jobs because of their distaste for corporate life. Not surprisingly, coaches identify easily with the most entrepreneurial parts of the business world, and with the big changes taking place in the human dimension of business. Business schools struggle with these things. On the other hand, the coaching industry has not figured out large-scale delivery and business models for coaching services.

But there we are, working in organizations, and so from time to time there is a clash between these points of view. It seems to me that each side has things to learn from the other, AND, that we as coaches have to recognize the realities of a turf war and play our cards intelligently. I'm not sure that throwing rocks at MBAs is the way to proceed.

Coaching needs more intellectual rigor, more exploration of exactly what works, how it works, and why it works. At the same time we need to fend off the forces that would wrap us up in bureaucratic boilerplate.

It is only natural that the business schools are making critical comments about coaching. What we are, and what we represent, have become important enough to present a genuine challenge to their point of view. Conflict can be a very creative force in life, let's make the most of it.

Doug McKegney

Posted by: Doug McKegney | Jun 23, 2005 8:37:13 PM

Perhaps we need to note that MBAs are not created equal. The vast range in quality across the MBA education spectrum is dramatic and thus the level of regard in which a particular MBA granting institution and its MBA degree is held, varies widely. Given this and following the famous Monty Python parrot sketch, there is likely to be argument on just how dead a particular MBA degree is. S Fuller, Spa For the Mind Coaching & Communication Inc.
[email protected]

Posted by: s fuller | Jun 24, 2005 5:34:19 PM

Perhaps we need to note that MBAs are not created equal. The vast range in quality across the MBA education spectrum is dramatic and thus the level of regard in which a particular MBA granting institution and its MBA degree is held, varies widely. Given this and following the famous Monty Python parrot sketch, there is likely to be argument on just how dead a particular MBA degree is. S Fuller, Spa For the Mind Coaching & Communication Inc.
[email protected]

Posted by: s fuller | Jun 24, 2005 5:39:15 PM

I just wanted to say that I am *very* disappointed to see the article "The MBA is Dead" in the most recent issue of Today's Coach.

I don't really care about the gloom-and-doom prediction about the MBA, as we've all been reading about this for years now. What troubled me was the very negative tone of the article, and the over-the-board attack on entire groups of people (MBA professors & big business thinkers). I guess I really missed something as I thought coaching was about being *constructive*.

I am an associate professor in a business school and I use modified coaching techniques with my students. I don't believe that either coaching or the traditional MBA curriculum is better than the other -- personally, I see them as complimentary. As was already written in the article, it's necessary to have a strong set of people skills (which many MBA programs are actually working on developing). But, hey, let's be real, having people skills and no ability to read a balance sheet or a marketing plan probably won't cut it either!

Anyway, I want you to know how disappointing it is for me to see that Dave Buck, Head Coach, is so destructive in his language and his opinions -- definitely gives me a new view of Dave Buck, Today's Coach and CoachVille.

Posted by: Shawna | Jun 25, 2005 7:05:32 PM

Dave's article would have been far more accurate if it was titled, "COACHING is Dead - Getting the Conversation Going."

Companies far and wide continue to provide tuition assistance (if not full reimbursement) for their employees to get MBA's and regularly cite having an MBA as a requirement for executive/leadership positions.

Yet when outsiders look at Coaching, they see ...
... an absurd number of coach training schools ...
... the whole coaches-coaching-coaches shell game ...
... no unified set of agreed-upon coaching competencies ...
... no sign that that’s even being worked on ...
... how easy it is to buy a coaching certification ...
... how even easier it is to just make one up ...
... how coaches are just letting the term ‘coach’ be usurped and diluted by consultants, therapists, and anyone else who wants to re-brand their work and charge a higher fee ...
... how we’re not building any meaningful entry barriers to protect our ‘franchise’ ...
... and how we continue to allow - and enable - so many of the criticisms that newspapers and magazines (including HBR) regularly voice about coaching ... to be true.

In my opinion, we coaches better get THESE conversations going. If not, we're going to find ourselves pretty quickly 'marginalized,' as any MBA student worth his/her salt would ‘get’ after the simplest of SWOT analyses.

Posted by: Barry Zweibel | Jun 27, 2005 12:20:57 PM

The MBA is not dead - it just could be MORE.

My choice is not to believe that business schools are 'threatened' by coaching, but rather that they are not clear about what masterful coaching training can add to their existing curriculum.

The coaching industry is not served by reactionary language and negativity. Instead, promoting coaching POSITIVELY, COLLABORATIVELY, and with DIGNITY to business schools would serve our industry and expand our markets. Taking potshots at uninformed authors only takes you (and coaching) down to their level.

Dave, please rise above yourself and show some 'higher ground' leadership by communicating from a position of service and strength that will ATTRACT business schools to you and your industry. Who wants to hang around with, much less listen to, a grumpy negative non-leader?

You can do better and set an example for leading an industry through rough waters.

You can do it by putting into action the coaching skills that you promote.

You can do it by adopting the perspective that this is a marketing opportunity and use your skills, resources and IQ to win these guys over to our side!

So get back out there, Dave, and give these business schools a reason to be ATTRACTED to the coaching arena!!

Posted by: Susan | Jun 28, 2005 1:30:52 PM

MBA and Coaching are merging. This creates powerful MBA programs and highly valued graduates.

I am a hiring manager in a corporation and the MBA is a highly valued credential. I would hire an MBA with coaching experience or training over an MBA without the coaching experience or training.

Collaborate with the business schools (or how about all schools, let’s get coach training throughout our school system!) to develop coach training and coaching within their MBA programs. MBA students enrolled in such a program will understand the value coaching provides to an individual and an organization. They will promote coaching which will create an abundance of work for coaches.

The business schools are already teaming up with leaders in the coaching industry to develop these programs.

Focus on integrating coaching into existing systems. Move coaching beyond the coaching industry. This is how the coaching industry will grow. If not, it will implode because coaches are not making enough revenue to continue to pay for coaching and coach training.

Posted by: Barbara Monahan | Jun 28, 2005 5:22:22 PM

I feel you should rephrase your statement to "your MBA is dead." As a coach, EI trainer, and a whole bunch of other roles, my MBA has given me a skill set that enhances my role within the Canadian Navy. Your platform is rather myopic. If MBA grads find their respective MBAs are not being put to use, look at the environment in which they work and not the degree.

p.s. I like your site :)

Best regards,
Peter j. Barrett, MBA, CAE, CHRP
[email protected]

Posted by: Peter Barrett | Jul 7, 2005 7:24:06 AM

I'm not sure if I would agree with the statement that MBA is dead, however, I do agree that there is an uprising in the importance of personal development.

Currently, I work full-time in Human Resources for a Church based non-profit organization and have a Masters degree in Pastoral Studies (MPS). I would prefer to hire someone with a liberal arts degree and train them in the areas of business than do the reverse. So there is a world out there where the MBA has a place, but it's not at the top of the list.

In the non-profit world there is a lot of coaching going on - no one really calls it that now - Typically, we are serviced based to our clients/consumers, and we have to move them - transform - them to a place where they want your service. This is not sales - it's service and there is a big difference.

The non-profit world is not a world that will bring in big bucks for individuals so it is often overlooked. MBA's have made there name because of the profit margins and I think what Dave is trying to project is that there is a movement towards understanding what really matters in life. Yes, profit matters however, there is a point where greed takes over. So I would question - what was the real motivation for that MBA and how will it transform life?

Posted by: Kate Theriot | Jul 7, 2005 7:35:12 AM

Dave wrote: "Rather than train and dash, he is qualified to stay involved in your life to support the implementation and integration of what you have learned." Sounds like a good revenue stream model to this MBA .

Dave's second "post" in this series reinforces a stereotype--that of coaches as trainers. Most folks whom I've met who don't understand coaching first assume that I must be a trainer (I'm not). Some colleagues are even aghast that I don't follow the accepted model and use teleclasses as a primary form of marketing (don't even get me started on teleclasses being mostly a shell game of coaches teaching coaches.)

Taking Dave's statement: "Coaching is A LOT more than simply knowing the material and being able to talk about it – you must know the material, live the material AND know the processes of personalized teaching, expanding awareness and designing environments." Replace "Coaching" with "Teaching" and you have the definition of...a great teacher. Great teachers have always designed their programs to include long-term support for changing behaviours and habits. It's what makes training stick, I agree. I just don't agree that it's coaching.

I got my MBA because I wanted to change the world of work. And I'm beginning to think that calling myself a coach is a detriment, rather than a complement, to my success in that endeavor.

Posted by: Terri Zwierzynski | Jul 7, 2005 9:23:11 AM

I like Dave's recognition that a key element of the success of training is post-training follow-up and attention to assisting the trainee/learner become even more effective in implementing or applying what was learned. But this element has been known long before Dave graduated with his MBA; it may be practiced inconsistently by trainers, but as others responding to this issue have already stated, it contributes greatly to the effectiveness of any training event.

Dave is being a bit provocative, I suspect. First, there have been many articles in the professional literature that have been supportive of coaching in business. He is correct that almost all of those published in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) have been off-the-mark, misinformed about coaching, or completely ignorant about coaching practices. And some of these have actually been written by people who call themselves executive coaches. (Anyone interested in synopses/critiques of these articles, can view them on our website at http://www.peer.ca/coaching.html.)

But what Dave describes as the main reason he thinks the MBA is dead could probably be said for many other graduate degrees: too little attention by faculty to assisting ("coaching") graduates to effectively implement what they have learned. It's too bad that the power he now possesses wasn't available to him while he was pursuing his MBA. He could have let his instructors know he needed coaching to realize the value of his studies. As Barry Z points out, some instructors provide this coaching naturally as part of their effective teaching practice. But how many graduate programs do this at the completion of the degree? Probably zero!

Put another way, how many graduate schools really care to help incoming participants clarify, identify, and articulate their personal and professional goals? How many graduate schools actually ask students about "results desired from being engaged in this graduate degree program?" I think what Dave might have said is that graduate schools in general and business schools in particular might take a more coach-like approach to assisting the students - from initial entry to post-degree application.

Rey Carr
CEO, Peer Resources

Posted by: Rey Carr | Jul 7, 2005 3:03:42 PM

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