Focus: People Management - Coaching session with Stephen Bubb

Q. I'm trying to persuade my chief executive to let me take an MBA and support the cost of it. She is resisting. How can I persuade her?

You had better start by deciding why you want to do the MBA. There was certainly a trend a decade ago for people to do MBAs. It was said that it enhanced your career prospects.

I certainly don't want to decry the power of intellectual inquiry and study, but is taking an MBA the best route for your professional development?

MBAs are expensive in terms of both time and money. You are going to have to make out a very good case for your chief executive that this is the best route compared with other ways of developing your professional skills.

What about shorter courses?

One of our key jobs at Acevo is to promote the leadership development of our members. I know from members that training budgets are limited and their ability to get away from the job is constrained. So we point our members to shorter courses. Indeed, we have recently developed two new programmes with Cranfield University's School of Management and Ashridge Business School. You need to demonstrate to your chief executive that you have undertaken a rigorous assessment of your development needs and reviewed how you can meet them.

If you have not done this, you should start now. I would recommend two steps. First, take a 360-degree appraisal. The idea of this is that you ask staff who report to you, your colleagues and your boss to assess your skills against specific criteria. This enables you to ascertain your strengths and weaknesses.

There's also coaching

The second step is executive coaching. There are a number of professional coaching services that can provide you with a starting point in thinking about your professional development needs. It involves a discussion in which an experienced coach can talk you through your strengths and weaknesses.

In response to demands from our members, we introduced such a service using three experienced former voluntary sector chief executives. If you can't afford to pay for executive coaching, you might be able to identify a friend or colleague from outside the organisation who could help you.

Remember, professional development isn't simply about going on courses.

For example, having had experience of coaching, you might decide to continue with a coach to support you in your job.

I suspect that this is what your chief executive could be getting at - she's just not convinced that an MBA is the best route for you. Are you?

Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Send your questions to

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