University of Iowa business program to offer 'executive coaching'

Help with leadership 'soft skills' meant to address on-the-job issues

The Pappajohn Business Building, part of the University of Iowa's Tippie College of Business. (The Gazette file photo)
The Pappajohn Business Building, part of the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business. (The Gazette file photo)

IOWA CITY — “Soft skills” like communication, problem-solving, group collaboration and team management are becoming increasingly important in the business world, and the University of Iowa is aiming to personalize its approach for teaching them to executives on the job.

Beginning early next year, the UI Tippie College of Business plans to offer its roughly 50 Executive Master of Business Administration students one-on-one executive coaching — as a “value-add” to its 16-month accelerated program for seasoned, working professionals.

The year of monthly hourlong coaching sessions would be optional, personalized and available virtually, over the phone or in person — depending on convenience.

In offering the opportunity — expanding its curriculum beyond the classroom — the UI is seeking to keep pace with other executive MBA programs across the country, like those at the universities of Maryland, Texas, Virginia and Arizona State.

“A number of well-regarded executive MBA programs have implemented executive coaching,” said UI Assistant Dean Dawn Kluber, who serves as executive director of the UI Executive MBA program. “It’s been successful and well-received by their students. So we are starting with this incoming class to do the same.”

The next group of professionals seeking an executive MBA from the UI — including about 25 on the main Iowa City campus and about 25 in the Pappajohn Education Center in downtown Des Moines — will begin in August with a targeted completion date in December 2020.

In-person classes are held once a week, on alternating Fridays and Saturdays, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. — with a five-week winter break and online classes in the summer. Administrators plan to begin offering the coaching in January.


According to a UI request for qualifications from potential coach providers, those interested in coaching an estimated 25 to 30 students a year have until July 16 to respond. Given that more than two dozen students are expected to take advantage, the UI is looking for an entity to provide a “group of coaches” that will be matched with students to identify goals and track progress.

The UI and its business college long have offered students career services — for help with resumes or job applications, for example. But Kluber said the executive coaches will differ in that they’ll help these decision-making-level student identify and develop their “soft skills.”

“This is really value-add assistance in attaining your professional goals,” Kluber said. “ … And typically they fall into the categories of leadership, teaming and collaboration, change management, resilience, maybe some specific team dynamics they’re dealing with.”

Although the coaches will engage with students for one-hour sessions every month, the pairs can email outside those sessions to touch base on goals or with questions.

Kluber said the coaching differs from classroom instruction on the increasingly important business “soft skills” in its personal nature.

“It could even be as personal as, ‘I’m a brand-new leader of a team, and one of my team members is really having trouble accepting me as a team leader,’” she said. “It could be that personal.”

Another example might involve a student who recently was promoted and interested in presenting himself or herself appropriately.

“Or, ‘My department or my company is undergoing a whole bunch of change, can you help me work with my team in managing that?” Kluber said.


Because not everyone is receptive to that kind of personal coaching, the UI offer is not mandatory and not expected to involve all executive MBA students. Additionally, some might already have executive coaches.

But those who want it can get it without paying extra — beyond the cost of tuition, which is $62,000 for the full 16-month program.

The university has not said how much it expects to spend to offer the coaching service.

Kluber said it could help recruit new executive students who are a distinctly different demographic from traditional Tippie College of Business coeds. Executive MBA applicants often are in their 40s, working 50 to 60 hours a week in a job with “significant responsibility,” married to a spouse who also works outside the home, with kids and frequent travel.

Typically, according to Kluber, a lot goes into a prospective student’s decision to enroll in the year-plus program — including questions about whether he or she can fit it into an already-packed schedule, receive company support or secure financial backing.

“This is designed for folks who are already very busy,” she said. “And (executive coaching) is just another thing that would be in the plus column when making that decision.”

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