Just a few months in to the Butler MBA program, Natalie Johnson found herself in a pivotal professional moment. Newly assigned as a Product Data Manager at Delta Faucet, Johnson was asked to lead a team of colleagues for the first time in her career. Rather than panic or shy away from what could have been a daunting challenge, she found herself already prepared for the role, and she credits her leadership coach for giving her the skills and confidence to succeed.
A critical element of Butler’s MBA program, leadership coaches like Brown are assigned to each student early on in their experience to help them navigate through the program and to provide invaluable guidance as they develop as managers and leaders. As experts in their own fields, coaches bring a rich combination of experience and wisdom in order to provide counsel for students who may find themselves in positions similar to what Johnson encountered.
“I had no manual on leading, no how-to-manage training, or prior experience to guide me in my new position,” Johnson says. “With a lack of experience, I also lacked confidence in my abilities as a leader. My coaching experience has alleviated the fears and given me the confidence to lead.”
According to Marietta Stalcup, Director of Graduate Programs for Butler’s Lacy School of Business, that’s exactly the kind of success story that Butler students enjoy time and time again.
“We aim to meet our students wherever they are in their career,” Stalcup says. “The key to our students’ leadership development lies in the distinction between a mentor and a leadership coach. A mentor typically has answers to all of your questions. A leadership coach has questions for all your answers.”
Butler MBA leadership coaches prep students for the inevitable moments in one’s career where there will not be anyone to turn to but themselves.
“I was never told what to do, but instead was asked questions. And I was encouraged to ask questions. More than anything, I realized that was how I (also) needed to lead,” Johnson says. “Not by commanding, but by influencing my team so that they feel confident in their own ability to head in the right direction.”
It all begins in the 510-course, which MBA students take early on in the program. A cohort of coaches, all experts in their fields and most certified through the six-month International Coaching Federation training program, enter the classroom and walk the students through what to expect. From there, each coach will take five or six students under their wing and begin to meet on a monthly or quarterly basis, with the frequency and depth of these meetings up to the student’s discretion. Once the 510-course concludes, some students choose to part ways or even switch coaches, but most continue the relationship with regular conversations over the phone or while getting coffee.
According to leadership coach Randy Brown, what separates Butler from other MBA programs that offer coaches is the confidentiality that is maintained between the students and the coach.
“We are asking these students to be quite introspective and often times vulnerable because that is the only way that we will be able to identify the true areas where a student needs the most attention,” Brown says. “By keeping the conversations between student and coach confidential, students won’t have to worry about any sort of blowback from their teachers or fellow students.”
Put simply, coaches are there to provide guidance, not grades.
Brown, like most of Butler’s leadership coaches, wanted to become a coach because he recognized the value of individual attention during his corporate career. “I knew the impact others had on my career when they helped me find the confidence in my own abilities,” says Brown. “A little nudge in the right direction can truly make a huge difference.”
And as Director Stalcup has seen in her time at the University thus far, the students who realize the most growth and success from Butler’s MBA program are the ones who utilize their coaches the most.
“Students who really engage their coaches leave Butler more transformed than ones that don’t. That’s what we aim to do at Butler: transform our students into the best, most effective versions of themselves,” Stalcup says.
That’s exactly why career-minded individuals seek a graduate program like Butler’s in the first place. Not to be told what to do, but to learn how to follow one’s own instincts above all else.