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Decisions Executive MBA Students Face

The decision to enroll in an Executive MBA program is one rife with difficult questions, the answers to which may well determine the extent of your success as a future executive. Most people entering Executive MBA programs are young professionals aspiring to reach greater heights in their field; they want the education to temper their passion for leading a business in the right direction, but it’s not easy choosing the best program or teaching style. Business schools around the country design Executive MBA programs in any possible format: online education, classes that emphasize peer involvement, mentorships from industry professionals—the list goes on. I wish all MBA students could take the outstanding classes offered at various Executive MBA programs, but that’s hardly a realistic aspiration.

Let’s address some of the biggest decisions a student has to make when you look through potential Executive MBA programs.

Classes taught online or in person?

The difference between online and in person education is one of the biggest issues concerning graduate business degrees in general. There are strong arguments to be had on both sides, but I think the decision really hinges on whatever works for your unique lifestyle. If you’re simultaneously interning at another business or even running your own small enterprise on the side, you might see great appeal in taking an online Executive MBA program that offers a relatively freer schedule. You might be the lone wolf student who thrives on the challenge of completing coursework on your own, relying on your own philosophy of leadership to guide them through lessons and hypothetical management scenarios.

On the other hand, you might thrive in an environment where you’re among your peers, bouncing ideas and strategies off one another. The idea of working alongside a professor with real world experience leading a business and a team of trained professionals might appeal to you if you’ve never worked with someone like that before. If you’re looking for greater involvement and interaction from your faculty and classmates, taking your MBA classes in person is obvious the right choice for you.

Fulltime or balanced with work?

Once you’ve decided on the atmosphere of your Executive MBA program, it’s time to decide the extent to which you want to involve yourself in classwork. Some students prefer to get their degree out of the way as quickly as possible so they can enter the working world immediately. These ambitious students usually cram as many classes as they can per semester, trying to graduate in record time. You might prefer the lightning round MBA path, but there are more steadily paced options.

Though it’s tempting to choose the quickest path to your Executive MBA, not every student has the luxury of dropping everything in their life to go back to school. It takes a serious time commitment to complete an MBA, and you might not have the option of sacrificing your day job for it. If that’s the case, then I highly recommend completing your Executive MBA over a number of semesters, giving yourself only as much classwork as you can handle. There’s no use overloading yourself if you have obligations outside of class.

Where to find the best connections

And finally, you want to be careful about choosing the Executive MBA program that has the right connections for you to advance your business career. This isn’t as simple as choosing a business school with the most famous faculty; it’s a matter of researching business schools with professors and lecturers with experience and knowledge that’s relevant to your field of interests. If you have ambitions to found a startup tech company, you want to look at schools with faculty that have successfully founded small business venture in that field. Applying anywhere else would be to miss the most important aspect of graduate education in business: meeting the right people, absorbing their industry advice, and applying it to your own venture.


Alvina Lopez is a freelance writer and blog junkie, who blogs about accredited online colleges. She welcomes your comments at her email Id: alvina.lopez

Framing Decisions As Gains Or Losses: The Case Of Yucca Mountain

On Sunday, March 4, 2012 the Reno Gazette Journal reported results of the following online poll: Should Nevada stick to its opposition to using Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste facility?  Eighty percent of respondents reported no and 20% yes.  The poll was accompanied by opinion articles for and against Yucca Mountain being developed as a temporary storage facility and research facility.  Writing against Yucca Mountain, Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto states:

The reason for Nevada’s long-standing opposition to the Yucca project is that it poses grave risks to public health and the environment. While Nevadans’ initial opposition may have rested on the perceived unfairness of being singled out for a facility no one else wanted, the state has since constructed a well-substantiated, scientific case against the project which is, according to the Obama administration, “unworkable.” Simply put, Yucca Mountain cannot physically isolate waste from the human and natural environment.

Writing for Yucca Mountain, Tyrus W. Cobb states:

For Nevada, the benefits of hosting the spent fuel temporarily could be enormous. First, the direct economic impact is far greater than any other project that Brookings or state economic development officials envision. Indeed, closing Yucca has already resulted in the loss of more than 2,500 of the best paying and highly technical jobs imaginable — positions that would be immediately restored. Remember that $17 billion had already been expended to develop the repository, but that funding has been cut off, thanks to the adamancy of our elected officials.

What I found interesting about this debate was the results of the poll: 80% responded that Nevada should not continue its’ opposition to Yucca Mountain.  This result is in contrast with most prior public opinion polls that show most Nevadans are opposed to Yucca Mountain, and this public sentiment has likely contributed to almost all politicians in Nevada being opposed to Yucca Mountain.  Why the change in public opinion (in this admittedly unscientific poll)?

Two concepts I teach in my class on decision making may help explain the results.  The first concept considers the framing of a decision. Consider three possible frames for how a public opinion question on Yucca Mountain might be asked:

  1. Do you support the use of Yucca Mountain a permanent depository of nuclear waste?
  2. Should Nevada stick to its opposition to using Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste storage facility or use the site as a research center and negotiate for benefits?
  3. Do you support Nevada negotiating with the federal government to host a temporary nuclear storage facility and research facility?

If the poll was framed as in #1 above, I would suggest most Nevadan’s would say no, they do not support the use of Yucca Mountain as permanent nuclear storage facility.  If the poll was framed as in #2 above, as it apparently was by the Reno Gazette Journal, then apparently 80% of respondents do not think Nevada should stick to its opposition of Yucca Mountain.  If the poll was framed as in #3 above, then I am not sure what the results would be.

What accounts for the differing results depending upon the frame?  Psychological research suggests that framing decisions as gains or losses significantly affects our choice.  For example, many people would not choose to not undergo a medical procedure where immediately after the procedure 10% of patients died and 60% were dead after five years.  On the other hand many people would choose to undergo a medical procedure where 90% were alive immediately after the procedure and 40% were alive after five years.  Notice that the statistical information describing the medical procedure is identical in both choices (i.e. 10% dead =90% alive, and 60% dead = 40% alive), but more people would choose the procedure when the data is presented the probability of living (gain) rather than the probability of dying (loss).

Looking at the three Yucca Mountain poll questions posed above within the lens of gains and losses, Nevada respondents would likely consider the hosting of a research facility to be a gain and the storage of nuclear waste to be a loss.  Thus #1 is primarily a loss (permanent depository of nuclear waste) and will be opposed, #2 is a small gain (as a research center and negotiate for benefits) and supported, and #3 as a gain and loss (host a temporary nuclear storage facility and research facility) making the decision more difficult.  I have to wonder whether Nevadans’ have actually changed their opinions regarding Yucca Mountain or whether the frame of the question changed the results.

As we move into the political election cycle and the airwaves are saturated with candidate advertisements, try and pay attention to how the marketing messages are framed.  While we might hope for positive issue ads to dominate, the reality is the negative attack ads are more effective and will likely drive candidate spending.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

James A. Sundali, Ph.D.

James A. Sundali, Ph.D.James Sundali is associate professor of strategic management. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Arizona and his MBA and bachelor’s degree in economics from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He has been at the University of Nevada, Reno since 1997 and has taught strategic management, corporate finance, game theory, bargaining and negotiation, individual choice behavior, organizations and the natural environment, the psychology of gaming, and managerial and leadership insights from film and literature.

Effective Executives Make Effective Decisions

Making effective decisions is one of the five essential practices that Peter Drucker believes must be developed by any executive that desires to be truly effective. Effective executives develop a system of decision making based as much on learning as on doing.

Effective executives…know that an effective decision is always a judgment based on “dissenting opinions” rather than on “consensus on the facts.” And they know that to make many decisions fast means to make the wrong decisions. What is needed are few, but fundamental, decisions. What is needed is the right strategy rather than razzle-dazzle tactics. (p. 24)

If incorporating dissenting opinions is left to chance in your decision making process, chances are it won’t happen. It’s difficult to create an environment where offering dissenting opinions is expected from the people that work for you; however, it’s absolutely essential if you want to make consistently effective decisions.

Asking people affected by a decision for input on the decision has been a “contemporary” leadership practice for over 50 years. Is it part of your systematic approach to decision making?

Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

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Leaders Take Responsibility For Communicating

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Do Your People Ever Tell You No?