10 executive leadership programs that should be on every business leader’s radar

BY Sydney LakeApril 24, 2021, 10:25 am
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY Getty Images

Many executive leaders spend much of their days in meetings with other people—and yet, their lives can also be very isolating.

“The whole saying, ‘It’s lonely at the top,’ is really true,” says Mike Malefakis, Wharton’s executive education CEO and associate vice dean. Even though he recognizes this reality, Malefakis also champions the value of continuing education for execs. 

These programs provide an opportunity for connecting, learning, and growing with others holding C-suite positions. The programs freshen up your leadership approaches, and some even offer a sabbatical from typical work life.

Many of the nation’s top business schools offer courses and programs tailored for executives that align with leaders’ demanding schedules. Below are 10 executive leadership management programs (some all-online, hybrid, or all in-person) tailored for the C-suite covering topics including risk management, competition, and brand reputation.

The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

C-suite life means long workdays, yet little time to reflect and learn from others. “That’s why the five weeks is critical to almost take a sabbatical from what you’re doing on a regular daily basis and invest in yourself,” Malefakis says. During Wharton’s five-week, on-campus Advanced Management Program, you’ll attend breakout sessions, simulations, and experiential learning (think: team rowing exercises to practice communication and coordination) with fellow execs. You’ll leave with a methodology to pause, reflect, learn, then act in future business situations.

Stanford University Graduate School of Business

The Black Leaders Program is tailored for Black business leaders or those looking to advance Black leadership. It includes live online sessions focused on race and leadership, power, negotiations, relationships, communication, and networking during a two-week period. The program also provides a space to discuss barriers to leadership and Black identity in the workplace. Following the sessions, you’ll work on a capstone project focused on career advancement, with peer coaching and feedback along the way. Program director Brian S. Lowery’s research focuses on perceptions of inequity and how to reduce it.

MIT Sloan School of Management

Before diving into Closing the Gap Between Strategy and Execution, a three-day online course, you’ll complete a survey to evaluate whether your organization has been successful with strategy execution and to pinpoint improvement opportunities. The course is taught from the perspective that strategy execution relies heavily on risk management rather than on implicit beliefs. You’ll use situations from your own business experiences to apply ideas learned from the course, which treats strategy as a cyclical process. The course, intended for executives of companies with at least $30 million in annual revenue, is led by Donald Sull, who was deemed a management guru by Fortune

The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University

Kellogg’s yearlong Women’s Senior Leadership Program for top women leaders includes four, three-day sessions focused on decision making, negotiation skills, ethical challenges, and external management. The jewel in the crown of this program is its 360-degree assessment that provides feedback about your leadership style free of bias from your own organization. It’s made specifically to assess women’s leadership traits, taking into account your individual challenges. Leadership consultants provide check-ins throughout the year to help set your development goals and follow progress. Graduates of the program are CEOs, CFOs, CMOs, and presidents of organizations.

Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth College

Dartmouth’s two-week, on-campus Advanced Management Program moves beyond the basics, offering a deep dive into strategy, competition, globalization, and brand management. It includes a hearty mix of lectures, discussions, excursions, and workshops. You’ll also work on a management action plan project to take back to your organization. Projects could be focused on addressing business challenges or new growth opportunities. “At the end of the day, it’s really all about impact,” says Phil Barta, executive director of Tuck Executive Education at Dartmouth. “That’s what these organizations are looking to see from their leaders when they send them.”

University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The Executive Program, hosted by Darden, includes in-person modules and online sessions on topics ranging from strategy to personal wellness, entrepreneurship, and risk management. While all participants of this six-month program are senior leaders, they come from backgrounds spanning financial services, government, education, health care—and even aerospace. “You open your mind to different ways of doing things and how people live and think,” says Elton “Neil” Wright Jr., a program quality executive with Boeing who participated in the program, adding that TEP gave him a better sense of the world economy. You’ll meet in person over two, two-week sessions.

Harvard Business School

HBS’s weeklong, in-person course, Risk Management for Corporate Leaders: From Compliance to Competitive Advantage, teaches participants to anticipate and mitigate risk and use risk management for strategizing and competitive advantage. It examines both internal (employee behavior and strategy execution) and external risk management (uncontrollable events and reputation) for executives ranging from chief risk officers to chief financial officers. Execs from Johnson & Johnson, Netflix, and Accenture are previous participants. Harvard recommends that multiple company representatives attend the course at one time.

Yale School of Management

Yale’s 10-month Global Executive Leadership Program is taught in three, five-week modules, allowing participants to apply course material at their respective organizations during intermissions. As part of GELP, you’ll attend four boot camps focused on personal insights, marketing, negotiations, and entrepreneurship, and you’ll get one-on-one executive coaching. You’ll also be invited to Yale’s CEO Summit, which brings together global executive leaders. Upon completion of the program, you’ll be a Yale alum. “They are ready for big thoughts, big changes, and exciting new initiatives,” Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, faculty director of the program, says of attendees. 

Columbia Business School

You have a strategic mindset, natural leadership ability, and finance fundamentals under your belt, but numbers may not be your forte or your career focus. A solution? CBS’s five-day Finance and Accounting for the Nonfinancial Executive course, which caters to creative or technical leaders and covers managerial and financial accounting, ratio calculation, forecasting and valuation, and shareholder value management. This course can also serve as a good refresher for those who previously held finance or accounting jobs but have since changed roles. Typically, about one-third of the participant mix holds general management roles.

Pepperdine Graziadio Business School

During Pepperdine’s three-day, six-session Executive Leadership Essentials certificate program, participants will learn both virtual and in-person methods to engage stakeholders, recruit, and solve problems strategically through the lens of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity). Participants are invited to complete a 360 Leadership Assessment, which allows them to reflect on personal leadership qualities. Attendees leave the program with a personalized leadership development plan crafted specifically to your organization during the final session.