Start leading with purpose with VU Amsterdam
In 2020, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU Amsterdam) launched two new programmes, expanding on its Executive Education portfolio. One of these programmes is the Executive MBA: Leading with Purpose. Jost Sieweke, Program Director of the Executive MBA, shares more details about the programme, including its curriculum and why purpose and leadership form the core of the programme.
What is the Executive MBA: Leading with Purpose at VU Amsterdam?
The Executive MBA: Leading with Purpose at VU Amsterdam is an 18-month, part-time programme for professionals with at least five years of work experience. While the curriculum of VU Amsterdam’s new Executive MBA contains some elements of the traditional MBA, it also has some unique features - namely, a strong focus on leadership.
“For instance,” Jost explains, “you start the programme not with business fundamentals, but with a leadership perspective, which means in the very first course we focus on your leader identity and your leader purpose because we think that it’s crucial for you - if you want to develop into your role as a senior manager - to know about [yourself]. Who are you? What is your purpose as a leader?”
Developed in collaboration with VU Amsterdam’s advisory board, which consists of senior managers from companies around the world, the programme was uniquely designed to serve the real challenges leaders face in the workplace today. “We thought a lot about the skills and the knowledge that is needed for MBA students and discussed that very intensively with our advisory board,” Jost says. “That’s how we developed the curriculum of our Executive MBA programme.”
The importance of purpose in businesses today
VU Amsterdam’s Executive MBA: Leading with Purpose addresses one of the most important topics in the modern workplace: purpose. A wide range of research has shown that for most employees, their sense of purpose is defined by their work. This trend is only going to continue, with younger generations like millennials dubbed “the purpose generation.”
So, what does purpose look like in practice?
Jost uses the example of BioNTech, a German biotechnology company that produced one of the coronavirus vaccines together with Pfizer. “The purpose of [BioNTech], and especially the two founders of that organisation, was maybe not to become billionaires, but to create something to help society fight some of our very serious illnesses like cancer and now, the COVID-19 pandemic,” Jost says. “They created a huge societal benefit, and I can just imagine how motivating it must be for many employees to work for these companies because they know, ‘Yes, we are making profits but at the same time, we are giving back to society and creating a much larger return for society.’”
The Executive MBA: Leading with Purpose demands its participants to step up their leadership using a purpose-driven approach. Jost explains: “Sometimes, employees don’t understand why their work actually matters - and here, it’s the responsibility of senior managers to be able to explain to employees what they’re actually doing and why this matters for customers or for the larger society. That’s where we, with our programme, want to make some kind of a difference and start to help our participants to reflect on the actual purpose of their organisation and maybe even the purpose of organisations in general.”
The role of leadership
“What excites me most about this Executive MBA programme is [its] unique focus,” Jost tells us. For Jost, “there’s maybe too little emphasis on the leadership aspect in other MBA programmes.” While it remains important to teach fundamental business topics like finance and strategy in an MBA programme, today’s fast-paced, complex business landscape also calls for strong leadership skills.
Take the finance sector, for example. “All of a sudden, some fintechs came up a couple of years ago and are really challenging the business models of very established banks,” Jost demonstrates. “For that, you don’t need to become a specialist in finance or a specialist in marketing, but you need to be able to connect the dots, to be able to understand how the different functions within an organisation are intertwined.”
“You need to understand how the environment affects the organisation,” he adds. “In all these different challenges, I think that’s what really excites me most about this programme - that we are able to support our participants to deal with these enormous challenges their companies are currently confronted with and also to prepare them to deal with challenges that lay ahead of them.”
Is this programme for you?
As mentioned previously, the Executive MBA: Leading with Purpose at VU Amsterdam is designed for senior professionals with at least five years of work experience (ideally 7-10 years of experience), and Jost emphasises that the Executive MBA: Leading with Purpose is not for everyone. The programme also requires a level of open-mindedness and the ability to not only accept, but embrace diverse perspectives.
“It’s really important in order to become a better manager to weigh different arguments and…be open to different perspectives,” Jost explains. “When we select your peers in the classroom, we are looking for a very diverse group because it’s really important to be challenged and to be confronted with these different opinions and perspectives in order to broaden your horizon. That’s something we want to accomplish in this Executive MBA programme.”
Additionally, candidates should reflect on what they want out of an MBA programme. As Jost puts it, “If you think, for instance, that stepping up your game with regard to business fundamentals is crucial, then I have to say our Executive MBA programme is maybe not the best choice for you.”
If you would rather grow as a leader, then VU Amsterdam’s Executive MBA: Leading with Purpose is for you. Centred around leadership, the programme includes leadership and career coaching as well as modules such as “Leading A Business Through Transformations and Crisis” and “Strategic Decision Making and Organisational Innovation.” This programme is a perfect fit if you’re looking to develop your leadership and lead with purpose.