Creative leadership coaching within creative MBA provision

The Executive MBA (Fashion) within the Fashion Business School, London College of Fashion, launched in 2013, was designed for global management and entrepreneurial professionals who wish to develop their business leadership skills. As such, it was created for fashion business executives, managers, and entrepreneurs. As a specialist programme uniquely focused on the fashion industry, it aimed to facilitate the broadening of careers and businesses beyond existing experiences, develops a greater strategic approach and confidence that can support greater responsibilities, roles, and business opportunities.

As part of an enhanced monitoring process that commenced in 2018, and through a broader period of review, discussion, and reflection, it became clear that the senior roles of tomorrow demanded a different way of leadership thinking to those of seven years ago. This initial observation came from formal and informal information flows with our candidates both past and present. In general, whilst they have established themselves on a career trajectory, they were yet to reach a seniority with which they are satisfied. They may have achieved excellent functional business knowledge but operational change, macro shock and disruption has commutatively blurred the wider set of creative leadership attributes that as a CEO they needed to possess. This “disruption” meant that they increasingly recognised that the world of fashion leadership cannot just be honed from functional awareness but must comprise skills that embrace the abstract, fluid, and ill defined.

With this starting point in mind, through engagement with fashion industry professionals and influencers, course alumni and candidates’, the course team identified two emerging themes that were hampering fashion industry creative managers in general from progressing to C suite roles. Firstly, with course content firmly rooted in theory and discursive assessment, the speed with which the fashion business world was evolving required new personal skill sets that were at best only known about and at worst not understood or implemented. Second, macro shocks such as free trade, globalisation, changing cultural norms and use of technology had created a cultural crisis in our industry. Within such a fluid dynamic, developing the capabilities of cross-cultural fashion leaders required a greater focus on bespoke coaching and soft skill development that was global in outlook but local in context.

The leadership portfolio

The unleashing of the creative talent of emerging fashion leaders required rethinking of the established provision of leadership career skills offered within the accredited course offer. Historically, this had been embedded within a functional human resource management module. As such, leadership skill development was boxed into a single business function rather than recognising that leadership profiles vary by functional imperatives. For example, the leadership credentials of product design and management, where the ability to "feel" an idea contrasts sharply with metric based functions such as supply chain management. Similarly, the collaborative ability to story tell to persuade hearts and minds is in contrast with the more personal traits of resilience or positive thinking.

To better connect the many strands of creative leadership with functional module specialism, a practically focused support mechanism to link human and business skills was developed across six leadership activities, timed to be drip fed to candidates in line with the accredited course structure. Over the one-year duration of these activities, a leadership portfolio was to be built up by candidates to act as a visual curriculum vitae which was scaffolded by reflective diary milestones and final practical 2 day leadership coaching bootcamp.

The Human Skills Academy

The final version of the leadership portfolio was designed in conjunction with the Human Skills Academy. The academy believes that innovative new programmes linking business professional practice with innate human skills such as creativity, team building, and communication brings together creative and commercial leadership perspectives. Its dual delivery approach allows greater co-creation and hence makes a greater impact with its audience.

The imperative behind this approach is the increasing evidence that an increasingly digital world is changing the in-demand skills across careers. Looking behind the hard skills of business management lies a resurgent appreciation of managerial empathy, diversity and equality that places an ever-increasing emphasis on human focused managerial skill sets, personal progress, and mind growth within the business world.

Each programme developed by the Human Skills Academy is designed around five human skills pillars (Communication, Leadership, Complex Problem Solving, Team Building & Collaboration, and Professionalism & Resilience). For the EMBA, these pillars were then applied within a functional module setting. For example, complex problem solving is contextualised within the EMBAs Global Strategy module, while professionalism & resilience references the Product Portfolio Management module.

This blended approach to leadership coaching and development is then further blended into each candidate’s professional profile and career aims. This third dimension makes each pillar, and its meaning bespoke to each EMBA candidate and offers a richer and deeper coaching experience as they navigate their careers and post graduate study.

Does it work?

 For a cohort of 12 EMBA students there have been 90 bespoke coaching sessions offered by the Human Skills Academy in its first academic year. With a 100% take up rate to date and an ongoing rollout across post graduate courses within the school, the evidence is of a compelling innovation within creative leadership coaching.

James Clark is Course Leader, Executive MBA (Fashion) at the Fashion Business School, London College of Fashion, University of Arts London