Interview with Julia Milner, PhD, new Academic Director of the Global MBA programme

Written on 20 December 2017.

The Global MBA programme has a new Academic Director! Professor Julia Milner, PhD, has been teaching Leadership to EDHEC MBA participants since 2016. An award-winning academic and practitioner with an international career, she is particularly interested in the way leaders can also be coaches. We sat down with her to discuss her vision for the MBA.

Based on your research and on your experience as a Management Consultant, how would you convince sceptics that coaching nourishes leadership?

Julia Milner: Firstly, organisations are currently asking their leaders to use coaching skills, so as a leader you have to prepare and equip yourself with this skill set. Organisational outcomes are what convinces me, and we know from the research that you can achieve great results with coaching – when it comes to employee engagement for example. Google has just completed a comprehensive internal study looking into what makes managers effective, to build a managerial training program based on their findings. The top finding was that effective managers use coaching (they give plenty of feedback etc.). However, this is often easier said than done. In my view, coaching requires practice, feedback, reflection and more practice. It is challenging: just telling someone to coach does not made him or her automatically a good coach. That is why, in our MBA programme, a whole course is dedicated to managing human capital with coaching.

"Using coaching skills as a leader can be challenging. That is why, in our MBA programme, a whole course is dedicated to managing human capital with coaching."

How do you teach coaching?

My approach is to make it evidence-based and practical. We look at what the industry and the research are telling us, then students put it into practice, get feedback, then try again. 

More generally, what would you say are the biggest challenges managers face today?

Firstly, I think that people who perform well in their area are often promoted based on their expertise, then, all of a sudden, thrust into leading teams. But they do not always know how to be a good leader: it is rarely taught or studied, and they may have only had bad role models as leaders. Besides, as managers are often in “Go, Go, Go” mode, taking a moment now and then to pause and reflect on your own leadership approach is a challenge, too. If you just run ahead, you may not realise you have taken the wrong road, and it might be worthwhile to take a step back to look at the map before you start running again. Lastly of course, you have the challenges and opportunities that caused this fast-paced speed: the development of new technologies and what that means for our interactions within organisations.

In that context, what impact can the Global MBA make in the participants’ careers?

Participants learn tools and techniques that get them ready for leadership positions. We have courses about such technology developments as Big Data and AI, and we collaborate with leaders from organisations such as IBM and Amazon. We also put a big emphasis on providing the students with tools for self-reflection, giving them a lot of feedback all along the programme. When they work in teams for example, we have what we call team work reviews, facilitated by professors. The MBA is also a time for some to reflect on where they are in their career, and to see whether they want to keep going or change direction. Conversations with a career coach, but also with their classmates, can help them take stock and find a new direction they might want to take.

"The goal of the Global MBA programme is always to bring out well-rounded, value-driven, inspirational and reflective leaders who make a positive difference to the business world."

What are your objectives for the programme?

I think we have a fantastic programme in place. So, for me it is a matter of keeping up the good work, making changes when and where needed, and looking out for the newest developments and topics that we could possibly include in our curriculum. The goal is always to bring out well-rounded, value-driven, inspirational and reflective leaders who make a positive difference to the business world.


More about EDHEC Global MBA programme on

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