The Break That Enriches

Columbia's exec ed head discusses how to pick a quickie course that's right for you

B-Schools are offering a wider array of executive-education courses, but figuring out which ones fit your needs can be a challenge. Ethan Hanabury, Columbia Business School's associate dean for executive education, talks with reporter Lauren Gard about making the right pick and how to get the most of your days away from the office. His first tip? Leave your cell phones and Blackberries behind.

Short courses lasting from a day to a week have been popping up. How are they different from the traditional, longer executive-ed programs?

The longer programs, which run one to four weeks, attempt to transform executives at a certain point in their careers. Most of these require some pretty intensive self-analysis and 360-degree feedback that challenge one's way of thinking.

Shorter programs are for executives looking to develop further expertise in an area. They're not looking to be transformed; they're not even looking to identify strongly with the school. They just need to know something about a specific topic. Short classes can also help refresh courses you've already had.

Any tips on selecting a course?

Get referrals. It's valuable to hear another person talk about what they took away from a course. It will help you decide and may also enable you to withstand the challenges you might get from others within your organization [regarding your time away from work].

How do you prepare for taking a short, targeted course?

Think about what questions you want answered and take an active role in the learning. Otherwise you might be in there passively, hearing what's going on but lacking focus.

What should you do to get the most out of an executive education course?

Being open to the experience is the most important thing you can do. Next, clear the decks back home. Make sure your boss and colleagues know that you're going to be away for a while and that you won't be responding to every e-mail. The whole idea is to take a step away from the urgent and look at the important. In the future, we're actually thinking of getting some sort of buy-in from bosses by having them sign something before their employees come.

Also, ask specific questions. You're going to get more attention. Have dinner with a professor or a participant you think has an area of knowledge you'd like to explore. Be proactive in approaching people.

By Lauren Gard

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.