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Inside the Personal Leadership Coaching Program at Tuck

Through one-on-one coaching, the Personal Leadership Coaching Program at Tuck helps students clarify and deepen their leadership development journey.

For many students, a Tuck MBA marks a crucial inflection point—the shift from early career development to positions with increasing managerial responsibility. While Tuck graduates are well prepared with the tactical knowledge and collaborative ability they need to take on any business challenge, developing a leadership style can require years of hands-on experience.

That’s where Tuck’s innovative Personal Leadership Coaching Program comes in.

The program, now in its fifth year, offers all first-year MBA students the opportunity to receive at least three one-on-one sessions with a trained coach. The purpose of the coaching sessions is to help students identify their leadership aspirations, home in on their strengths and challenges, and create a plan to put their learning into practice through curricular and co-curricular opportunities.

“At its core, coaching is intended to facilitate personal reflection, thereby helping students clarify and deepen their leadership development journey” says Executive Director of Leadership Programs Richard McNulty, who oversees the program.

For many students, the Tuck program fills a crucial gap.

“Growing up I played organized sports, so I always had a coach,” explains John Kendall T’23. “Being coached was very normal to me, and it was something I valued. Once I entered the workforce, I no longer had a coach to help me with skills vital to my career. I didn’t even know that leadership coaching existed.”

My sessions all started with deeply personal questions that were designed to make me truly reflect on what drives me to do the things I do. Authenticity is crucial to successful leadership, and you can’t have authenticity without understanding yourself first.
—John Kendall T’23

Though few Tuck students have experienced leadership coaching before coming to Hanover, positive reactions to the optional program have led to its rapid growth. This year, 225 students enrolled, up from 190 last year and 160 in 2020. There are now 23 Tuck-affiliated coaches offering sessions through the program, and the coaching is highly individualized to the needs of individual students.

“My sessions all started with deeply personal questions that were designed to make me truly reflect on what drives me to do the things I do. Authenticity is crucial to successful leadership, and you can’t have authenticity without understanding yourself first,” says Kendall.

Kendall’s coach, Belinda Chiu D’98, echoes Kendall’s sentiments. “Coaching allows us to identify the values that will be our anchors and foundation for a lifetime, even as careers and jobs change. It isn’t about addressing something that’s wrong, it’s about helping us be our best.”

John Kendall T’23 chats with his leadership coach Belinda Chiu D’98 who founded her own coaching consulting firm in 2009.

John Reed D’75, T’79, an executive coach who recently published a book on coaching, notes that he’s seen a noticeable shift in how Tuck students who take advantage of the program make decisions. “The people who are participating in coaching are becoming more aware of paying attention to what actually energizes them and is intrinsically satisfying to them, as well as extrinsically rewarding,” he explains.

Coaching sessions are carefully timed to maximize their impact, occurring during the Winter Term and spaced between the Managing People core course in the Summer Term and Managing Organizations in the Spring Term.

Going back to school as a professional can cause students to feel pressured to be a certain way, and through the coaching process students become much more attuned with who they are and what they do and don’t want from their careers.
—Belinda Chiu D’98

“Students have had a term to get settled in and they’re about to take on first year projects, so the coaching fits well within the cadence of the program,” explains Chiu, who founded her own coaching consulting firm in 2009 called Hummingbird. “Going back to school as a professional can cause students to feel pressured to be a certain way, and through the coaching process students become much more attuned with who they are and what they do and don’t want from their careers.”

That lesson came through loud and clear for Kendall. “Before my coaching, I was trying to model my leadership after other successful leaders,” he says. “While leadership lessons from others can be helpful, they are by no means a replacement for thinking critically about how you want to lead and how you specifically can get others to follow you.”

According to Reed, Kendall’s outlook represents a broader shift in how today’s MBA students think about their futures. “There’s a little less of a herd mentality than there was, in that people are able to step back and ask what leadership really looks like, and what their assets and development areas as a leader are.” That flexible perspective, he notes, is essential for graduates in today’s rapidly changing economy. 

“In many ways and on multiple levels, the coaching program is directly aligned with Tuck’s core values, as it provides a personal, connected, and hopefully transformative opportunity for participants to assess, plan, and reflect on their leadership trajectory,” says McNulty.

Kendall, who says the coaching was the most transformative part of his Tuck experience, urges
his fellow students to take advantage of the program. But, he reminds his fellow students, “Like many things in life, you will only get out as much as you put in. If you are willing to dig deep within yourself and share with your coach, this is a super beneficial part of the Tuck experience.”