A Coach’s Perspective

Eadine Hickey is a Coach on the Full-time and Executive MBA programmes in the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School. She has previously worked as an Executive in the Financial Services industry and has worked in organisations such as GE and Accenture. Eadine has written a reflection on the coaching programme for the full-time MBA coaching programme.

Roller coster ridePhase 2 of the full-time MBA coaching programme is complete with Phase 3 to follow in June. As such, it is an interesting time to take a look at the progress of the coaching programme and see how it is supporting the MBA’s through this intensive year. As a Smurfit MBA alumnus, I am well aware how hectic the full-time Smurfit MBA programme is and it is amazing to get 3 snap-shots with each student during the year and see how their lives progress. Whilst each coaching session is intense and many different topics are covered, there is the sense from the coach’s perspective that these guys are on a roller-coaster ride and we join them on that ride at three intervals along the way.

Throughout the year there are high’s and low’s, some of these are predictable, and some less so. What we, as coaches, endeavour to provide however is the support to deal with the tough times and a challenging environment where they can bounce ideas and figure out how to navigate the rest of the journey through to employment, setting up their own business or whatever the future might hold for them.

Typical topics covered in coaching include:

  • Creation of a personal learning agenda for the MBA year (personal development as distinct from academic)
  • How to market themselves
  • Most suitable career
  • Self-confidence
  • Leadership style
  • Communication style
  • Reflection on individual and group psychometrics and what they mean.
  • The Smurfit MBA Programme is like a laboratory in many ways providing the students with the opportunity to experiment and try new behaviours and get feedback from class-mates in a safe environment. Whilst much of the focus of an MBA is inevitably on academic content, the coaching programme provides a valuable opportunity for the student’s to focus on themselves and their own development during the course of the year. This year’s class is an incredibly supportive group and I have found a huge willingness for them to seek help and feedback from within their group. It is a journey of self-development for all, so it is more than acceptable for individuals to seek assistance from their teams in order that they might further their learning agenda. By getting this feedback, many have dispelled concerns they might have had whilst others have received invaluable insights into behaviours they are choosing now to adapt in order to improve their effectiveness.

    It is testament to the MBA Coaching programme that of last year’s class 88% said they would seek coaching again in the future. In a time when people are looking for ‘quick solutions’ to problems, it is enlightening to see the value these students are seeing in reflecting on situations in order to come up with the best approach to dealing with challenges.

    An eminent figure in the field of practice and teaching of leadership, Ronald Heifetz, speaks of the value of ‘getting on the balcony’ in order to understand situations. This is in essence the opportunity that coaching provides the MBA students in the Michael Smurfit Graduate School of Business.




    Eadine Hickey
    Eadine Hickey




    Eadine Hickey

    Leadership Coaching on the Smurfit MBA

    “Confidence building. Talking though ideas. Generating new solutions to problems. More Positive attitude.”
    (MBA Student 2010)

    One of my tasks as PPD coordinator is to set up a Coaching Programme for our students.  We do this every year towards the end of a student’s programme as in many ways it is seen as a culmination of their PPD work up to this point.  We offer every single MBA student here at Smurfit a personalised coaching programme.  Our Coaches are some of the best Business Leadership Coaches around, some of whom have come through our very own Executive Education Coaching Diploma Programme.

    We have positioned this Coaching series towards the end of a student’s MBA so that students can tie up the final threads or address the final challenges currently facing them prior to exiting their MBA.  It also allows them to focus more clearly on their outputs from the MBA and ensure they have maximised all the opportunities available to them here at Smurfit.  It often helps them to step back and look at things from a higher level.

    One of my challenges is to ensure that students understand what coaching is.  To do this, we visit the many MBA streams individually and make a short presentation to each class.  We need to be very careful about this because our key message is that at the heart of good coaching is self-direction.  Coaching is not mentoring and this is the true value of coaching.  You are shown how to arrive at solutions yourself without being told or given the answer by someone else – a very valuable skill for any future leader.

    Looking back at the Smurfit MBA Coaching Programme’s evaluation from last year, (we evaluate everything!):

    –   94% of respondents recommended Coaching on the MBA to future Smurfit MBA students

    –   90% of the Coachees found it useful and again the same 90% found it enhanced their PPD programme overall.

    –   88% said they would consider undertaking Coaching again in the future post MBA as it was such a positive experience

    Some qualitative feedback:

    “I think the biggest thing I got from the process was the feeling of being supported at that level by a Coach. I knew that I could bring an issue to the table and work through it to find some way forward as opposed to endlessly searching in a thousand different places for an answer.”

    “understanding my professional expectations after the MBA. better understanding of how the MBA can be applied. general career planning. understanding my leadership style.”

    In the coming weeks, we hope to get impressions from a Coach and a Coachee to get the inside story!

    – Michael McDonnell, MBA Programme Manager

    A pleasant surprise

    While I was deciding whether or not to do an MBA, and where, one of the things I considered was the ranking of Smurfit (recently up 78th worldwide in the FT and 31st worldwide in The Economist.) I also thought about the academic content of the programme and the anecdotal reputation of the School.

    One thing I didn’t give too much notice to was the specific careers and personal development day that we have every Friday. This day focuses on each student as an individual, and leading professionals from the worlds of neurolingustic programming, personality type testing and time management are brought in to share their specialist knowledge with us. The process is highly interactive, and generally gives very good and personalised feedback to the students. The results are that after less than two terms, most fellow MBA students now have a good idea about their inner drives, specific skill sets and even in what types of career their personal motivators would be most likely to be satisfied.

    There’s even a one on one personal coach set up for students to discuss anything they like, in my case how to best network nationally and internationally and how to best target specific career opportunities. It could just as easily be used by the student to talk about their personal experiences on the course, additional help they need or confidential issues they may have.

    The whole area of personal development, whilst something a lot of people will have some experience with, takes on a whole new dimension of usefulness when it’s a full time integrated subject. For me, it’s been one of the standout experiences of the course so far.

    – Andrew Higgins

    PPD workshop: SDI – What motivates you when working in teams?

    Our second semester for the Year 1 EMBA, kicked off on Friday 14th January with a half day session on Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI) facilitated by Barry Delaney of PWC. To prepare, we had all been asked to fill in a detailed questionnaire which probed our motivations in different scenarios especially when under pressure. Understanding your motivation and that of others is a key skill in team working. Modifying your behaviour to achieve a successful outcome especially in situations of conflict is a sign of an effective team.

    The session gave us direct feedback about ourselves and an opportunity to reflect on this. I had the benefit of working with SDI 18 months previously, so I was up to speed with the main concepts and I was particularly interested in seeing if my own motivations have changed. Of course they haven’t!

    The objective of the session was to think about our Semester 1 Study Teams in these terms and to apply the lessons learned to the formation of our Semester 2 Study Teams which was done through a series of exercises. There were a few funny moments when the “assertive-directives” disagreed with the “altruistic-nurturing” group over some ethical points but at least they listened.

    There is no doubt that the most important unit in the MBA is your work group or Study Team. I already valued SDI as a useful tool and this enjoyable and well run session has reinforced it. What I have taken away is some specific and practical help to work with my group members in such a way that we get the best out of each other. As we roll into the long semester ahead we will certainly by relying on each other!

    Eoin Lyons, Smurfit Exec MBA Year 1 student


    – Eoin Lyons, EMBA Yr 1


    Financial Times MBA Ranking 2011

    The Financial Times ranking of the top 100 global full-time MBA programmes was published today. The UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School MBA has jumped 20 places in the global MBA rankings. We are now ranked as 78th in the world and among the top 25 MBAs in Europe. We are among less than 50 schools worldwide that have been consistently ranked in the top 100 over the last twelve years.

    We are the only Irish MBA programme that appears in the ranking and are pleased given these difficult economic times that we have improved our standing.

    So what’s behind this? We believe it’s a combination of continuous improvement; a collegiate leaning environment coupled with small class sizes, dedicated programme and academic teams and outstanding alumni.

    For example we are currently undergoing an academic review of our curriculum, the objective being to enhance student learning. We have streamlined our Personal and Professional Development Programme, which includes team development and individual business coaching with experienced professional business coaches. Finally our MBA Careers Service continues to work on a one to one basis with our MBA students providing them with the skills to accelerate their career.

    Orla Nugent UCD Smurfit Graduate Business School MBA Director

    Stay posted for more updates.

    – Orla Nugent, MBA Director


    Back For More…

    So here we all are back at Smurfit School after a well-earned break. The time off for Christmas and New Year has recharged everyone’s enthusiasm, so much so that most people didn’t mind coming back. But when we were back, we were back. There was no allowance for easing ourselves back into the routine – we were straight into assignments, readings, presentations and more readings and more assignments. The time off we enjoyed seems like a distant memory now.

    Getting the Job

    One slight difference I have noticed this term has been the increase in mutterings about jobs and applications and “what are you going doing next year?”  Surely it’s much too early for that I thought (and hoped).

    However in reality it’s not too early. At the end of this term, it will be March and we will be going on our International Trip. Before we know it, April will be upon us and then the panic will set in! And if we are to be honest with ourselves, it is the reason we signed up in the first place. Whether it was to get a leg-up in our chosen profession or for a change in job, it was all about the career at the end of the day.

    So onwards and upwards as we commence our search for gainful employment in earnest! I had better make my way to the Careers Office.

    – Donal O’Sullivan

    Career Detection – A student’s perspective

    Last Saturday, as a kick off to semester 2, I went to the Careers Detection workshop which is part of our PPD programme. It was everyone’s first day back in Smurfit after the Xmas and analysing your career at 9am on a cold January Saturday morning was a bit of a jolt back to reality for most of us. I’ve been to lots of these types of events over the years. I know my Myers-Briggs, interview technique, CV structure as well as the next person. So I guess my expectations that I’d learn something new were not too high. But as I’m job hunting at the moment I thought why not, I might get something out of it.

    I‘m glad to say it was well worth it. There was lots of very practical and honest advice on the current job market – it’s tough (knew that), most roles are contract (yes I’m hearing that a lot) and the successful candidates are putting 20 – 30 hours into prepping for each interview (wow best get at it so). There were also some very useful tools. The Richmond Career driver’s section was good and sparked a debate about money being a driver or is it just a hygiene factor? Our Celtic Tiger mortgages need paying; kids need to be fed and so on.

    Continue reading Career Detection – A student’s perspective

    PPD on the Smurfit MBA – What is it?

    This is our abbreviation for a very important part of the MBA Programme and it is short for Personal and Professional Development

    In order to maximise a Smurfit MBA’s student experience, we designed a Personal and Professional Development (PPD) programme which runs in parallel to the academic curriculum. It starts during the Foundation Programme and continues right up until the end of the MBA. Most of our MBA students participate actively and we believe it may prove to be perhaps the most valuable learning experience and will stand in good stead to graduates years after they complete the MBA.

    The purpose of PPD is to broaden each student’s set of soft skills to give them the edge in becoming the most effective leaders they can be.

    These are some of latest events we have run.

    Smurfit MBA PPD facilitator Brian McIvorOn 8th Jan, we held the kick-off event for Semester 2. It was a PPD one day workshop held before the academic term began called Career Detection. Brian McIvor, the esteemed careers guru, facilitated this for us.


    Smurfit MBA PPD facilitator Barry Delaney
    On the weekend of 14th and 15th January, Barry Delaney from PWC facilitated a workshop on SDI – Strength Deployment Inventory. This PPD workshop forms part of a theme that is based around Teams enabling a deeper understanding of how they function to thereby increasing the MBA student’s skillset in leading teams. For an overview click here





    You will be able to read more about the students’ perspective in these blog posts.

    – Michael McDonnell, MBA Programme Manager

    Do I know exactly where my career is going?

    “Who am I? What are my strengths? Where do I want to go?”

    These are all very existential questions, which for a thirty-year-old person to be pondering may seem a littlebelated! However, in the context of career path planning, they are fundamental to an MBA’s post-academic professional life. The importance of addressing these questions is underlined by the fact that our full time MBA class spend up to 20% of each week’s lecture time on personal and professional development.

    Often we know what we are good at, what are our values and strengths, and how we interact with others, but it can be very difficult to articulate these succinctly and to tie it all into a package which aligns with a specific future career path. In my opinion, this is the most important output of my MBA experience: clarifying my future career wants.

    Continue reading Do I know exactly where my career is going?

    First coaching experience

    Walking into a room to meet a complete stranger, I was unsure what to expect and how much to reveal myself. I was greeted with a noisy door but a very warm “Good morning”. It was my scheduled meeting with my coach at the MBA program at UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School. The coaching sessions are designed to help the students chalk out a plan for their future, under expert guidance from trained coaches. Armed with experience, the coaches help you identify your strengths, prioritize your goals and guide you in the best possible manner.

    My coach was a wonderful lady (thankfully!). She made me comfortable so I could share my aspirations, future plans, as well as, apprehensions with her. She was a very considerate listener. She gave me time to settle down before she asked me what my future plans were. It helped to share with another lady as she could fully understand me. I told her how the course was shaping, how I was getting along in the course and how demanding and draining it was, both physically and mentally. She asked me about where I wanted to see myself in the future and what I am doing in the course towards achieving that dream. She then asked me what my long term and short term goals were, and we discussed how I could work on myself to become fully equipped to achieve them.

    Amneet Kaur

    One thing that really impressed me was that there were no strings attached to the session. I could openly discuss anything, professional, as well as, personal. This helped me discuss all parameters that will help form the perfect equation of life for me. My coach, because of her experience and knowledge, could relate to a lot of things I mentioned and advised me accordingly. She helped me envision my future more clearly as she had examples to share from her own life and from the lives of the people she knew. I learnt from her experience. Real life examples helped me gauge the pros on cons of all my plans.

    All in all, I think the coaching is a very useful part of the MBA program at Smurfit. It really gives you an insight into what you “really” want in life and what is best suited to your strengths. I expected my first session to be another one of those add-on features that Business schools talk about in their advertisements but I am glad they proved me wrong. The invaluable guidance I received has made me more focussed on my end goal. I am already looking forward to meeting my coach again next month!

    -Amneet