Master of Science in Executive Leadership


Delivered through an alliance between the University of San Diego's accredited and highly-ranked School of Business and The Ken Blanchard Companies, the Master of Science in Executive Leadership (MSEL) is an innovative, values-based business degree for established and emerging executives.  The curriculum promotes a command of business acumen as well as a mastery of interpersonal and organizational skills to ensure maximum individual and enterprise impact. 

Program Value

The degree curriculum enhances a candidate’s collaborative and strategic ability, allowing him or her to unlock and sustain the power and potential of the entire organization.  Graduates are uniquely prepared to assume leadership roles of ever greater responsibility.  Through the MSEL program, executives acquire the functional disciplinary skills needed to lead a business AND the inspirational skills to ensure a team’s success when a good plan is simply not enough.

MSEL program graduates develop the leadership skills necessary to:

  • Facilitate behavioral change in self and others through self-knowledge and heightened awareness of situational challenges;
  • Foster highly productive and collaborative relationships among individuals, teams and organizations;
  • Analyze complex business situations, negotiate organizational needs, and plan effectively to meet defined objectives;
  • Design and execute strategic initiatives to effect organizational change, deliver results and achieve industry leadership.

Distinguishing Features

  • Executive Participants:  The MSEL program targets established and emerging leaders who possess 10 or more years of professional experience. 
  • Senior Faculty Instruction:  Each course is led by distinguished USD School of Business faculty, experienced Chief Executive Officers, and internationally recognized business educators.  Students benefit from the integration of applied research and real-world business practice.
  • Executive Format: Structured to accommodate the busy schedule of executive participants, the twenty-two month program is generally delivered in one weekend per month.  All books, materials and meals are provided while in class.
  • Cohort Learning:  Executive students from diverse industries and functional disciplines progress through all courses together.  Sharing established solutions and best-practices to leadership provides enriched class interactions and learning.  Alumni consistently regard the cohort experience as key to the value and impact of the program.
  • High ROI:  MSEL graduates are testaments to the impact the program has on advancing their professional development and career growth.  MSEL graduates and students frequently comment on the immediate applicability of their new skills and the value of their expanded professional network and relationships.


The USD School of Business is AACSB accredited and offers highly ranked undergraduate and graduate business degree programs.

Our Mission

The Mission of the Master of Science in Executive Leadership is to develop and inspire leaders who will transform their organizations and our world through service with compassion and integrity.

Contact Information
Phone: (619) 260-4860


Admission Requirements: As the first criteria for admission, candidates are expected to have a set of diversified leadership experiences and should possess ten or more years in a professional capacity and serve in a leadership or management position. Additional screening is typical of that found for entry into most business graduate degree programs, including the assessment of academic competence. Other application requirements include:

  • Bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university with proof via transcripts
  • Professional Work Product prepared by the candidate that demonstrates the ability to analyze complex problems at the graduate level and lead organizational performance. Examples include: a technical report, a strategic business plan, a financial analysis, an investment analysis, or a new project or business proposal. Candidate must be the dominant author. Content contributions from all others should be less than 20% of the total effort. Students may choose to take the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) in lieu of the Professional Work Product.
  • Two letters of recommendation from the applicant’s supervisor, a colleague or a direct report
  • Personal essay (instructions provided on application website)
  • Resume demonstrating leadership experience and work history

Additional Requirements for Admission

Master of Science in Executive Leadership

Entrance Semester Fall
Application Deadline May 15 (applications will be considered after this deadline on a space available basis)
Applicants who received their bachelor’s degree from a non-US educational institution must have their transcripts evaluated by the International Education Research Foundation (IERF) or World Education Services, Inc. (WES).

Curriculum Overview: The executive scheduling format of the courses allows students to fulfill their work responsibilities while still pursuing their degree. The following is the current sequence of the MSEL courses, all of which are required:

MSEL 520Preparing for Leadership: Self Appraisal & Analysis3
MSEL 521Optimizing Individual Learning1.5
MSEL 522Leadership, Power & Politics1.5
MSEL 529Leadership in a Team Context1.5
MSEL 524Communicating your leadership Point of View1.5
MSEL 525Effective Decision Making1.5
MSEL 526Succession Planning & Talent Management1.5
MSEL 527Partnering for Performance Using Situational Lead II1.5
MSEL 523Ethics in the Workplace1.5
MSEL 528Problem Solving & Negotiation1.5
MSEL 530Leadership in a Global Context1.5
MSEL 535Finance & Accounting in Organizational Leadership4.5
MSEL 536Corporate Governance1.5
MSEL 531Leading Organization Change3
MSEL 532Designing Organizational Culture: Values & Alignment1.5
MSEL 534Marketing Strategy, Structure & Process3
MSEL 533Innovation and Organzational Learning1.5
MSEL 537Executing Strategic Initiative1.5
MSEL 538Leadership for the Future1.5



Units: 3

This course, the first one-week track, serves as the orientation to the master’s program. Students explore the relationship between personality and behaviors of the socially responsible leader. Topics include personality theory, disposition, beliefs, values, presentation of self in the workplace, and the competencies required to effectively lead values-driven organizations. Students learn what values and character they bring to their management roles, as well as how to discern the disposition and values framework others bring to the workplace. Approaches include diagnostic instruments for self and others, role plays, case studies, a writing project to establish a personal mission statement and formulating strategies for balancing work and personal values.


Units: 1.5

Focusing on the Leader as Learner, students develop an understanding of the relationship between leading, learning and teaching in an effort to maximize individual and organizational performance. The Leader as Learner is the main theme of this course. Students assess how they best acquire and process information to help them advocate for what they need as leaders and learners. Common business processes and skills practiced will assist in defining, understanding, and developing a learning orientation and optimizing leadership so individuals in organizations can out-learn, out-think, and out-create competitors while maximizing individual and organizational performance.


Units: 1.5

This course covers the analysis, explanation and evaluation of power and politics in organizations. It offers frameworks for assessing the sources of power in organizations, the conditions that lead to its attainment and its effective use from both a practical and an ethical perspective. Our discussions will cover how people in organizations try to get what they want by influencing others (a key aspect of leadership), how their ability to do so is affected by power distributions and how people try to change power distributions in their favor. We will evaluate these behaviors and discuss how, as a leader, you should participate in these behaviors.


Units: 1.5

This course examines the moral features of activities and decision-making within and among organizations. Beginning with the assumption that most people want to act ethically most of the time, we must also recognize that people and relationships are complex. Determining the proper course of action is at least as difficult as taking that action within an elaborate network of stakeholder relationships. Toward improving moral analysis in organizations, this course will cover topics such as: the effects of time pressure, division of loyalties, conflicts of obligations, effects of bureaucracy, nature of authority, cultural relativism and international ethical differences, among others.


Units: 1.5

Contemporary research demonstrates that effective leaders articulate a clear and consistent Leadership Point of View. Students will explore the importance of developing a clear leadership point of view in an organizational context. In addition, students will reflect on the principle of Servant Leadership and its application as the foundation for any leadership point of view. Each student will be asked to present his or her leadership point of view in oral and written formats. The teaching methods include self-diagnosis, role-plays, case studies and presentations by both faculty and students. The MSEL program as a whole provides a framework for leadership with six specific areas of concentration. MSEL524 concludes the formal self-leadership segment of the MSEL curriculum and focuses primary attention on Leadership and Best Business Practices.


Units: 1.5

Both quality and timeliness of decision making are stressed in this integrative approach to decision making in the leadership arena. Systematic processes of business problem-solving and decision making are introduced and applied to real-world situations. Topics include problem definition; generation of alternatives; statistical inference and decision techniques; risk assessment and analysis, decision making under uncertainty; game theory and behavioral economics and implementation; and political and ethical considerations in decision making. Teaching methods include lecture, case studies and group and individual projects. The objective of this course is to apply decision tools and analytical techniques to evaluate and resolve decision problems faced by leaders. Understanding these quantitative and non-quantitative decision techniques will allow leaders to evaluate alternatives, understand risk and achieve optimal results when faced with complicated decision problems.


Units: 1.5

This course explores the science and art of identifying and developing tomorrow’s leaders in organizations. Traditionally, corporate boards have left leadership planning and development very much up to their CEOs and human resources departments. Companies whose boards and senior executives fail to prioritize succession planning and leadership development end up experiencing a steady attrition in talent and becoming extremely vulnerable when they have to cope with inevitable upheavals. Attracting, developing and retaining talent may be the most critical function of today’s organizational leadership. Making sure the right people are moving at the right pace and into the right jobs at the right time can significantly impact the sustainability and competitive advantage of any business enterprise. Students will first review and reflect on their personal career development path using the data in the Voices 360° feedback report. They will learn strategies and best practices for identifying and documenting organizational needs and recruiting talent, as well as managing their performance and development once onboard. Topics include leadership development and performance management systems, Board of Directors, executive ability, organizational development, focuses on best-practices that help ensure sustained employee “fit” and engagement.


Units: 1.5

This course explores the issues, possibilities and prescriptions when ethically leading in a one-on-one context. Topics include defining leadership in the one to one context, diagnosis of employee competence and commitment, the use of directive and supportive behaviors, the consequences of over and under supervision, assessment-based feedback on leadership style, leader behaviors and employee satisfaction and the dynamic impact of an individual’s DiSC® profile on leader effectiveness. Teaching methods include assessments, role plays, case studies and one paper demonstrating the application of these tools and techniques in the student’s workplace.


Units: 1.5

Business people operate in environments in which political and economic pressures are strong and in which resources–natural, human, time and money–may be scarce. Moreover, various diverse and competing groups (both within and outside of the organization) often do all they can to influence the goals and direction of the organization. Given such circumstances, negotiation is a central skill in managing conflict, creating value and distributing resources. This course explores the science and art of negotiation. The “science” is learned largely through seminar style discussions and lectures. The “art” is learned by experience in simulated negotiations. Multi-faceted negotiation simulations provide opportunities to develop multi-party and cross-cultural negotiation skills and engage in open discussion and direct feedback requiring special attention to issues of leadership, ethics and trust.


Units: 1.5

This course examines the challenges and possibilities of creating and leading in a team based organizational culture. Topics include: stages of team development, team dynamics and observation skills; leadership interventions; team chartering; and conflict management. Teaching methods are highly experiential and include assessments, role-plays, case studies, simulations, skill practice and a writing project documenting a team leadership experience.


Units: 1.5

Managing organizations and people of diverse national cultures is a critical leadership skill that enriches organizations and contributes to success in a global business environment. Emphasis is placed on viewing global awareness as a necessary operational tool to global business strategy. Attention will be devoted to critical interpersonal skills of the Global Leader, including among other things, multi-cultural communication, ethics, managing hierarchy in mixed cultures and differing views on time. Also, the course will explore the complex decision-making processes associated with cross-cultural management, the context of international business, the economic and social impact of corruption and culturally consistent leadership. Teaching methodology includes case studies, video examples, experiential exercises, role plays and discussions.


Units: 3

Change agents play a critical role in organizations. This course explores the problems and possibilities when leading an organizational change effort. Students will learn the stages of concern that individuals experience when dealing with change and why people resist change. In addition, several models of change are shared and students will identify successful and unsuccessful change efforts in their own organizations and do a final project on leading a change initiative. Topics include change management strategies, alignment of organizational systems and theories of change. The main intent of this course is to design and develop your own “tool kit” with strategies and models to help you make change comfortable or even exciting for others in your organizations. Teaching methods include simulations, guest speakers, videos, lecture and small group discussion and facilitator-assisted analysis of the group’s learning.


Units: 1.5

Culture is explored as an expression of how things get done within an organization, with the aim of distinguishing why some cultures become a source of competitive advantage, while others don’t. The course explores the abstract concept of culture - what it is, how it is created, how it evolves and how it can be changed - and practical tools that managers and leaders can use to understand the dynamics of organizations. Leaders learn to assess how members read their organizational culture to identify embedded values and norms. Intervention strategies are developed to realign cultural elements with mission, vision and strategic direction. Class materials and activities demonstrate the crucial role leaders play in successfully applying the principles of culture to understand organizational effectiveness and achieve organizational goals. Topics include: accountability, belief systems, boundary systems, communication in organizations, control systems, motivation, organizational behavior, organizational development and values.


Units: 1.5

Common business processes and skills practiced will assisting defining, understanding and developing a learning organization. The focus is on optimizing leadership so individuals in organizations can out-learn, out-think and out-create competitors while maximizing individual and organizational performance. Topics include systems thinking, customer feedback, diagnostic control systems, employee development, employee empowerment, entrepreneurial management, innovation, interactive control systems, knowledge management and knowledge transfer. Teaching methods include assessment tools, role-plays, lecture, participant presentations and an “Action Learning” project.


Units: 3

An examination of the integrated set of commitments, decisions and actions designed to give a firm competitive advantage. Drawing from Designing Organizational Culture students continue their analysis of organizational core competence. The focus is on an exploration of the marketing process in the firm and in society in relation to identified organizational strategies. The most important objective of this course is for each participant to develop an understanding of the scope, challenges, opportunities and limitations of strategic marketing. Topics include customer value, satisfaction and loyalty; consumer research; market analysis; market segmentation and targets; brand equity; designing and managing services; pricing; and integrated marketing communications.


Units: 4.5

This course presents the responsibilities, analytical approaches and leadership strategy implications of the accounting and financial officer of a company. The course integrates the external (investor) and the internal (financial leadership) perspectives. First, the tools required to manage the accounting and financial functions within a mature corporation will be presented. Second, the financial implications of a start-up company will be covered. Both of these perspectives are internal to the business organization. The third perspective will be external in covering how the financial communities of investors view the corporation as an investment and the responsibilities of the financial manager in maximizing the company’s shareholders’ wealth. The course will cover the key issues related to each perspective. Learning methods include lecture, problem solving, in-class case analysis and project reports.


Units: 1.5

Failure in corporate governance, an ineluctable responsibility of business leadership, can threaten the very existence of the firm. Providing leadership on corporate governance requires first the examination of why governance is necessary—e.g. what specific problems arise as a result of the corporate form—and gaining an understanding of the reach and scope of the principal corporate governance mechanisms. Topics such as the purpose and nature of the firm, models of corporate governance and their correspondence with legal and financial traditions, internal and external governance mechanisms, the role of regulatory authorities and executive compensation are covered in a comparative and interdisciplinary manner.


Units: 1.5

Execution is essential for all great strategies. As such, the focus of this course will be on developing excellence in execution and the breakthrough thinking and leadership foundations which that requires. Focus will be on integrating individual, interpersonal, team and organizational leadership with the critical financial, customer and strategic initiatives explored in the preceding courses. This will lead to a richer understanding of the complexity associated with organizational leadership and the mastery of executing organizational strategy. The purpose of this course is to help you develop a better understanding of the layers of complexity associated with being an ‘executive’ and the link between execution and strategy.


Units: 1.5

As the culmination to a 22-month journey, students are provided the opportunity to synthesize and bring closure to this formal stage of their learning. Students review their learning goals and assess the extent to which they have developed the necessary competencies to perform as high potential executive leaders who impact high performing organizations. The role of leaders in defining and building socially responsible organizations is explored. Students also present and discuss their final portfolio submission (embedded assessment) containing their personal leadership plan, leading others plan and current business plan. Teaching methods include lecture, presentations, simulation and guest lecturers. Note: Course offerings and descriptions are subject to change.