At the core of the Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO)'s mission is an unrelenting commitment to helping both young and experienced entrepreneurs learn and grow to new levels of leadership, in business and beyond. One way to get there is continuing education, offered through university programs and other professional organizations and institutes. We talked with EO members about their experiences pursuing executive education, specifically the Entrepreneurial Masters Program (EMP), a three-year program that brings together 65 remarkable entrepreneurs--each a founder or co-founder of a company that grosses more than US$1 million--for four days per year. This executive education-style program provides an intense blend of practice and theory in a format that fits busy schedules at the MIT Endicott House, located in Dedham, Massachusetts.

You might not even see it coming. Your business is a success, and things are moving along smoothly, and then it hits you: You've reached a plateau, and you want--no, you need--more. More challenges, more creative solutions, more satisfaction. But most notably you need help strategizing how to get there. To quench this ongoing thirst for knowledge, entrepreneurs can tap into full-time, modular or short course executive education programs to learn new strategies and techniques to level-up their leadership and grow into the CEO they yearn to become. EMP offers a unique format: four days per year in three consecutive years. We asked graduates to reflect on that format. Here's what they shared.

How is the program organized?

Adrienne Lea Palmer, founder of Insite: Because it's taught over a four-day session, three years in a row, the program has a very intentional flow. Year one was tactical information about running the business: tools and perspectives about business operations and management. Measurable, tangible and actionable things. Year two was all about relationships, people, employees, leadership and how we engage others. Year three was about the self, a deep inner look at why we do what we do, what drives us, what scares us and therefore, what holds us back.

Michele Hecken, CEO of Alpha Translations Canada: The program built continuously, focusing on different pillars of learning and providing current insights. Every year, I looked forward to sharing what we had implemented from the previous year, hearing experiences from others and being able to tweak and optimize when I got back to my company. Having the same excellent moderator during the entire program tied everything together to ensure we all had a platform and toolkit that grows.

How did the program evolve from years one through three?

Andrew Blickstein, business coach at Petra Coach:  In summary, it went like this: Year one, fix it. Year two, go deeper. Year three, leverage for exponential growth.

Sue Hrib, cofounder of Auntiz Agentz: The first year felt like drinking from a fire hose: There was a lot to process. So, year two I was ready to take the foundation and move from there. By year three, I really thought about the end game and how I was going to get there.

Hao Lam, CEO of Best in Class Education: During the first year, we studied the fundamentals with speakers focusing on company culture, core values, mission statements, hiring, services and the issue of bottlenecks. The second year was a bit more in-depth, focusing on how to grow a company: Sales, PR, finances, plus the extremely important aspect of leaving an entrepreneurial legacy. As far as my personal experience, I felt overwhelmed during year one because I didn't know what to expect. But, once I got the hang of it, it was definitely enlightening. When year two and three rolled around, I came in more relaxed, confident and ready to hit the ground running.

Christina Harbridge, CEO of Allegory Inc.: To say the program represented great personal and professional change is an understatement: the first year I was doing fertility shots in the bathroom trying to get pregnant. The second year, I was pregnant. And the last year, my son crawled to a class member during a presentation! Along with that, I learned so much practical business stuff that I was able to sell my business just three months after my son was born.

Magaly Chocano, CEO of SWEB: We started with what matters most: Define your "why" then create a medium-term vision and plan with clear executional steps to get there. Assess if you have the right people in place to achieve your plan and shape your company culture. Years two and three went more in-depth with each area of the business: finance, people and strategy.

Blickstein: Year one was about introducing new concepts and understanding the roadmap of where we needed to go. Getting us to think bigger and be less myopic. There are quite a few tactical things that we leave with and put into our business. Done well, this becomes the basis for the future that we are stitching together. In year two, we were able to look back at some of the changes that we made in the previous year and gain a deeper understanding of core concepts like profit versus cash or developing a client sandbox, or a real marketing plan. In the third year, it's about taking the foundational work (happier teams, better cash flow) and deeper knowledge (marketing strategy, cash levers) and creating a long-term strategy to continue growing. 

Can 12 days of executive education over three years make a lasting impact?

Blickstein: It helped me grow my business fourfold over a three-year period. But the real impact has been my career change. I decided to exit my business and become a business coach helping CEOs apply these very principles to their businesses.

Harbridge: It helped me get very clear on what mattered most to me and grow my business to be sold for a profit so I could be a mom. Then, I used what I learned to grow another business that helps me do what I love―profitably―and still be a parent who drops off and picks up her child at school every day. Before I signed up for EMP, I never imagined that was possible. The program gave me the life I wanted.

Chocano: In my first year at EMP, I created a three-year vision to double my business, buy a building and create a team of superstars who loved coming to work. Three years later I have accomplished all of those major milestones. The program changes the way you think and work. It re-sets your business. And more importantly, you meet the most amazing entrepreneurs who ultimately become lifelong friends.

What surprised me most is how this program in such small amounts of condensed time made such a difference in my business. It couldn't have been more impactful. My business almost doubled after EMP; I am now on my way to achieving my next three-year vision plan.

Published on: Feb 28, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.