Organizational Leadership

Manager taking an organizational leadership course

Organizations and companies are increasingly complex. Employees come from different professional and personal backgrounds. Goals are always shifting. Organizations are dynamic and need people who can effectively handle these consistent shifts. At the same time, employees today expect to be led, not simply managed. The most successful organizations are in constant need of employees who can fill this role, but how do they know who to hire and promote? If you want to be civil engineer, you go to school for engineering to get your foot in the door. If you work as a financial adviser and are looking to move ahead, you might pursue an MBA. Doctors go to medical school and attorneys have law degrees, so what do leaders study? 

Can Leadership Be Taught?

Organizational Leadership is a relatively new academic field. Prevailing thought used to be leaders were born, not made, and had certain qualities that were inherent, or at the very least, only learned through years of experience. However, about 50 years ago, academics who studied business and organizations began to realize that leadership was a skill that can be taught. At the same time, organizations began to notice there was a difference between management and leadership. Good managers were not necessarily good leaders. According to the Harvard Business Review, “Management consists of controlling a group or a set of entities to accomplish a goal. Leadership refers to an individual’s ability to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute toward organizational success. Influence and inspiration separate leaders from managers, not power and control.” 

Organizational Leadership Education Options

Since leadership is teachable, colleges and universities are developing degrees at every level to prepare new leaders and give current ones a deeper perspective. If you are starting your career and enjoy solving complex problems, appreciate long term strategic thinking, and like working with people, an Organizational Leadership degree may be ideal. If you are at a mid-point in your career and have succeeded in managing teams but feel you can do more to motivate and inspire, a master’s in Organizational Leadership may be a logical next step. Professionals with Organizational Leadership degrees can work in several fields including Human Resources, Health Care, Non Profits, and Education. 

Organizational Leadership is similar to Business Management but focuses more on the soft skills of communication and change management and less on quantitative skills like accounting or economics. According to Swati Buddhavarapu, Bright Horizon’s Vice President for Talent and Organizational Development who holds a PhD in the field, these degrees “… are typically meant for people in leadership or managerial positions within organizations and they cover a broad but general list of topics that all managers should know.” A typical bachelor’s degree curriculum includes practical courses in change management, conflict resolution, and employment law. At the graduate level, students take coursework on the theory of leadership as well as research courses so they can explore areas of leadership pertinent to their careers.

A benefit of this degree is that students don’t necessarily have to have a specific background academically or professionally before starting. Often times, graduate degrees require students to have a bachelor’s degree in the same area of study. For instance, it takes longer to earn an MBA if you didn’t major in business. But since leaders are necessary in all organizations, professionals from all academic can benefit from this degree. It is not uncommon for people with degrees in a variety of disciplines to pursue coursework in organizational leadership when they find themselves in a management position. Professionals can benefit from an Organizational Leadership degree whether they are just starting their career or at the top of the company’s organizational chart.

Is an Organizational Leadership Degree Right for You?

None of this is to suggest that an Organizational Leadership degree is right for everyone. Deciding to pursue a degree at any level is an important decision. In order to get the most out of any educational program, it’s important to consider what will be the best fit. To help you get started with your search here are a few online options. At the baccalaureate level, the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor offers a competency based option where you determine the pace of your degree. Once you demonstrate mastery of a subject you can move to the next course. Colorado State University Global Campus, an EdAssist Network school, offers both a bachelor’s and a master's program. Master’s options can also be found at EdAssist Network schools Southern New Hampshire University and Arizona State University. Indiana Wesleyan University, also a network option, offers a PhD in Organizational Leadership as well as bachelor’s and master’s options. If you see your career moving into a leadership role, organizational leadership should be on your list of considerations.

Written by: Brendan Nelson

December 9, 2021

About the Author

Brendan Nelson head shot

Brendan joined Bright Horizons EdAssist Solutions in 2015, bringing with him 8 years of higher education experience in admissions and enrollment management at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. He holds a master’s degree in Organizational Leadership.