To many students, organizational leadership – one of the highest paying master’s degrees – may seem completely interchangeable with organizational management. Although the two areas are closely related, there’s a big difference conceptually between leaders and managers, as well as smaller differences between the curricula found in organizational leadership and organizational management programs.
Leaders Aren’t Always Managers, and Vice Versa
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In a perfect world, all managers would be good leaders. In reality, that’s far from the truth. Only 18 percent of managers in the U.S. actually “demonstrate a high level of talent for managing others,” according to a 2016 Gallop poll cited by Forbes. This lack of leadership skills is a real problem, costing companies an estimated $550 billion each year.
Almost every worker has known some managers who flounder when it comes to leading people. They may be good at other aspects of management, like planning projects or coordinating logistics, but they miss the mark as personnel leadership is concerned. Perhaps they were promoted based on seniority, availability or knowing the right people. Whatever the case, they may have solid skills in managing operations and projects, but that doesn’t make them leaders.
You may also know great leaders who don’t work in a management capacity. They may have no formal supervisory duties, but their way of interacting with others always brings out the best in people and the projects they work on. Sometimes leaders who work outside of management are just waiting for the chance to break into a manager role, but other times, they prefer actually doing the work over handling planning and administration aspects of a project.
If you’re considering a master’s degree program in organizational leadership, there’s a good chance that you want to find that sweet spot of being both a leader and a manager. Given how difficult it is, statistically speaking, to find a manager with great leadership skills, the good news is that employers are eager to hire someone with the set of skills you’re intentionally working to cultivate. While management is a physician that emphasizes directing processes, leadership is a behavior, and its biggest impact is on relationships and the people involved in them.
General management has more to do with the daily operations work of organization, planning and directing, while organizational leadership encompasses higher-level tasks like creating the organization’s vision, navigating change and developing the human workforce.
Similarities and Differences Between Leadership and Management Curricula
How does this distinction between leadership and management matter when choosing a graduate school program? Master’s degree programs exist in both organizational leadership and organizational management. At first glance, there will likely seem to be a lot of overlap between the curriculum of a master’s in organizational leadership program and a master’s in organizational management program. In both degree programs, students should expect to encounter coursework in leadership theories and strategies. Topics like communications, ethics and the legal environment of a business or organization are also common in both types of graduate degree programs.
The distinctions between these programs are often subtle. While a program that culminates in a master’s in organizational leadership may include classes like leadership decision-making, a degree in organizational management may instead cover financial decision-making. An organizational leadership program might delve deeper into topics through classes devoted to conflict resolution, while an organizational management program is more likely to bundle this topic into broader subject matter areas like human resources management. You’re more likely to find coursework in the management of marketing, advertising, public relations and finances in a master’s degree program in organizational management than one in organizational leadership.
Still, organizational management master’s degree programs can prepare you to become a great leader, especially if you go into the program recognizing the differences between leadership and management. Many programs allow students to customize their education to some degree through electives and concentration options. Choosing classes that pertain more to the area of organizational leadership – or even a concentration in organizational leadership – can help you cultivate leadership skills while still fleshing out your knowledge of management more generally.
Students should be aware that a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree is a bit farther removed from a master’s in organizational leadership degree than a Master of Arts (M.A.) or Master of Science (M.S.) in organizational management. M.A. and M.S. degrees tend to have a narrower focus on the subject of leadership than MBA programs, which encompass all aspects of business administration.
Conversely, M.A. and M.S. programs apply to a broader range of career opportunities outside the corporate world, including leadership in nonprofits and schools, than MBA programs, which emphasize the strategies and practices specific to business applications.