As one of the highest-paying master’s degrees, a master’s in organizational leadership can prepare you to become the best leader you can be. As prospective students dig deeper into this graduate degree path, they may have questions about the kind of degree they can expect to earn. Students often find that a master’s degree in organizational leadership is a professional degree, rather than a research-focused degree, and that it has some interdisciplinary components to the curriculum. Graduate programs in organizational leadership may award different kinds of master’s degrees, including Master of Science, Master of Arts and Master of Business Administration degrees.
A Professional Degree
At the graduate level, there are professional degrees that emphasize the skills for professional practice in a field and academic degrees that emphasize research study. Master’s degree programs in organizational leadership are largely professional degrees. That isn’t to say that you can’t choose this path of study if you aspire to earn a Ph.D. in leadership studies and become a scholar or researcher in the field. However, if you just want to improve your own leadership abilities, rather than advancing knowledge of leadership theories through research, you will be perfectly at home in most professional-focused master’s in organizational leadership programs.
This categorization doesn’t mean that the curriculum glosses over the conceptual framework of organizational leadership. As part of a master’s in organizational leadership program, you will take graduate-level courses in leadership theories, such as transactional leadership, transformative leadership and servant leadership. However, the goal of graduate studies for many students of organizational leadership is to develop new skills and knowledge for practical application to business environments, rather than to engage in research or purely for the sake of learning. Understanding different leadership theories is key to synthesizing the student’s own personal leadership style.
Another aspect that separates professional degrees from academic, research-focused graduate degrees is the intended student audience. Many organizational leadership programs, especially online programs, are tailored to the needs of working business professionals, according to U.S. News & World Report.
Master’s in organizational leadership programs tend to focus more on professional practice than research, but many programs still require a thesis. Some master’s in organizational leadership programs offer the option of doing an applied project instead of a thesis.
An Interdisciplinary Degree
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You might think of organizational leadership as a business degree, and it’s true that these programs are often offered out of a business school. However, business as a discipline doesn’t have exclusive domain over leadership concepts and practices. Other disciplines, such as psychology, sociology and education, have a great deal of relevance to the study of organizational leadership. In many ways, organizational leadership is an interdisciplinary blend of coursework. In your electives and even your core graduate coursework, you might take classes in disciplines like economics, law, ethics, and more.
Some organizational leadership programs include specialized concentration options that may include a greater emphasis on certain disciplines, such as healthcare administration or spirituality.
The Variety of Organizational Leadership Degrees Awarded
Organizational leadership programs at the graduate level may culminate in a few different degrees. Some organizational degrees are Master of Science (M.S.) programs, while others are Master of Arts (M.A.) programs. There aren’t always significant differences between M.S. and M.A. programs in this field in terms of how long it takes to complete the degree or the thesis requirement.
Even in terms of the coursework required to graduate, M.A. and M.S. programs may not be as distinct as you might expect. Some M.A. programs are more likely to highlight liberal arts and soft skills like communication than M.S. programs and some M.S. programs may rely more on math and technical knowledge. However, that distinction varies more from program to program than it does between M.S. and M.A. programs.
The bigger distinction is that between M.S. or M.A. degrees and Master of Business Administration (MBA) degrees. Whether classified as science or arts degrees, master’s in leadership programs tend to be broader and more general than MBA programs. An MBA program has a strong emphasis on business, even if it includes some interdisciplinary coursework in the organizational leadership concentration courses. If you think you may want to lead other types of organizations besides corporations – such as schools, nonprofit organizations or religious organizations, for example – you might find that a master’s in leadership is more versatile than an MBA.
Some universities offer a Master of Education (M.Ed.) in organizational leadership degree. M.Ed. programs tend to be geared more toward teachers and others with a background in education, but they can prepare students for leadership positions outside schools, as well.