You don’t have to wait until late in your career to start preparing for leadership roles. In fact, many aspiring business professionals already know by the time they get to college that they want to be business leaders someday. Bachelor’s and master’s degrees in leadership, management and similar programs of study are popular among these ambitious students because they equip students with the skills they need to rise to the top. While your precise curriculum will vary depending on the exact title and purpose of your degree program, students who major in business leadership and management will typically complete studies that focus on the soft skills used to manage people as well as the theories and practices of different management approaches.
Choosing Between Leadership and Management Degree Options
As you begin looking for a bachelor’s degree program in business leadership and management, you should look carefully at each program’s curricula and learning outcomes. Though they may seem interchangeable, there are differences between leadership and management both as academic fields of study and in practice in the business world. Generally, management programs focus more on directing the logistics of conventional business ventures and may place greater emphasis on analytical skills. Leadership programs are more closely related to managing people than managing tasks, and they may include a stronger focus on developing the soft skills and approaches needed to motivate people.
Some degree programs strongly emphasize leadership over management or vice versa, while others cover both subject areas equally. Neither focus is intrinsically better than the other, but individual students might find that one of the two options – or studies in both – is the right fit for their interests, strengths and career aspirations. If your interests involve overseeing and organizing the efforts of the people in your organization, leadership could be a better choice for you, while management degrees tend to make more sense for those who want to be in charge of projects, departments and campaigns.
Leadership programs also prepare students for leading groups outside the scope of conventional businesses, including in roles such as nonprofit program administrator, education administrator, church administrator and law enforcement manager.
Coursework in Leading People
Studies in leadership focus on leading the individual employees that make up a company. For example, in a class on teambuilding and collaboration, you might learn strategies for building professional relationships with employees, managing conflicts and developing teams that perform at their full potential. Classes such as change management and organization development help students prepare for the challenges of leading companies and organizations in the face of changes, which are inevitable in any industry.
Due to their excellent relationship-building skills, many leadership majors go on to become human resources managers. HR managers earn a median wage of $110,120 per year, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Classes in Management Theory and Strategy
In degree programs that primarily focus on management rather than leadership, the coursework relates more narrowly to traditional business practices. Classes such as organizational negotiation, managing quality, supply chain management, management statistics and quantitative analysis for managers are all examples of subjects that are more prevalent in business management degree programs than in leadership programs. These courses focus on technical and analytical skills and strategies.
Of course, since many of the skills that make for a great leader also make for a great manager, some coursework is similar between the two programs. For example, both leadership and management majors take classes in communication. In leadership programs, communication strategies coursework highlights skills in listening, collaborating, advocating and tailoring your communication to your audience as well as influencing, negotiating and presenting information. On the other hand, management and business communication courses tend to have a narrower focus on the technical aspects of writing professional communications such as memos and business reports. The reason for the distinction is that managers communicate primarily to get tasks done by delegating work and setting expectations for projects, while leadership communications encompass broader goals such as setting the direction for the company or initiative and motivating employees.
The goal of management and leadership programs isn’t to choose one perspective over the other, but to help students achieve the program’s learning outcomes. Management students need technical and analytical skills, while leadership students must develop their soft skills.
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