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If you only recently heard about the Master of Organizational Leadership degree, you aren’t alone. Another graduate degree, the Master of Business Administration (MBA), is far more prevalent and well-recognized among established and aspiring business leaders. However, with concerns that MBA degrees have become too common growing, some students – particularly, those interested in the human part of the leadership equation – have turned to this lesser-known field of study. Graduate programs in business administration and organizational leadership approach management through different perspectives, and so require some different coursework, but they prepare students for many, though not all, of the same career roles.

Focus on Business vs. Focus on People

The biggest difference between the MBA and a degree in organizational leadership is the perspective with which you approach management. Students of MBA programs draw from different business disciplines, like marketing, economics and finance, but the conventional focus of the degree is on learning business structures and applying these discipline-based skills to manage them. While most students take at least some coursework in leadership and organizational behavior, the focus of these courses is still aligned with this notion of treating business like a science, not an art.

Organizational leadership programs instead emphasize the importance of the people behind an organization – business-focused or otherwise – and how to understand the human processes that take place in an organization. By understanding what has to happen for organizations to function effectively as a team, leaders can better meet the challenges that all organizations face over time. Though the focus of an organizational leadership degree might seem narrower than that of an MBA, the skills such a program covers are still fairly broad. Some master’s in organizational leadership programs allow students to specialize further by choosing a concentration such as ethics, healthcare, higher education, civic engagement and human resources.

What Is the Difference Between an MBA and a Master’s in Organizational Leadership Degree?

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This different approach to management means that MBA and organizational leadership students have somewhat distinct curricula. A business administration student would take classes in traditional business fields like accounting, finance, economics, business strategy and marketing, specializing in one of these fields or another academic concentration. An organizational leadership curriculum is more likely to focus on coursework in human behavior and culture, organizational learning, responsible corporate leadership and leading organizational change.

One reason students are turning to organizational leadership degrees is that the MBA is not considered as prestigious or comprehensive as it once was. MBAs are more common today, offering less of a competitive edge, and lacking crucial coursework in ethics.

Jobs for MBA and Master’s in Organizational Leadership Graduates

Focusing on the human side of management may sound fulfilling, but you might wonder if a Master of Arts or Master of Science in Organizational Leadership degree is marketable. In fact, students of these programs often advance to leadership roles in companies, just like MBA holders. They are also qualified to lead other kinds of organizations that range from nonprofit charities to colleges and universities and hospitals. Some of the career fields in which organizational leadership graduates work include project management, healthcare management, nonprofit management and systems management. Some candidates with a background in organizational leadership move into human resources, including roles related to corporate training and labor relations. If you’re interested in education, you could use an organizational leadership degree to become a leader in elementary or secondary school administration or in higher education – an opportunity that you are unlikely to get with a traditional MBA.

What are the drawbacks? Since you aren’t taking classes in business disciplines like finance and marketing, you may have a tough time transitioning into one of these roles with an organizational leadership degree. Additionally, since the MBA is the more recognizable graduate degree for aspiring business leaders, some prospective employers may not know what to make of your organizational leadership background. For jobs with these organizations, you may need to sell your prospective employer on the value of the skills you have learned. Unlike an MBA graduate, who understands business well but has only a surface-level awareness of how humans respond to leadership strategies, you have the skills to help lead companies through challenges in a way that mitigates and resolves employee resistance to change.

Some outside-the-box career options with a master’s degree in organizational leadership include motivational speaker, instructional designer, training program developer, management consultant and entrepreneur.

Additional Resources

What Is the Difference Between an MBA and a Master of Finance Degree?

How Long Does It Take to Get an MBA?

Is There Any Math Required for an MBA?