Preparing for a Career in Business Administration with a Bachelor’s, Master’s, or MBA in Organizational Leadership

Written by Scott Wilson

business management career

Organizational leadership skills can benefit managers and executives in fields from healthcare administration to nonprofit management, but it’s really business where the training is most often put to use. It’s only fitting since organizational leadership degrees are most commonly offered through business schools, and the case studies and practices that are taught through these programs are usually taught in a business context.

Organizational leadership curriculum isn’t as broad-based as what you’d find in a traditional business degree, but it delves into strategies and methods for managerial success that aren’t fully explored in other business degrees. A Master of Business Administration or Bachelor of Business Administration both focus on elements of:

They are designed to build a general familiarity with business concepts and processes, and train students in business communication, critical thinking, and decision-making skills.

Organizational leadership degrees deliver a broader course of study, one that never really gets into the heart of the strategic, personal, and inspirational matters that make great leaders.

An organizational leadership degree focuses entirely on the most challenging and important factors in bringing companies together. So with an OL degree in your back pocket, you will find a significant advantage in leading your corporation to success in any kind of industry or management role.

What Is Organizational Leadership All About in the Context of Business Administration?

businesswoman holding tabletOrganizational leadership is the study of effective methods and skills for organizing and inspiring groups of individuals to work as a team toward common goals.

As a field of study, it rose in the 1940s as a departure from the idea that leadership was a singular quality found only in certain individuals. Instead, researchers found that effective leadership could be an emergent trait in the social fabric of organizations themselves. Specific interpersonal relationships, management styles, and objective-setting methods could yield different results in different situations.

Equally important, those factors could be studied, identified, and taught.

The applications in the business world are clear: any business with more than one employee must have someone calling the shots in some way to get everyone pulling in the same direction.

Traditional business degrees basically assume the magic happens, that you already know how to effectively cultivate relationships, tailor communication, and offer inspiration to a diverse workforce.

OL degrees recognize that it’s not magic, but hard work and time-tested techniques—and teach you how to apply them.

Assessing the Best Organizational Leadership Degrees for Business Administration

planning on dry erase boardBusiness has become a field made up of many diverse specializations. These extend not only between industries but also to specific roles and practices that every business has to execute, from accounting to human resources.

Organizational leadership is unique in that it can be applied in any of those areas. But studies in OL don’t give you the kind of domain-specific training you might otherwise need to become, say, a chief financial officer.

So it’s very common to find organizational leadership degree programs that either offer concentrations in other specific professions, like human resources, or industries, like healthcare. Alternatively, you will also find a growing number of professional degrees that offer a focus in organizational leadership.

Finally, it’s a field where dual degrees are common. You will see many schools that offer programs in organizational leadership alongside traditional business degrees.

The dual degree advantage: A dual degree sounds like twice as much work, but these programs allow you to fulfill common requirements between two majors only once. Your extra coursework only includes the specific classes required for each major, not general studies courses.

Organizational Leadership Studies Offer Two Tracks to Managerial Success

This all points to a common division in organizational leadership studies:

Careers where a professional degree is common or required, like nursing or information technology, and organizational leadership is available as a concentration in those degrees or obtained through dual degree programs.
Careers where an organizational leadership itself makes sense with a concentration in that field or as an addition to a degree already earned at a different level in that area.

Organizational leadership degrees are often, but not always, aimed at that second group. The base OL curriculum and studies cover businesses in general and common business leadership problems across industries. But you will also find OL degrees or concentration options that are oriented more toward specific business management cases like:

These are all fields where plenty of people find traction, or at least get started, with training just in business management, too. So it’s entirely possible to climb to executive leadership positions with degrees such as:

There’s no single right or wrong choice among these many options. The best fit for you will depend entirely on your current experience and eventual career goals. And your options stay open with the more general business management focus.

The major difference in all of these variations of OL studies is just a matter of emphasis. They examine the conditions and elements of leadership in a variety of contexts, or lean harder on the study of business administration versus business leadership.

How Does an MBA Work with Organizational Leadership Studies?

mba workThe sine qua non of business education in the United States is the MBA: Master of Business Administration. It’s almost universally the degree that C-suite executives rely on to establish or polish their credentials and take their careers to the next level.

You can find MBA programs today that include organizational leadership as a concentration option. This is a great choice if business management is your primary focus, but you also want the tools and techniques to inspire and motivate your workforce.

There are also many dual MBA/MAOL/MSOL options available. Those offer both a strong traditional education in business administration (including other potential specializations) and an in-depth focus in how to lead in the field.

Organizational Leadership Degrees for Business Administrators Can Be Tuned to Your Experience Level

Organizational leadership is applicable at many levels of business, but as a practical matter it’s mostly used in more senior roles. So you won’t find two-year degrees in the field—but bachelor’s or higher programs can be found anywhere in the country.

Certificates in Organizational Leadership and Business Administration

Certificate programs offer a fast, inexpensive path to OL training. Many leaders use a certificate to polish up their skills without a full commitment to returning to school. With only a handful of classes and timelines that last for months, not years, they offer a quick hit of relevant training. Certificates are offered at the post-secondary, post-baccalaureate, and post-graduate levels for students at different points in their careers.

Bachelor’s Degrees in Organizational Leadership and Business Administration

The four-year bachelor’s degree dives into a lot more detail in OL. A traditional liberal arts education enhances studies in social and cultural expressions of leadership, giving graduates a layered set of capabilities suitable for many entry-level management jobs.

Master’s Degrees in Organizational Leadership and Business Administration

A master’s degree takes one to two years to complete but provides advanced study in OL, often with a specific concentration or focus area. These degrees are aimed at individuals who already have managerial experience but want to take their leadership skills to the next level.

speaking at a business conference

Doctoral Degrees in Organizational Leadership and Business Administration

The PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy, is the most advanced level of study in the field, designed mainly to prepare graduates for academic careers. For business leaders, however, a practical, professional doctoral program can be found as the Doctor of Management in Organizational Leadership. These degrees can take anywhere from four to six years to complete.

These programs are progressively more difficult to get into at higher levels. And depending on the level of program you choose, your costs can range from a low of around $5,000 to around $150,000.

Should You Specialize Your Organizational Leadership Degree for Business Administration Roles?

Business management in itself is a sort of specialization in organizational leadership studies, but there are many parts that go into a successful business. You can find sub-specializations available in OL programs such as:

Of course, taking a dual degree program is a different way to specialize your studies. It’s also more work, but it allows greater flexibility in optimizing your own unique career path, too.

Finally, with OL degrees available at so many different levels, you’ll also have the option of earning a specialized business degree at one level, and an OL degree at another. It’s fairly common for someone to earn a bachelor’s degree in business administration, then go on to hone their leadership skills with an MSOL or MAOL.

How a Curriculum in Organizational Leadership Expands Ordinary Business Education

continuing business educationWhether you opt for a business degree with a concentration in organizational management, or an OL degree with a focus on business, you’ll take many of the same kind of courses along the way. The depth and emphasis on different classes will vary based on the level of the degree and the specific concentration you choose. But just about every OL program teaches subjects such as:

Social and Behavioral Elements in Organization

OL is deeply rooted in sociology and psychology. This coursework will tie those fields to the practical aspects of human organizations that you need to master to understand how individuals are connected and motivated to accomplish larger goals as part of a team.

Leadership Theory and Practice

The mechanics of organizational leadership are taught through case studies, identifying important elements of interpersonal connection, and developing communication techniques that reach out to and motivate teams and individuals.

Innovation and Change Management

Handling change is one of the toughest problems in any organization, but innovation and change are inevitable and vital in business. Courses in this subject will give you powerful techniques for pushing businesses out of their comfort zone and toward the top of their industry.

Leadership Ethics

Ethical elements in leading business organizations come not only from regulatory and legal obligations; they also become factors in promoting motivation and trust. Good leaders understand how to handle thorny problems of propriety and ethics, and these classes are where they learn those skills.

Organizational Assessment

In order to become an effective organizational leader, you have to have an accurate picture of your organization. These classes teach you how to evaluate the structure of the company, the assets available, morale, and training that will ultimately help you decide what’s needed to strategize and inspire your workforce.

Project Management

Particularly in business, managing projects efficiently is a huge part of making leadership actually work. So alongside the personal and strategic aspects of becoming a leader, you’ll get coursework in the practical aspects of scheduling, resourcing, and managing individual projects at all levels.

You’ll also have plenty of chances to stack up electives to tune your studies toward the specific kinds of leadership or type of business you are interested in. Every college has a different list of options, but some of the most common include:

Bachelor’s degree programs in organizational leadership have a much wider range of electives and required coursework in other liberal arts studies than other types of OL degrees.

Organizational Leadership Programs Prepare Professionals for Senior Positions in Any Business

businessman working lateA business degree is the Swiss army knife of college education in the realm of commerce and industry. The administrative, financial, and managerial training offer a general blueprint not just to succeed in the traditional for-profit business world, but as a model in government, non-profit, or almost any other kind of role that involves organizing toward a defined goal.

Organizational leadership has a natural fit with that kind of general purpose training in that all such activities require leaders as well. So an organizational leadership degree with a business focus can send you down a dizzying array of potential career paths on the management track.

Those can include:

The size of the business and the amount of responsibility you find in any of those positions will depend on your level of training and experience.

Salary Expectations Rise for Individuals with Organizational Leadership Degrees

The same is true of the kind of salary you will pull down once you land those jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary levels for those positions in 2021 came out to:

In the top ten percent of any of those roles, the averages go out the window. Those are the ones that go to people with the most advanced degrees and the highest level of experience. For them, the data actually surpases the BLS reporting threshold, coming in somewhere above $208,000.

And in many industries, the base salary isn’t where the larger part of compensation comes from for senior executives, anyway. Stock options, bonuses, and generous benefits can blow the roof off salary expectations.

How To Pick the Right School for Organizational Leadership Studies in Business Administration

serious businessmanFinding the right school for your organizational leadership business program depends first on whether it offers the right combination of business and OL studies to fit your career goals. Of course, if you already have the right professional training and expertise, then any organizational leadership program at the right degree level can cover the basic curriculum.

But basics aren’t all you are concerned about. As expensive as a modern college education can be, you will want to make sure you’re getting quality as well as substance.

That comes out through factors such as:

Because you’re likely looking at business-oriented OL programs, there’s another factor to consider. In the world of business degrees, employers look for those that have been specialty accredited by one of three agencies:

These organizations know what kind of education the business world wants to see, and make sure schools are offering it. You have an edge in the job market with a degree from any program that has received their specialty accreditation.

Expanding Attendance Options with Online Organizational Leadership Degrees in Business Administration

online organizational leadership studyingAnother feature that more and more students are looking for today is a program that is offered entirely or partly via remote studies. Although the pandemic fired up the creation and availability of online studies, the convenience and affordability are enduring traits.

By offering the same curriculum and personal attention as on-campus degrees, but shifting it to video streams, chat rooms, and virtual classes, an online degree lets you study anywhere at any time without sacrificing quality.

That allows you to continue fulfilling personal and professional obligations even while you study. And you won’t have to move across the country to attend the best program to fit your goals.

Whether you decide to pursue your organizational leadership training online or off, however, it’s a field of study with a lot to offer in the world of business. In an age where execution can matter as much as ideas, organizational leadership offers you a path to achieving both.

2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Management Occupations reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed December 2022.