Your Guide to Careers in International Business with an Online MBA or Other Degree in Organizational Leadership

Written by Scott Wilson

international business careers

Leadership is always a tough job. When everyone is looking to you for the answers, big decisions are on the line, and all the easy options are already cleared off the table, you have to have a lot of confidence, a lot of trust in your team, and a lot of their respect already earned.

That’s true in every industry, in every leadership job.

But it doesn’t get any tougher than cross-cultural leadership.

Leading any international business organization immediately takes half your tricks off the table. You’re not performing in front of the home crowd anymore. You need inspiring plays that can succeed in any environment, with any audience.

International business leaders need to find themes that work across cultural boundaries, real big-picture stuff that taps into the heart of what makes organizations tick in any corner of the globe.

You not only need the kind of communication and interpersonal skills to connect with and motivate your staff, but you need to be able to do it across language and cultural barriers. And that means knowing the ins and outs of dozens of different social settings, and having the vision to see how vision itself plays out in different cultural contexts.

It’s not the kind of expertise you develop through any ordinary kind of business degree, or even in a typical organizational leadership program. But with the right certificate or degree in international business leadership, you will get what it takes to put together a multinational organization that can take the 21st Century by storm.

Driving International Business Means Learning Leadership Skills That Can Apply in Any Cultural Context

young business people meetingLeadership is a quality that exists in every culture, but it’s not necessarily expressed the same way in each of them.

Many Western cultures value leaders who have big ideas and stand out against the crowd, pushing forward against the status quo to motivate their team and achieve great things. But in some Asian nations, that kind of aggressive approach will get you nowhere. Consensus and conformity are often more highly prized. On the other hand, in places like Latin America, it may be more important to be seen as strong and decisive, so attempts to engage subordinates can actually undermine a leader’s authority.

It’s tough enough to navigate any of these kinds of leadership style individually. Put them together, and it’s a challenge that only the best trained and most well-informed leaders can even attempt to tackle.

But in today’s world, big international organizations and global connections are becoming more important than ever. From complex supply chain management to international sales and marketing, all kinds of organizations need leaders who can bridge gaps between cultures and effectively motivate and inspire teams on every continent.

Leadership Degrees for International Business Deliver the Skills You Need for a Global Workforce

shaking hands in the boardroom Bringing those kinds of multicultural leadership skills to the masses is the job of college programs in organizational leadership for international business.

These degrees mirror organizational leadership studies in general by digging into the psychological roots of leadership and exploring techniques and tools that great leaders have developed over the years.

They also cover the essentials of doing business on a global scale. There’s a lot to know about how things get done in the rest of the world that don’t necessarily get taught in the typical MBA (Master of Business Administration) program. International business is its own specialization that comes with its own base of knowledge.

Putting that knowledge together with all-purpose leadership skills is what takes you to the next level in global business.

The Degree You Need for Your International Business Leadership Career

The good news is that, as globalization has become the secret sauce for profits in the business world, degrees that offer specializations in the field have popped up all over the place.

Leadership studies for international business can be found at most levels of college education. Your decision on which degree to start with or how far to take it will depend a lot on your career goals, your existing level of education, and your background and experience.

Bachelor’s Degrees for Organizational Leadership in International Business

  • Require 4 years to earn
  • Offer extensive liberal arts and general studies in addition to specialized coursework
  • Qualify graduates for entry-level positions in management or international business
  • Cost between $9,375 (public university) and $32,825 (private university) per year
  • Have titles such as:

Master’s Degrees for Organizational Leadership in International Business

  • Can be completed in 1 to 2 years
  • Deliver focused and advanced expertise in the specific area of international business leadership study
  • Cost about $12,410 (public university) to $26,597 (private university) per year
  • May be found in programs such as:

Doctoral Degrees for Organizational Leadership in International Business

  • Can take from 4 to 7 years to complete
  • Cost the same as master’s degree programs
  • Are usually intended to prepare graduates for teaching positions or research in the field
  • Have titles such as:

Certificate Programs for Organizational Leadership in International Business

  • Can be completed quickly, in only a few months
  • Offer a more focused course of study than a full degree program
  • Are much less expensive than degree programs
  • Can be found with titles like:

Since international business has all the same needs and specializations as other kinds of business, you will also sometimes come across leadership studies in more specific business functions, such as a Master of Arts in Business Communication for International Leadership. These can be a good option if you are already climbing the ranks in a marketing or PR position that’s a foreign position.

You may even find concentrations available in these degrees, in areas such as:

When Dual Degrees Make the Most Sense for International Business Leaders

international business connected through networksAlthough there are many choices available for degrees that put together both international business training and the principles of organizational leadership, you might feel like you need a full course of study in each area independently. Or you may want to tack other specializations on to either kind of degree, honing your expertise in, say, HR leadership, or international business for a certain part of the globe.

The way to have your cake and eat it too is to pursue dual degree programs. These put both majors together so that you get all the coursework from each degree independently. That means all the expertise, all the additional focus, and all the important experiential learning that comes with them.

The advantage is that general studies coursework required for either major counts toward both, so it’s still faster than actually pursuing two completely separate degrees.

You also have the option of stacking your degrees at different levels of study. That could mean earning a bachelor’s in international business, and then focusing on organizational leadership at the master’s level.

In either case, it’s a tough path to follow, but one that offers a lot of rewards in fully exploring both subjects.

A Unique Curriculum Powers International Business Leadership Degree Programs

International organizational leadership studies come with all the same core classes as any organizational leadership degree:

These are the courses at the heart of modern leadership training. They cultivate the big-picture strategic perspectives, the understanding of social and group psychology, the training techniques, and the communication abilities to connect with and motivate staff toward any goal.

The way those skills are applied in an international context are no different from how they work in any other kind of business environment. In fact, you can view the basic skillset of organizational leadership as being the key to successful international management in the first place.

Where the curriculum differs in international business studies in organizational leadership is more a matter of context. This typical comes through coursework that isn’t necessarily leadership-focused, but that offers you the right knowledge to add on to those skills to become a more effective multi-cultural and international leader.

So you are likely to have classes in areas such as:

The common thread is to give you the kind of international cultural perspectives and understanding of how the world works outside the United States that you can apply all your general organizational leadership training to those situations. This is the coursework that allows you to adapt your leadership skills to meet the special challenges of international business management.

On top of those courses, almost all degrees in this specialization offer extensive overseas study opportunities. In many cases, these extend for a semester or even full year abroad, allowing you to really soak in how leadership happens in other cultures. At the very least, you’ll find internship options working with multinational companies. They put you in real-world scenarios where international leadership is happening, allowing you to observe and learn at the feet of the senior executives who know how to make things happen on a global scale.

The Right Electives Help Round Out Your Studies for Specific Regions and Job Titles

global reachWhile the core of international business leadership programs will offer more general perspectives on leading in diverse cultural settings and handling international connections, the world is a big place. You are probably going to want some more specific education regarding the specific parts of it in which you plan to do business, or the systems you’re most likely to interact with.

So you will often have a broad slate of elective courses to choose from as well, in subjects such as:

Choosing the Right School for Your International Business Leadership Studies

inspire teamFinding schools that offer degrees in international business leadership is not much of a problem. Finding the right school that offers a degree in international business leadership to match your personal needs and ambitions may be more of a challenge!

That’s because international business is a broad field. It’s not easily possible for every school to have a deep bench of expertise in every aspect. When you throw leadership studies into the mix, it gets even harder to find the perfect fit.

Schools that have a well-respected organizational leadership faculty and research background should be your first stop when looking at international business leadership programs.

Of course, a big factor in international studies is finding schools that have strong ties overseas and to big multinational organizations. That’s going to impact your options for everything from internships to research projects to mentorships.

You’ll also want to find a school that offers strong expertise and a focus in the parts of the world where you are most likely to apply your leadership skills. There’s nothing that beats culturally-specific understanding of how to lead.

Beyond that, you’ll need to look at all the typical factors that make certain business schools better than others:

You can give yourself a really quick picture into how well any particular college measures up by ensuring that it holds a specialty accreditation from one of the three organizations that offer them for business schools:

  • AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business)
  • IACBE (International Accreditation Council for Business Education)
  • ACBSP (Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs)

With close ties to the business community and plenty of experience evaluating academic expertise, a stamp of approval from any of them is a strong vote for that program.

Of course, not all leadership programs are offered by business schools. Particularly if you decide to pursue an OL degree outside of your business studies, you might find that it’s offered by a department that isn’t eligible for specialty accreditation. In those cases you will have to do your own homework, but all the same factors apply.

Online Studies Offer a Natural Fit for International Business Leadership Students

business meeting over video conference If it sounds like finding a school for your international business organizational leadership studies can be difficult, not to worry: you’ve got an ace up your sleeve in the form of online programs.

Choosing to study remotely is clearly a great option for anyone exploring the world of international business. You might already be working in the field! Online degrees let you keep going strong in your day job, wherever you are located, while still building your skills for the next step up the career ladder.

Online studies aren’t just great for the location independence that comes with them, but also the flexibility they bring to your valuable time. Most programs are asynchronous, which means that you don’t have to be online at the same time as your professors or the rest of your team. That frees you up for viewing lectures, doing homework, or contributing to class discussions no matter what exotic time zone you happen to be in.

The World Is Your Oyster When It Comes to Leadership Positions in International Business

Leadership positions in international business open up a broad range of industries and fields of expertise. In fact, an organizational leadership degree in international business doesn’t even have to be used in the business world… government jobs abound at the state and federal level dealing with international trade and business relationship building.

And although big, multinational corporations are probably the first places that spring to mind when you’re considering international business jobs, today’s reality is that even very small companies can establish a big and important international presence.

Leading in International Business Before It Was Cool

russian mcdonald'sToday, just about every enterprise has a global strategy. Even those that aren’t interested in expanding their operations overseas probably rely on suppliers and are impacted by economic realities overseas.

But that’s today. In 1967, though, the idea of multinational operations wasn’t quite so common. So the sudden overseas explosion of McDonald’s restaurants that started that year was a real demonstration of international business leadership.

Starting with a single store not far from the international border in Richmond, British Columbia, the company quickly branched out into Costa Rica, Japan, Australia, and Holland. In 1979, they had reached as far as Brazil, and by 1996 were running stores in 100 countries.

The company had to forge new ground, adapting menus to local tastes and supply availability, shifting marketing to fit local culture, and collaborating with local entrepreneurs. Unique menus exist for every country, but the company has retained the American image and low pricing strategy that works as a selling point everywhere. With revenues north of $22 billion and more than 37,000 stores worldwide, there is no better example of global business leadership.

This opens up all kind of opportunities to anyone with strong international business leadership skills. You might find yourself running a regional branch of a multinational logistics operation, or heading up factory relations and quality control for a big tech company. You could take a role in government liaison offices, helping to smooth out licensing and import agreements between corporations from different nations. You might even strike out on some new venture, taking your ideas and expertise and starting a company to create entirely unique opportunities overseas.

Leadership training buys you a lot of options. In international business, it literally opens up a world of job opportunities.

No Matter What Currency You’re Paid In, Leadership Jobs Deliver on Salary

delegates in conferenceNo matter what your field or what type of job your leadership degree lands you in, you can expect that it’s going to be near the top of the range when it comes to salaries.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) keeps track of exactly what that salary data looks like for various positions across the country. Unfortunately, they don’t really keep track of salaries outside the country, which is where many international business jobs end up. But you can assume fairly competitive rates are paid for that kind of work, whether you are hanging out at the corporate office in New York or making big things happen in Zurich or Tokyo.

Most of those roles are going to fall into the category for Top Executives. In 2021, BLS pegged the median salary for those positions at $98,980 per year.

Top executive is a broad category, however, and you can expect salaries to vary significantly between different sizes of organizations and the different industries they operate in. One thing is clear, however: qualifications as a leader who can take charge and succeed with international business operations is going to put you higher up the ladder than the average executive.

As a senior executive with a leadership degree, you should expect a salary that is closer to the top ten percent of the range, which BLS found to come in higher than $208,000 annually.

In fact, many of those salaries are probably way higher than $208,000… that’s simply the number at which BLS stops counting. And it doesn’t include types of compensation that are common in international business, such as bonuses and stock grants.

So seven figure salaries aren’t outside the realm of possibility, not to mention the various other benefits that can come with overseas assignments, like housing stipends and transportation cost coverage.

With globe-spanning understanding, you can bring a kind of vision to your international business that regional players can’t match. And when building out a workplace culture that works toward that vision really means bringing together dozens of different cultures from every corner of the world, there’s really no substitute for a degree in international business leadership.

2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Top Executives reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed February 2023.