What is Organizational Leadership?

Written by Scott Wilson

what is organizational leadership

What is organizational leadership? Organizational leadership is the discipline of mastering big-picture analytical and planning skills for strategic vision along with soft and interpersonal communication skills to help organizations execute that vision. OL is people-oriented and is rooted in empowerment and individual motivation to get the best out of a team and align everyone toward the same overall goal.


Organizational leadership is a phrase and a concept that can seem deceptively simple. At its most basic, it tells you exactly what it is: the process of leading organizations. There’s nothing hidden or confusing about it. It’s what you do when you are responsible for getting a group of individuals to work together productively to achieve a single mission or larger goals.

But organizational leadership is also an idea that comes loaded with some implications that distinguish it from other styles of leadership:

The differences between organizational leadership and other leadership styles are easy to spot. They fall into two categories.

Organizational Leadership Puts Heart and Soul Into the Management Process

Organizational leadership involves team-building and negotiation to deal with change and problem solving. Organizational leaders have to develop:

This combination of tools is the secret of organizational leadership. It builds the kind of teams that can accomplish anything with the right tools. It creates the sort of loyalty that runs in both directions—leaders who offer every kind of support and encouragement, and workers who go the extra mile to hit their objectives no matter what the obstacles.

The Mechanics of Organizational Leadership Reflect Larger Strategic Goals

serious businessOrganizational leadership also requires basic skills of administration and management on top of the inspirational work. Organizational leaders don’t just rely on building a talented team and getting them fired up. They also need the kind of old-school analytical and project management skills to understand the problems, come up with the right plans, and keep them on track to completion.

Strong organizational leaders understand the challenges their teams face and adapt their management processes to deal with the actual resources and obstacles in play.

Organizational leadership is a process. It can be executed repeatedly and systematically until a company’s objectives are completed. They key pieces of effective organizational leadership include:

Organizational Analysis

A deep, empathetic understanding of the industry, the organization itself, and the individuals that make up the team are critical to effective organizational leadership. The process always begins with an analysis of these factors to identify resources, strengths, and weaknesses… as well as sparking the creativity that good organizational leaders rely on.


With a broad perspective on both the larger social and business context and a clear understanding of their team and resources, organizational leaders develop broad, inclusive, and imaginative visions of the future. They set inspiring goals that are both challenging and within the scope of the possible.


With a visionary goal in mind, an organizational leader can develop an effective strategy that will put the team and resources available to their most efficient use in achieving it. Strategic thinking moves the pieces around on the chess board to move toward the objective step by step.


Organizational leaders also have to be able to communicate clearly and make genuine connections with their team, with outside partners, and with other leaders in their organization. The best strategy in the world is no good without the ability to articulate it and motivate people to accomplish it.


That motivation comes through inspiration. Using their understanding of every individual and of the organizational culture, an organizational leader comes up with the right levers to pull to inspire workers to live up to their maximum potential—and work toward a common objective.

Conflict/Change Management

Even in the most harmonious, visionary, and inspired projects, change and conflict are inevitable. A good organizational leader has the techniques and ability to channel conflict into innovative ideas and better performance. And they can make change an opportunity rather than a threat.

What Is an Organizational Leadership Degree?

students gathered around their professorSince organizational leadership is a process, it’s something that can be taught. While other leadership styles focus on the leader as a hero, revolving around personalities and ideas, organizational leadership has defined steps and a genuine, human core of understanding and empathy.

There have been plenty of great leaders throughout history who have uncovered these essential elements of leadership on their own.

  • Clara Barton
  • George Washington
  • Mahatma Gandhi

When you look at what made any of these leaders exceptional in their time and place, it’s not sheer force of personality or some magical touch. They learned their lessons through hard living along the way. Gandhi, who was to unite a nation in his civil disobedience, was shy by nature, to the point where he couldn’t even cross-examine witnesses in his work as a lawyer. But as a stretcher bearer in the Boer War, he overcame his tendencies and began to organize… with lasting results.

Today, thankfully, you don’t have to go to war to learn how to inspire and lead. Instead, you can learn all the same lessons in a much more forgiving environment: a college classroom.

Organizational leadership degrees pack in all the training you need to master every aspect of the field. Through case studies and history, lessons from the world of social and behavioral psychology, and ideas from the world of emotional intelligence, degree programs hand you every tool needed for effective organizational leadership.

Learning Organizational Leadership at Any Career Level Is Possible With Different Degrees

student making a presentationOrganizational leadership degrees are offered primarily at the bachelor’s level and above. The reality is that most of the senior leadership positions where these skills will be used will require more advanced degree programs, usually a Master of Science/Arts in Organizational Leadership (MSOL/MAOL).

It’s also possible to find organizational leadership concentrations offered with many other majors, everything from public health to nursing.

There are also a wide range of certificate programs in organizational leadership on offer. These come at every level as well, from post-secondary, to graduate, to post-graduate. They take less than a year and cost much less than a full degree, but are tuned to the exact level of detail and expertise to be useful for experienced managers at every stage of their career.

Degree Concentrations in Organizational Leadership Offer Preparation for Your Unique Path

volunteers in parkAlthough all the basic concepts of organizational leadership apply equally and effectively in every industry and field, the actual mechanics of the process can vary quite a lot. Clara Barton would have had a tough time leading the Continental Army to victory; Gandhi would have been a hot mess if placed in charge of a field hospital.

Recognizing these differences, many degrees in organizational leadership today offer specialized focus areas in different fields where OL has become important. You can find concentrations in areas like:

Each tailors the standard OL curriculum to the unique challenges of that field. So you can graduate with the full confidence that you have what it takes to lead people in whatever niche you’ve decided to build your career in.

The methods of organizational leadership aren’t mysterious, but they do take time, dedication, and instruction to fully absorb. With a degree in the field, you can master the skills you need to step to the front of your industry as an accomplished and creative leader.