Your Guide to Organizational Leadership Degrees with a Focus in Strategic Thinking and Innovation

Written by Scott Wilson

strategic thinking and innovation

On the long list of things a leader must be, you’ll often find that being an innovator and strategic thinker are at the top.

Strategy is the art of defining objectives and creating plans to meet those objectives. Clearly, that’s a job for the people at the top of the ladder in any organization—they get the big bucks for charting a course and sticking to it.

Strategy doesn’t have to be innovative. Historically, even conservative strategies have paid off for leaders with a clear view of their positioning and strengths. Think Toyota, sticking with conventional production line techniques honed to the highest level of efficiency, maintaining cost leadership while competitors investing in flashy new automated assembly lines watched their stock prices tumble.

But in the modern arena of business and society, change happens fast. It’s hard to get ahead of the curve with a wait-and-see approach. Defensive strategies will often just leave your organization in the dust of competitors who risked more and forged ahead with new ideas and fresh perspectives.

So leaders who cultivate innovative strategic thinking in their organizations are going to be the ones who get ahead. And earning an organizational leadership degree in strategic thinking and innovation will jump start your own ideas toward that goal.

What Is Strategic Thinking and Innovation?

Strategic thinking and innovation is a mash-up of two different concepts:

Together, they represent that formidable combination of organizational leadership skills that every organization is hungry for. The ability to take creative approaches to long-term strategic goals breaks new ground in every industry. It’s the history of progress, written in a hundred decisions taken by leaders at every level. And it can accelerate any organization’s performance and accomplishments to the next level of growth and success.

Strategy is Deciding When Innovation Hurts More Than it Helps

photocopier machinesIt’s hard to find a more famous example of the benefits of strategic innovation than in the technology industry than the original Apple Macintosh computer.

Ramrodded by Steve Jobs, the small computer was revolutionary in both design and capabilities. With a graphical interface, sound, and a tiny form factor, it was a game-changer in the personal computer market.

But it wasn’t really Apple’s idea.

Many of the most innovative elements of the Mac were invented by an older and larger corporation: Xerox. Well-known for their copiers and office equipment, Xerox also funded a think-tank specifically to innovate in new technology, the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC).

PARC developed a computer called the Alto that was a proto-Mac… but Xerox executives balked at producing it, worried it would cut into their core copier business. Instead, Jobs wrangled a demo, walked away with the inspiration, and founded an empire.

It’s the classic story of how innovation is worthless—or even a gift to your competitors—without a strategy behind it.

Innovation is a hard lift for many organizations, however, because it involves a quality that every social group is allergic to by nature: change. Doing things in new ways means leaving behind the old ways. But both individuals and cultures are resistant to changes, even when they are for the better.

That’s where leadership comes in. A leader who has the vision and perspective to come up with innovative strategies and the communication, execution, and motivational skills to bring their organization along with them is what every corporate board, government agency, and non-profit in the world today is searching for.

Degrees and Certificates Designed To Elevate Your Strategic Thinking and Innovation Leadership Skills

So how do you become a leader with strategic thinking and innovation skills all wrapped up in a bow to take your industry by storm?

Advanced studies in organizational leadership that specialize in those concepts are the clearest path.

Organizational leadership is a field of study that has emerged at the crossroads of historical research into effective leadership and modern study of group behaviors and psychological trends. It has identified the key elements that give individuals the ability to step up, find a path to success, and support and encourage groups to work together to achieve that success.

Organizational leadership degrees bring together a big basket of leadership skills that are key to supporting and motivating teams to succeed. They incorporate everything from the behavioral psychology of groups to keystone project management tools and processes.

It also relies heavily on strategic thinking concepts right out of the box. Strategic thinking is always a leadership function. Throw some innovation training into the mix, and you have a potent and visionary blend of skills to bring back to your organization and your career.

Advanced Degrees and Certificate Programs Offer the Training Senior Executives Need To Polish Strategic Skills

cheerful students studying togetherOrganizational leadership degrees come at almost every level of college education available in American universities today. But when you get to the level where you are making major decisions that hinge on business strategy and strategic innovation, you’re usually talking about senior positions in business, government, or non-profits. Your basic leadership training will be in the rear-view mirror. A master’s degree or fast-track certificate program is the most likely place to polish these skills.

That’s not to say you can’t find the occasional bachelor’s degree program covering these concepts. There are options such as a Bachelor of Arts/Sciences (BAOL/BSOL) in Organizational Leadership with concentrations in innovation or strategy, or degrees with slightly different titles, such as a Bachelor of Science in Innovation and Leadership. But your most likely course to expert skills in strategic thinking and innovation come in more depth through these paths:

Master’s Degrees in Organizational Leadership Strategic Thinking and Innovation

Master’s programs are graduate-level degrees that typically take between one and two years to complete in leadership studies. But that doesn’t make them any easier to get through—with advanced studies that really focus on the latest concepts and studies in strategic thought and innovating as a leader, your skills will be pushed to the max. Coursework is far more participatory in master’s studies, with small classes and group projects the norm. You will also typically have a capstone or master’s thesis that will require your own research efforts and original thoughts on innovation and strategy.

These programs come with titles such as:

  • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and Innovation
  • Master’s in Strategic Management and Executive Leadership
  • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership with a Concentration in:
    • Strategic Innovation
    • Strategic Innovation and Change
  • Master of Business Administration in
    • Strategic Thinking and Innovation
    • Strategic Innovation

Certificate Programs in Organizational Leadership Strategic Thinking and Innovation

In an area of expertise as tightly focused as strategic thinking and innovation, many current executives and leaders opt for fast-paced, laser-focused education options like a certificate program. These don’t carry the scope of a full degree, but they are generally available at all the different levels that degrees are: undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate. And with fast-pace comes low cost, both in purely financial terms and in your time commitment.

If it’s really just strategic thinking and innovation that you need to brush up on, then a certificate program in Strategic Organizational Leadership or an Executive Certificate in Strategy and Innovation can give you what you need without putting a big dent in your bank account or in time taken away from your current job.

Online Studies Are an Innovation That Will Benefit Your Own Career Strategy

woman working onlineOne big area of innovation that carries across to all these different types of degree and certificate programs is online studies. Today, it’s just as common to find a program available entirely online as in a traditional, on-campus format. And in many cases, hybrid options are available, bringing together the best of both worlds.

Organizational leadership studies are particularly well-suited for online studies because leaders are people without a lot of spare time on their hands. You’re either in a job that is taking you to bigger things, or you’re impatient to get started on one.

Either way, things like asynchronous classes, where you can complete your coursework any time of day or night, or streaming lectures, or online chat rooms for group projects, get you through your classes around all the other obligations you have in life.

Just as important is the option you have to apply to and attend programs at colleges half the country away, without having to move an inch outside your regular job or family life. Not only can you keep your costs down, and avoid disruption in your current position, but you also have a much larger menu to choose from. Finding the perfect fit for your career gets a lot easier when online programs enter the chat.

A Unique Course of Study Fuels Strategic Thinking and Innovation Degree and Certificate Programs

young man on laptop and phone at homeWhat exactly is it about strategic thinking and innovation concentrations in organizational leadership studies that make them unique and valuable? It comes down to the coursework they offer that comes in over and above the typical strategy and innovation work in an OL degree.

You’ll get that through additional classes in topics such as:

Technology and Innovation – Technology and innovation are irreversibly woven together today, and have been, well, since the invention of the Jacquard loom upended the world of weaving. So innovative leaders have to be well-versed in both the latest technological breakthroughs in their industry and the effects and uses of technology in production and management… exactly the subject these courses will cover.

Patented in 1804, the Jacquard loom allowed complicated clothing patterns to be woven through the use of punched cards, creating easily mass-produced but stylish clothing for market. The punched card itself, taken from Jacquard’s concept, then lead to early electrical tabulating machines that eventually became the digital computers we use today.

Design and Creative Thinking – Creativity is a kind of magic that is hard to create from whole cloth. But techniques that lead to creative problem solving and the iterative design process can be taught and will unlock the imagination that leads to genuinely innovative breakthroughs. These classes teach design thinking processes and how to seek out the creative inspiration to come up with unique and effective new concepts.

Strategic Development – Creativity and spit-balling ideas is the fun part of innovation. Sitting down and drawing up actual plans is where it gets hard. These courses walk you through the tough parts of turning innovative ideas into actionable strategies, and developing the overall strategic plans needed to guide your organization through those changes.

Strategic Development – Creativity and spit-balling ideas is the fun part of innovation. Sitting down and drawing up actual plans is where it gets hard. These courses walk you through the tough parts of turning innovative ideas into actionable strategies, and developing the overall strategic plans needed to guide your organization through those changes.

Strategic Imperatives for Innovation – Innovation alone is never sufficient for success, even in today’s markets. The bankruptcy courts are littered with companies whose executives got so busy spinning the wheels of creativity that they didn’t stop to see if it was worth the risk. These classes teach you how to weigh the need for innovation against overall strategic concepts, and when to stand pat rather than unleashing risky new ideas or methods.

Put together with your experience in your own field, and the other essential studies that come with organizational leadership degrees, these classes hone your ability to think strategically and creatively. With a new perspective on how your organization can succeed in a tough marketplace brimming with new ideas, these leadership skills can rocket you right to the top.