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Part of Western Governors University

March 14, 2022


Master of Business Administration vs. Organizational Leadership: What’s the Difference?

Education is crucial for leadership development, and the right degree can give you the management strategies and techniques to help you thrive in any setting.

If you’re ready to launch or accelerate a leadership career, a Master of Organizational Leadership (MOL) or Master of Business Administration (MBA) are both great options. Each can open new doors for higher-level management or leadership positions and put you in a prime position to make more money. However, one might be a better real world fit than the other, depending on your career goals.

If you’re weighing your options, this guide will navigate the key differences and similarities between the MBA and MOL to help you make an informed decision when picking the right program for you.

But first, let’s break down what each degree program is and the courses they cover.

What Is a Master of Organizational Leadership Degree?

The MOL combines leadership theory and practical leadership applications to build the interpersonal skills needed to drive success within an organization. Coursework focuses on the human elements of running a business, such as team development, conflict resolution, and change management. Compared to an MBA, the MOL is more theory-based and delves into the sociological and psychological side of decision making and leadership.

Some specific topics you’ll cover in an MOL program include:

  • Communication
  • Human behavior
  • Strategic planning
  • Ethical leadership
  • Conflict resolution
  • Team building
  • Human resources management

If you find you’re motivated by making personal connections and want a career that’s more people-driven, this degree can be a good option. However, an MBA can also give you the same leadership skills plus a business foundation that can translate into a plethora of careers.

If you’re weighing your options, keep in mind that the MOL is best suited for:

  • Those who don’t want to learn about the finance or administration side of leading a company.
  • Anyone who wants to further develop their knowledge of leadership theory.
  • Individuals who want to focus on the employees in an organization or take on a leadership role in human resources.

Because this degree is largely focused on teaching you how to manage and motivate people, many graduates of an organizational leadership degree find themselves in HR or education-related roles, such as a school superintendent, HR director, or training and development manager.

What Is a Master of Business Administration Degree?

An MBA will enhance your understanding of business principles and prepare you to become a more qualified, capable leader. Rather than taking a deep dive into complex theories or abstract concepts like the MOL, an MBA degree teaches the technical parts of running a business and gives you practical information that’s relevant to your current or future career. This way, you can directly apply your knowledge and skills to whatever role you take on after graduation.

Most MBA programs go into detail on the financial side of running a business, such as financial planning, sources of long-term financing, management of working capital, analysis of investment opportunities, and more. You’ll also likely take classes on business ethics, marketing, and team building, as these topics are highly relevant for today’s leaders.

Some additional skills you’ll learn in an MBA program include:

  • Managing human capital
  • Management communication
  • Financial management
  • Ethical leadership
  • Data-driven decision-making
  • Accounting
  • Operations management
  • Marketing

An MBA provides a solid business foundation for those looking to run a business or dive deeper into finance or operations. It also works well to give entrepreneurs a holistic view of business functions to guide their start-up ventures. It can also be a great fit for:

  • Experienced business professionals and managers focused on advancing their careers.
  • Anyone who wants to further develop their knowledge of business, management, and strategy.
  • Individuals who are moving into greater management responsibilities in their organizations and want to enhance their effectiveness.

Similarities and Differences Between an MBA and MOL Degree

Both of these degree paths will give you valuable skills that can lead to a leadership position or a career supporting business success. You can expect some course overlap, as well, as the MBA and MOL cover similar topics such as operations and strategic management.

The big difference between these degree paths is their focus. An organizational leadership degree focuses on the soft skills needed to manage people and organizations—like teamwork, goal setting, and conflict management. A Master of Business Administration degree focuses more on the technical skills business leaders need to succeed, such as economics, finance, and data-driven decision-making.

The following career opportunities for the MBA and MOL are similar:

  • Operations Manager
  • HR Director
  • Project Manager
  • Sales Manager
  • Department or Division Manager/Supervisor

However, if you go the MBA route, you’ll be equipped to pursue other high-level leadership roles, including:

  • Owner
  • CEO
  • President
  • Vice President
  • Executive Director
  • Chief Strategic Officer
  • Business Analyst

Should I Get an MBA or MOL?

Ultimately, it’s important to pick one that will equip you with the skills and knowledge you need to go after your career goals. For instance, if you want to move up the managerial ladder and work in a more people-focused role, an MOL is a good choice. But if you want a solid business foundation to run a company or dive deeper into finance or operations, an MBA is the better option.

Whichever degree you choose, it’s important to pick an accredited program that sets you up for real-world success. At WGU, our career-focused curriculum is designed to do just that. When you complete our online MBA program, you can feel confident knowing you’ve mastered the top in-demand skills employers are looking for. You also have the option to fast track your education with our one-year accelerated program that allows you to finish your MBA in only 12 months.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a master’s in organizational leadership a valuable degree?

It’s valuable if your goal is to learn more about organizational leadership theory and work in a more HR-focused role. However, there are other degree options to explore, such as an MBA, that can give you the same leadership skills but with a broader business focus. An organizational leadership degree focuses specifically on the human elements of running an organization. However, it’s just one of many leadership-focused degrees you can choose from.

Is a degree in organizational leadership good?

Before you invest in any type of degree program, it's important to figure out your general career goals so that you’re learning the skills employers in your industry will be looking for. If you want to move up the managerial ladder and work in a more people-focused role, such as HR, an MOL is a good choice. But if you want a solid business foundation to run a company or dive deeper into finance or operations, an MBA is the better option.

​​What's the difference between organizational leadership and business management?

Organizational leadership is based on leadership theory and is focused on developing the interpersonal skills needed to lead. Business management is all about the technical side of running a business, including the financial, administrative, and marketing skills necessary to empower business leaders and owners.

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