MBA Versus Organizational Leadership Masters

Management vs Leadership: What are the Differences Between an MBA and an Organizational Leadership Masters?

Benjamin Adams, Alumnus ‘17

The Masters of Business Administration (MBA) is one of the most sought-after graduate degrees, for good reason. An MBA provides the foundation for aspiring business leaders to assume roles of responsibility in their field. It has become an essential tool for success in business. Most MBA programs share similar core courses, ones that graduates are certain to use. Courses teach skills such as finance, marketing, strategy and economics that are inherent in any business, in any sector. These courses and others emphasize the “science” of business: its structures, departments, phenomenon, and nuance. MBA graduates are expected to employ this science to create value for their company, often in a leadership role. In anticipation of this, most MBAs also offer 1-2 core courses in organizational behavior or leadership as a supplement.

The Masters in Organizational Leadership & Learning (OLL) from George Washington University also offers several core courses in organizational behavior and leadership. However, the remainder of our courses focus not on the science of business, but the science and art of people in any organization. The OLL degree is broader in scope than an MBA. While an MBA enables success in the business realm, OLL enables success in any professional setting where two or more people are pursuing a common goal. Instead of marketing and finance, our core curriculum is devoted to the fundamental human processes of leadership, change, learning, and globalization. These are, in fact, the four pillars of our program (Khilji, 2015). By fundamental human processes, we mean that each of these are:

  • Fundamental: The basic phenomena that is necessary for a group, team, or organization to operate effectively; the building blocks upon which all other organizational functions are based
  • Human: They are inherent to people (especially in a group, team, or organization), occurring within and around us in various contexts constantly
  • Process: In every organization, each of these phenomena continues in perpetuity: they never stop happening. A successful, effective organization is never done learning, or done changing.

In OLL we believe in using awareness (especially self-awareness) and reflection as the primary tools to gain expertise and knowledge about each process. All four pillars represent a “pursuit of mastery”; that is, through study and critical analysis we become more adept in each…But we never “know” everything there is to know or are “done” learning about them. In this way, it is truly about the journey and not the destination.

Perhaps the most significant difference between OLL and the MBA lies in a key assumption. In the OLL program we do not assume that competence in these fundamental human processes will grow incidentally, or “along the way”, by studying other technical subjects. We apply deliberate effort to ensure that our graduates are capable leaders (and followers), facilitators, consultants, and interventionists. Other programs assume that in learning about finance or marketing their graduates will be effective leaders, able to create a learning organization, or successfully implement change. We do not make that assumption, and our curriculum reflects it:

Venn diagram showing Leadership as the intersection between OLL and MBA.

We do not take the fundamental human processes for granted. We do not believe that they just “happen” on their own, at least not successfully. Consider the following questions, and ask yourself how many times you’ve seen these situations play out in your job:

  • Have you ever wondered why packing a bunch of adult professionals into a room and brow-beating them with PowerPoint isn’t an effective instruction technique?
  • Would you like to learn more effective and quantifiable methods to cultivate learning in your organization?
  • Have you ever tried to implement a necessary change in your team or organization, only to be frustrated by its lack of traction?
  • Would you like to learn how to improve your odds of success and make the change stick?
  • Have you ever led or worked as part of an utterly dysfunctional team?
  • Would you like to learn skills, both as a leader and a follower, to make your next team more productive and successful?

Chances are that you’ve encountered at least one, if not all, of these scenarios. An OLL degree gives you the tools to overcome each one of these challenges, regardless of the specific field or industry. Scenarios like these occur because so many organizations take the fundamental human processes for granted. The situations described above reflect this reality. Ask yourself: if organizational learning or change just “happens” in the professional realm and does not require study, then why do these irritating scenarios occur with such frequency?

GW’s Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership and Learning

To become a leader who can skillfully construct a successful learning intervention, implement a necessary change, make a positive impact, or lead a project team, discover the George Washington University’s (GW) online Masters Degree in Organizational Leadership and Learning. Request information or call (844-386-7323) to speak with an admissions advisor. References: Khilji, S.E. (2015). The OLL Program Philosophy. Written for the OLL students and faculty, George Washington University, Washington DC, USA.