If you’re considering a return to school in pursuit of a leadership position, you might not be sure whether a master of leadership or master of business administration (MBA) is right for you. Both degrees offer a strong background in leadership and management, but the two programs are not interchangeable. So which one is right for you? Here’s what you need to know to make the decision.
Master of Leadership: What to Expect
A master of leadership focuses on cultivating leadership skills across industries, not just in business. You’ll get the training you need to run a variety of organizations: schools, nonprofits, churches, businesses, and more. The focus with this degree is less on finance and accounting and more on management, understanding human behavior, mastering communication, and leading complex systems.
Some of the classes you will take include:
- Foundations of Personal Leadership
- Global Leadership: Leading with an Intercultural Perspective
- Livelast Leadership: Learning How to Serve
- Organizational Leadership: Valuing Diversity to Create Intercultural Organizations
- Strategic Leadership and Planning
- Ethical Leadership: Making Challenging Decisions
- Conflict Negotiation and Resolution: Leading Difficult Conversations
Your education will help you solve challenging leadership puzzles, such as:
- How can we promote a diverse and inclusive organization?
- How can we have challenging conversations in a way that is both direct and respectful?
- How can I command respect while fostering an empathetic, compassionate organization?
- How can I cultivate my own leadership style?
- What skills do good leaders share?
- Do different leadership styles work best for different organizations?
- What leadership challenges am I most likely to face?
- What is the difference between managing well and micromanaging?
Students who graduate with a master of leadership may fill some of the same roles that MBA students graduate into. However, the master of leadership is a more versatile and broader degree, with training that can apply to a wide variety of organizations and institutions.
Master of Business Administration: What to Expect
With a master of business administration program, you’ll also cultivate strong leadership and management skills. The focus is a bit different, with a strong emphasis on managing businesses, including the financial and accounting realities of doing so. You’ll learn about business strategy and structure, as well as some of the legal issues that commonly affect businesses.
Some of the classes you will take include:
- Business Essentials
- Exploring Business Strategies
- Marketing for the 21st Century
- Business & Law
- Global Business
- Management Analytics
- Management Accounting
Through your training, you’ll gain the skills you need to answer key business leadership questions, such as:
- How does a business define success, and what are the characteristics of a successful business?
- What legal issues do business owners need to know about?
- What accounting practices must a business follow?
- What are the best strategies for marketing a business?
- How can a business set itself apart from the competition?
- What are the most effective ways to grow a business?
- What cultural issues are important in international business?
- What economic factors play the most significant roles in business outcomes?
A master of business administration is a wise choice for students who are certain they want to go into business, either as entrepreneurs or C-suite executives. This training offers a deep understanding of economics, finance, and accounting, as well as leadership and management principles.
Master of Business Administration vs. Master of Leadership: Key Differences
Both degrees offer graduate training that can increase your earnings, employability, and management savvy. There are significant differences between the two programs, though, so it is important to contemplate why you are going back to school and what you hope to achieve with your degree. Some key contrasts include:
- Courses: While both degrees offer a wide range of courses on management and leadership, the master of leadership degree focuses more deeply and broadly on leadership principles. The MBA expands its focus to include marketing, economics, finance, and other important areas of business knowledge. MBA graduates often fill niche roles, such as marketing manager or accountant, thanks to this niche training.
- Earnings: The average master of leadership graduate earns about $71,821 per year. With an MBA, average earnings are around $88,494. This difference may be partially due to the more diverse roles that master of leadership graduates take on, because nonprofit and pastoral work often pay less.
- Typical roles: There is a lot of crossover between the two degrees in terms of the roles graduates can expect to fill. Veterans of both programs often ascend to the role of CEO. However, master of leadership degrees offer a broader focus on different types of leadership, so students may take roles in churches, nonprofit organizations, government, community organizing, and more.
- Interests and personality traits: Both degrees can be a good choice for people with strong managerial or leadership skills. However, a master of leadership degree focuses more strongly on cultivating these skills, while an MBA highlights these skills in conjunction with other business-related education in finance, marketing, and more.
- Human and organizational behavior: While an MBA focuses on general management principles, a master of leadership digs into the “why” behind these principles. Students will explore human and interpersonal psychology, organizational dynamics, the influence of culture on organizations, and similar topics.
Career Paths for Each Degree Program
There is significant overlap between the two programs. Because both master’s degrees offer quality training in leadership and management principles, neither precludes any specific list of jobs. For students who are certain they desire a business career, though, an MBA may be a better fit. Some popular jobs for MBA graduates include:
- C-suite executive, such as vice president or CEO
- Business consulting on a freelance basis or through your own business
- Starting your own business or purchasing a business for which you work
- Jobs in marketing, especially at the upper management level
- Health administration and leadership roles
- Information systems manager
- Leadership jobs in startup companies, including tech businesses
- Securities analyst
- Policy analyst
- Logistics manager
- Sports management and analysis
- Product manager
- Public relations and communications, especially for larger and more complex organizations
Students graduating with a master of leadership may pursue similar roles, but the master of leadership also offers training for more diverse occupations, including:
- Church leadership as a pastor, elder, or board member
- Nonprofit organizing as a CEO, founder, or director of a nonprofit division
- School leadership, especially on an executive board
- Government roles, such as elected official, city manager, or policy expert
- Management of arts organizations, such as museums
Which Master’s Degree Is Right for Me?
Both degrees offer exceptional training for a life spent leading others. If you’re not sure which is right for you, try asking yourself the following questions:
- Am I certain about my career path? If you want to keep more options open, consider a master of leadership.
- Does a life as a business leader appeal to me? If so, consider an MBA.
- Do I want to expand upon training I already have to rise to the upper echelons of management? If you hope to do so in a business, an MBA might be right. At a different type of organization, consider a master of leadership.
- Do finance, marketing, and economics interest me? If they do not, consider a master of leadership.
- Am I more interested in the human or financial aspects of leadership? If your interest is primarily in people, a master of leadership may be the right choice.
- What jobs are available in my area, and what sorts of candidates are companies seeking?
- How much do I hope to earn, and what is the average salary in my area for each degree program?
- Have I talked to people with each degree and asked about their experience with the program and eventual career path?
- What is the employment rate for each degree in my geographic area?
- Which courses sound most interesting to me? You may do better in classes that focus on topics you find intriguing.
- What is my current job, and could a specific degree help me advance at my company?
How SNU Can Help You
SNU trains innovative and transformative leaders for careers across the globe and in myriad industries. We can help you choose a career that helps you make the most of your interests and innate gifts. If you’re not sure where to begin, we’re happy to discuss your options. You might be surprised at how accessible a graduate education can be. To learn more, download our free e-book, The Ultimate Career Roadmap for MBA Graduates.