Organizational Leadership vs. Business Administration Degree: What’s the Difference

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To find a niche in the business world, it’s helpful to examine how you can best contribute to a business’s success. Some individuals’ strengths are in organizational leadership — bringing employees together, guiding them through challenges such as change or conflict, and helping them fulfill the business’s mission. Others have strengths in a specific aspect of business administration — for example, finance, accounting, marketing, or management — and they make their best contributions to the fulfillment of the business’s mission by applying their skills directly to those functions.

Both organizational leadership and business administration expertise are critical to a business’s growth and success, and both offer career paths that can result in management and leadership opportunities. Individuals who pursue a bachelor’s degree in business administration can benefit from knowing the distinctions between the two fields of study and the role each plays in a successful business.

A businesswoman smiling and taking notes during a meeting with colleagues.

The study of organizational leadership is an amalgam of psychology and business. Tracing its origins to industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology, the field initially focused on human behavior in work environments, later expanding into areas such as activity analysis and employee development. Today, an organizational leadership degree can encompass learning about leadership theories, organizational behavior, management of human resources (HR), and conflict resolution.

When individuals with organizational leadership degrees work in a business setting, they apply their expertise to help guide employees from various departments toward a common goal. They use their expertise in specific ways — such as measuring and improving employee job satisfaction or developing ways to increase productivity — to help ensure achievement of the business’s broader objectives.

While they can work in precise ways to improve behavior and productivity, individuals with organizational leadership degrees also need to be able to understand the business side of an organization. Therefore, obtaining an organizational leadership degree also encompasses learning about subjects such as economics and accounting. Having a working knowledge of business concepts helps individuals in organizational leadership understand a business’s goals and challenges; it also helps them devise strategies for operational improvement that can help fulfill a business’s overall mission.

What Is a Business Administration Degree?

In contrast to organizational leadership, a business administration degree prepares individuals for planning, organizing, and directing the functions and processes of a business’s operational unit or the business as a whole. Business schools originated out of a desire to formalize how future business leaders were educated. Today, business administration students learn how to organize human and material resources to achieve operational efficiency and make innovations that further the fulfillment of a business’s goals.

Earning a business administration degree, such as the online bachelor’s in business administration degree that Maryville University offers, involves studying subjects such as management, communication, accounting, economics, finance, and marketing. In obtaining a business administration degree, individuals also can develop skills in areas such as leadership, management, communication, research and analysis, ethics, and technology.

Business schools also are increasingly offering experiential learning opportunities in which students get to apply the core concepts of business to real-world situations. Through the experiences, students gain a better understanding of how they can apply their business skills and what a career in business administration could entail.

Organizational Leadership vs. Business Administration: Differences Between the Degrees

One way to think about the difference between organizational leadership and business administration degrees is to focus on the differing perspectives that individuals with each degree may have regarding how to achieve a business’s objectives. From the perspective of an individual with an organizational leadership degree, the HR or organizational behavior strategies necessary to achieve the objectives may be a primary focus. An individual with a business administration degree, however, may have a more direct perspective and focus on the finance, marketing, or supply chain strategies that are necessary to achieve the same objectives.

Specific business scenarios also illustrate the differences between organizational leadership vs. business administration degrees. For example:

  • Implementing a new enterprise resource planning system. If a business is implementing a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system that ties together functions such as accounting, procurement, and supply chain management, individuals with an organizational leadership degree may be called upon to help establish and manage employee expectations, provide guidance and training on the new system, communicate changes, and encourage buy-in. Individuals with a business administration degree who work, for example, in accounting may be charged with ensuring that the business can use the new system to continue generating the types of financial reports and financial statements it needs to produce.
  • Developing a new product. In a situation in which a business plans to introduce a new project, individuals with an organizational leadership degree may be involved in preparing the business for the new product and any necessary organizational changes. Individuals with a business administration degree may be involved in identifying the specific work processes and marketing strategies they need to implement to develop and market the new product.
  • Implementing a reorganization initiative. If a business is undergoing a reorganization, individuals with an organizational leadership degree may focus on analyzing HR needs and formulating a plan to communicate changes to employees. Individuals with a business administration degree who work, for example, in finance may focus on determining the tax implications of the reorganization or the effects of the reorganization on the business’s financial health.

While organizational leadership degrees and business administration degrees differ, they share an important characteristic: Both degrees can lay the foundation for and be enhanced through graduate education, such as a master’s degree in business administration, management and leadership, or business data analytics.

Getting Ready for the Next Level

Obtaining a degree in business administration is a good way to discover the various aspects of business and identify the specific roles you can play in contributing to a business’s success. If you wish to learn more, explore Maryville’s online Bachelor of Science in Business Administration program, which can prepare you for a career with for-profit, nonprofit, and public sector organizations. Maryville also offers an online master’s in business administration if you’re interested in graduate study.

Learn how a business administration degree can establish the foundation for a fulfilling career in business.

Recommended Reading

Business Careers

Entering the Financial World: Comparing Economics vs. Business Degrees

Exploring Entrepreneurship: Starting and Operating a Small Business

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