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Why Study Organizational Leadership?

Stories | 08.28.19

Adler University is offering two new Online Campus programs focused on helping students develop strong skills to appraise, understand, and lead an organization. Program Director Marianne Cabrera, Ph.D., shares her experiences in organizational leadership, as well as what sets the Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership and Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership programs apart, and how they can help students become socially conscious and collaborative leaders.

If you’re asking yourself, something like “I work in trade marketing and communications—or I am a management coach, organizational development consultant, or an entrepreneur—why would I want to have a degree in organizational leadership?” I asked myself the same thing and found out there are many reasons why the degree is beneficial for those careers, and many more.

In a past life, I was a diplomat for a foreign government in the U.S. That experience provided me with great growth and learning opportunities—and it eventually led me into seeking my degree in organizational leadership. I wanted this degree because my experiences were showcasing how some leaders can be ineffective, which negatively impacts the organization. I thought there must be a positive correlation between good leaders and effective or “happy” organizations, and wanted to see if this was right.

I also wanted to learn how I could be a beacon of light for leaders. So, I bit the bullet and applied for one of my bucket list items: earn a Ph.D. I knew it had to be in something that was meaningful for me and would inform my career path and my passion for helping others succeed—because when you succeed, I succeed. In 2015, one week before my wedding, I crossed the stage in a gown (quite different from the one I wore later that month) and officially became Dr. Marianne Cabrera.

I remember the questions people asked me—including from my mom and some colleagues—about why I picked organizational leadership over something more well-known like organizational development or industrial and organizational psychology. I saw their concern because I agree that organizational leadership wasn’t as “trendy” when I started my degree program in 2012, but now has become a widely respected degree in the field.

People also asked me, “What’s the difference?” which I thought was even more important to discern. Many people consider both organizational leadership and Industrial and organizational psychology when looking at possible degree programs. For those who are more interested in the idea and process of supporting an organization from a systems perspective, a Master of Arts or Ph.D. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology could be a really good fit. But, for those interested in focusing in on aspects of effective leadership, communication, and motivating others, an organizational leadership degree is a great option.

Here are some additional thoughts on what differentiates organizational leadership from other programs:

What’s the focus? Industrial and organizational psychology programs tend to focus more on the organization at large and the management of personnel. This is what we consider the “industrial side,” and the field encompasses topics like recruitment, individual training, and assessment. This program will dive into the nuances of followership and leadership principles, but organizational leadership programs focus more on leaders, with no focus on the “industrial side” at all. This is why I really wanted to work in this field.While a lot of my work focuses on trade marketing and communications, many of the same skills are translatable into virtually any leadership role: effective communication skills, negotiation skills, industry knowledge, the power of persuasion…the list can go on. I realized that the work I’m doing in my field allows me to help leaders discover their own abilities and use those skills and behaviors to be transformational and inspirational for their employees. What’s worse than an uninspired leader who doesn’t know how to communicate?

What can you do with the degree? Industrial and organizational psychology tends to get a lot of attention, and it has many benefits, but with the evolving needs of our workforce and of organizations around the world, we are seeing more and more interest in organizational leadership advanced degrees. Many organizations are seeking leadership and coaching consultants for roles, from manager to CEO, allowing those with organizational leadership degrees to share their expertise on how to be an effective leader with a variety of clients.In addition, the academic route, through teaching or course design, is also a great way to stay in active in the field and enrich students’ lives and minds in a meaningful way.

Why organizational leadership? Personally, I think organizational leadership has given me the tools to be a more effective communicator and manager. The focus on the leadership has been incredibly impactful as I navigate my career. It has been a joy to better understand the nuances of leadership and managerial work that I may not have noticed before. Think of it as watching a movie again and noticing details that you didn’t the first time around.

I’m really happy that my life choices have led me to my organizational leadership degree. Not only am I lucky enough to utilize my knowledge in an academic setting, but I also get to flex those organizational leadership muscles in corporate America. It’s exciting seeing what you learn in organizational leadership come to life in your everyday—and it is present in any field and industry. I hope that others will want to strengthen their knowledge of everything organizational leadership related and become subject matter experts in their own right!

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