A Master’s in Leadership or an MBA?

Here’s a guest post from Becky Robinson, who writes the LeaderTalk Blog. LeaderTalk was voted one of the 10 best leadership blogs of 2009. Becky’s also one of my favorite bloggers and a friend of Great Leadership:

Earlier this year, I started working for Mountain State University, doing various freelance writing projects. For those of you who don’t know the story, it’s a fun one: I made the connection to Mountain State through a Facebook friend, someone I hadn’t seen in more than 20 years but remembered fondly from our days on the school newspaper staff.

The following piece is the very first one I wrote for Mountain State, the one that eventually became the post that launched the LeaderTalk blog. I am sharing it again in the hope that it will start a new conversation about the value of leadership education. When I wrote this piece, I was still learning about and researching Mountain State’s leadership programs. What strikes me now is that my more informed thoughts match my initial and intuitive assessment of the advantages of leadership degrees.

Our world needs leaders. Mountain State University trains leaders through a cohort method of study, encouraging students to immediately apply lessons learned to their life and work. Our cohorts are safe places for people to learn to understand themselves better, to foster understanding of others and their differences, and to practice teamwork while building lifelong relationships.

At LeaderTalk today, I am talking more about the advantages of a graduate degree in leadership. Why choose a Masters in Leadership instead of an MBA? I would love to here your comments, both here and there.

April 07, 2009Litmus Test for Leadership

My husband came home from work last night and shared a familiar story. After seven years in government work he has had seven bosses – some good, some bad. This night’s episode had him telling the “Tale of the Atrocious Supervisor,” wherein the Peter Principle had found its civil servant spokesperson.

If we’re lucky, we’ve all had at least one boss whose keen leadership has propelled us to greater things. Unfortunately, we have all certainly had that boss whose shortcomings, whether in communication skills or ability to motivate a team, have left us wanting. But following a good leader is an intuitive act. Almost without you knowing it, a good leader inspires to a cause and motivates to action. Before long, those following take ownership of a common vision and are able to enlist others in the purpose as well. It is true in business, government, and education. It is true in family life, a non-profit organization, or the arts. Leaders with these skills and strength of character are the ones who are getting things done.

On the other hand, we have all experienced the aggravation of being forced to follow a person whose greatest impulse for leadership is their expertise in a particular field. While technical knowledge is certainly necessary for success, such a leader is not a leader at all, but a person with specialized know-how who happens to hold authority over others. Those following such a person are invariably frustrated at best. At worst they are stuck in a directionless and ineffective organization. A leader like this may seem to have all that is needed to achieve a task, but without the ability to move people, that leader will flounder, and so will those following.

Conventional thinking tries to sell an MBA as a magical passport to climb the career ladder en route to a bigger salary. While an MBA gives technical knowledge of current business practices and theory, it cannot teach leadership. And with our current economic crisis, its narrow focus is insufficient. A leadership degree offers training in those areas that will make a difference for success in today’s climate: strategies for problem solving, direction in how to conceptualize goals and communicate them effectively, character building exercises to promote integrity and courage. A leadership degree has a wide appeal; not limited to business only, but paving the way for success in any field.
I can always tell when my husband has a good supervisor. The content of dinner time conversation changes from complaints about his boss to war stories about the work he and his team are accomplishing. Even without addressing the topic directly, he is telling me that quality leadership gets work done. At our dinner table, this appears to be the litmus test for what good leadership looks like: how seamlessly work is accomplished.

by Rebecca Robinson, Guest Author

Dan’s footnote:
Here’s a related post, one of my very first, written in 2007, on how to choose a non-degree executive education program. And here’s my list of the best open enrollment non-degree executive education programs, according to Businessweek and FT.
Is there a place for formal education when it comes to leadership development? Absolutely! As long as it’s not considered a replacement for experience, rather as an accelerator.
When it comes to a degree program, which is better, an MBA or a Leadership program? I’ll ask you to comment on that after reading Becky’s post.