Business Administration

What is a Leadership MBA?

What is a Leadership MBA?
The term "natural-born leader" makes it sound like one arrives fully formed and ready to operate a large company. In fact, becoming a leader is an arduous process that requires constant self-evaluation and a willingness to learn. Image from Unsplash
Lucien Formichella profile
Lucien Formichella December 8, 2020

MBA programs with effective leadership components help graduates secure better opportunities. Although leadership isn't an official concentration at most top programs, many do provide fellowships, seminars, and coursework to help students succeed as business leaders.

MBA/Business Programs You Should Consider

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Every company wants to hire management professionals with excellent leadership skills, but finding leaders with these qualities is challenging. In 2019, the CEO turnover rate reached an alarming high—1,160 left their positions during the first three quarters, representing a 13 percent increase over the previous year. At least in part, this volatility reflects investors’ lack of faith in their executives’ leadership.

The good news is “leadership success is not a function of unalterable traits or unattainable pedigree,” according to the Harvard Business Review. Rather, it’s a learnable skill set. Those who focus on leadership during graduate education frequently have their pick of excellent job offers.

Earning a Master of Business Administration (MBA) is the gold standard for management degrees. The Graduate Management Admissions Council’s year-end report states that 78 percent of hiring employers wanted to hire new MBA graduates in 2019.

Though all MBA programs include leadership training—it’s a business management degree, after all—most top universities don’t offer an MBA in Leadership. However, many prominent business schools place a premium on leadership development through fellowships, guest lecturers, and business simulations.

These opportunities are more important than a degree title and attract prospective students. According to one recent graduate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill program, “I chose the Kenan-Flagler MBA program because of its reputation for developing leaders.” Similar opportunities exist at other programs. Capitalizing on them can pay huge dividends.

This guide answers the question what is a leadership MBA? and covers:

  • What is a leadership MBA?
  • Can you complete a leadership program and a specialization?
  • Where should you earn a leadership MBA?
  • Is a leadership MBA the same as an Executive MBA program?
  • What jobs does a leadership MBA qualify you for?
  • How much can you earn with a leadership MBA?

What is a leadership MBA?

Every MBA program includes leadership training, but some emphasize it more than others. Because leadership is rarely a concentration, it’s essential to look at program descriptions during your research phase. Schools can fold leadership training into coursework or provide outside opportunities.

For example, the Smeal Presidential MBA at Pennsylvania State University – Main Campus devotes a full year to “leadership communications development.” Students build communication and interpersonal skills while honing their ability to sell ideas and manage other.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill takes a different approach. It assigns each student a career coach. Together they work to develop leadership career goals and then meet them through:

  • Business simulations
  • Effectiveness training
  • Lectures
  • Personal assessment and reflection
  • Workshops

Other institutions, like the University of Southern California and Indiana University – Bloomington offer supplementary programs designed to build strategic leadership and management skills. USC’s Marshall Leadership Fellows Program is open to full-time MBA students in the school. Fellows spend a year engaging with:

  • Lectures
  • Team coaching assignments
  • Teamwork exercises
  • Two semesters of leadership and mentoring coursework

The IU Leadership Academy teaches students “to effectively coach others, set an organizational vision and create strategies for success.” Academy students can complete either a Coaching and Development Track, which involves mentoring first-year MBAs or the GLOBASE Visioning and Strategic Planning Track, which focuses on international business. Ambitious students (and those who can’t decide) can complete both.

Honing business leadership skills is a component of MBA programs—one usually completed in conjunction with a specialization or concentration such as real estate, healthcare,marketing, or analytics.

MBA students also complete core courses and electives in:

  • Economics
  • Ethics
  • Finance
  • Marketing
  • Operations
  • Project management
  • Statistics

Most programs require a capstone course, project, or thesis as students near graduation.

Admissions requirements to most MBA degree programs include a resume (hopefully with a few years of relevant work experience), GMAT scores, a bachelor’s degree transcript, an essay/personal statement, and letters of recommendation.


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Where should you earn a leadership MBA?

Completing a leadership-focused MBA degree can help you meet your career goals. It provides a significant benefit during job interviews and, naturally, when you get the job.

The usefulness of a master’s degree can be impacted by where you earn it. While rankings don’t take into account individual preferences, or goals, they are a good starting point. Additionally, where you go does have some impact on earnings.

Here are some schools with well-regarded MBA programs that include a leadership focus:

In cases where schools offer both in-person and online options, curricula are usually similar. These accredited programs all have world-class professors and alumni networks, meaning that graduates frequently have access to better jobs and connections than bottom-tier schools. If you want to become a better leader, it helps to learn from the best.

Is a leadership MBA the same as an Executive MBA-program?

Both leadership MBAs and executive MBAs prepare graduates for upper level management roles, but that’s essentially where the similarities end. EMBA programs are designed for professionals who already have extensive experience, often a decade or more in a management position. EMBA graduates frequently move into executive roles.

EMBA programs are typically shorter, often around 20 months of part-time study instead of two years of full-time study (if you’re lucky). Part of the program covers leadership, but in a more streamlined fashion.

What jobs does a leadership MBA qualify you for?

It’s easier to look at MBA leadership training as an additional qualification, rather than something that opens up a whole new world of job opportunities. Common fields for MBA graduates include consulting, finance, marketing, and logistics.

MBAs often find positions in:

Additionally, factors like networking ability and specialization can significantly impact where you work after graduation—someone who concentrated in human resources likely won’t work in marketing.

An MBA is still the most sought after graduate degree among business leaders. It can qualify you for senior leadership roles, such as:

How much can you earn with a leadership MBA?

There isn’t any data that shows attending a leadership MBA program leads to higher salaries. That said, an advanced managerial skill set and decision making abilities are instrumental when applying for high-paying organizational leadership positions. It also depends on where you work. Salaries are usually higher at private companies than at nonprofits or government agencies.

A self-reported study of 11,000 MBA-holders shows an average increase $36,742—from $79,505 to $116,248, according to Poets & Quants. However, where you earn your degree can matter. Attending a top school of business usually corresponds to a higher salary. For instance, 2020 graduates of UNC’s MBA program earned $126,957 in base pay. Statistics from USC show that 2019 graduates earned a high of $230,000 and a low of $87,000.

In comparison, the average salary for an MBA-holder from The University of Alabama is $75,869, even though it ranks in the top 50 of MBA programs, according to Poets & Quants.

Still, the main reason to earn a leadership MBA is to get great positions and perform better in them. The term “natural-born leader” makes it sound like one arrives fully formed and ready to operate a large company. In fact, becoming a leader is an arduous process that requires constant self-evaluation and a willingness to learn. Completing a leadership MBA program is one way to hone your skill set and open doors you didn’t know were there.

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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