I hold a Masters in Leadership. When I was deciding to work towards a Masters degree, the two options I was considering were: a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) and a Masters of Arts in Leadership (MAL). As a lifelong IT guy, who aspired to greater levels of responsibility within the organizations that I served, both options provided me what I believed was the “leg-up” from just being considered as a techie. But what helped me make the final decision to pursue the Arts discipline of Leadership rather than an MBA was an understanding the difference between Management and Leadership.

Management and Leadership are not the same discipline

At the 2016 Global Leadership Summit, Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of HP and recent candidate for the republican nomination for President of the United States defined both Management and Leadership as follows:

Management: “…the production of acceptable results within known constraints and conditions.”

Leadership: “Is about changing the order of things.”

Managers can be leaders, and Leaders can be managers – but it is clear that these are completely different disciplines. Evaluating the contents of a popular Executive MBA program lends some credence to the definitions noted above:

  • Strategic Management, Human Resource Management, Financial and Managerial Accounting, Marketing Management, Managerial Economics and Quantitative Analysis, Operations Management, Information Technology Strategy, Corporate Finance, Strategy and Organizational Analysis, Managerial Ethics and Decision Making, Final Exam

Now compare that with the program for a Masters in Leadership:

  • Introduction to Academic Integrity, Fundamentals of Personal Leadership and Learning, Communication and Leadership in Groups and Teams, Leadership in Systems, Concepts and Theories of Leadership in Organizations, Strategic Analysis, Decision Making and Evaluation, Advanced Action Research Design, Leading Change in Organizations, Applied Inquiry Methods for Organizational Leadership, Reflective Leadership: Applying Learning to Practice, Thesis

From the course listings above it can be seen that the MBA program is geared more toward “Management” and the Leadership program is aimed at “Change”.

Now before I get a whole bunch of angry pro-MBA e-mails, let me be clear: Both disciplines, Management and Leadership, are important and required within successful organizations; however:

Management is not Leadership

Enforcing this idea is Dr. John P. Kotter, the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus, at the Harvard Business School, who wrote: “Management is predictability—orderly results. Leadership’s function is to produce change.”

Many organizations get this mixed-up thinking that good managers make good leaders. Yet research shows that this is not necessarily the case. Dr. Travis Bradberry, author of ‘Emotional Intelligence 2.0’, notes the following:

“Too many leaders are promoted because of what they know or how long they have worked, rather than for their skill in managing others. Once they reach the top, they actually spend less time interacting with staff. Yet among executives, those with the highest EQ (Emotional Intelligence) scores are the best performers.”

Emotional Intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. This seems to indicate that individuals who are higher on the EQ scale (dealing with people), perform better in a leadership capacity than those who are proficient in a specific job knowledge. Dr. Bradberry goes on further to note that:

“EQ is so critical to success that it accounts for 58 percent of performance in all types of jobs. It’s the single biggest predictor of performance in the workplace and the strongest driver of leadership and personal excellence.”

If we look again at the course outlines for the MBA and the MAL, it is evident which of the two programs focuses on the more human subjects. Leadership studies focuses heavily on the people side and less on the tactical components of organizations. Again, both are important (my e-mail box is only so big), but the focus is clearly different. Simon Sinek, author of ‘Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action’ puts it this way,

“Leadership is not about power or authority. Leadership is decidedly more human… Leadership is always about people.”

Forward thinking organizations are realizing that Management candidates (MBA) focus on the business whereas Leadership candidates (MAL) focuses on the people. If organizations need great managers, then the MBA may be a good fit. But if you are looking for exceptional leaders, the Masters of Arts may be a better choice.

Dan Pink, one of the world's leading business thinkers and the author of five best-selling books about work, management, and behavioral science, wrote in his book, ‘A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future’ the following information regarding MBA’s and Masters of Fine Arts,

“While Harvard’s MBA program admits about 10 percent of its applicants, UCLA’s fine arts graduate school admits only 3 percent. Why? A master of fine arts, an MFA, is now one of the hottest credentials in a world where even General Motors is in the art business.”

He goes on further to note,

“With applications climbing and ever more arts grads occupying key corporate positions, the rules have changed: the MFA is the new MBA.”

MBA curriculum focuses on the Left Brain activities including linear subjects like logic, sequencing, facts, mathematics and computation. Arts Masters tend to focus on Right Brain behaviors like creativity, non-verbal items, intuition, feelings and holistic thinking. Again this is reinforced by observations from Simon Sinek who notes,

“Great leaders are those who trust their gut. They are those who understand the art before the science. They win hearts before minds. They are the ones who start with WHY.”

Once again, this seems to be saying that strong leaders focus more on the Right Brain activities, allowing them to be more personable, understand people in their own context and may connect to why talented leaders appear to be higher on the EQ scale.

Even in the best of circumstances, change is difficult. Niccolo Machiavelli wrote about how difficult change is in his book entitled, ‘The Prince’, way back in the mid 1500’s. He writes,

“And it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things, because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new.”

Organizations looking to increase their level of exceptional leadership need to take the leap beyond the MBA and seek out Masters of Arts individuals who can bring a spark of creative life, meet people where they are at and inspire them beyond where they ever thought possible. It’s those Right Brained MAL folks who can talk about the future like they have already been there and rally people around a unified objective.

Break with the norm and find out what others already know; if great leadership is your objective then boost your chance of success by bringing in a MAL. You will wish you had done it sooner.