What Is Organizational Leadership?

A photo demonstrating leadership with wooden blocks

Whether you’re part of a large project within an organization or a member of a small team, it’s important to have at least one person who has the ability to see both the big picture and recognize the small details. Rather than just focusing on completing the task at hand, these individuals are able to coordinate their team to meet the needs of everyone who’s working together toward a goal. Through this approach, such individuals are able to set a course for future success, cultivating a positive environment that allows for the healthy growth of the organization as well as the people in it.  

Creating such long-lasting, comprehensive success is the goal of organizational leadership.

What Is Organizational Leadership and Why Is It Important?

For many businesses, success is dependent upon leadership in management. Growth and innovation is possible thanks to key executives who manage personnel in order to increase efficiency and optimize workflow. However, while a leader can be a manager, not all managers are leaders. A manager might be a person at the top of an organizational chart; whereas leaders can be found all across that same chart.

These individuals are especially organized and vision-oriented toward the development of their department and the cohesion of their team. They are not only business savvy and innovative, they are effective communicators who often display “softer” skills and characteristics such as emotional intelligence and good ethics. These leaders who focus both on the positive growth of an organization AND on the individuals who make it happen are organizational leaders.

Organizational leaders find success by facilitating a compromise between the needs of the individuals and the needs of the organization, using their full array of skills to create mutually beneficial circumstances for both. By smoothing over tensions and finding effective means to solve problems, organizational leaders boost an organization’s decision-making and strategic thinking. Not only does this boost efficiency, it increases morale, develops support systems and creates a positive reputation for the company.

What Are the Top Skills Required to Be an Organizational Leader?

Organizational leadership is defined mostly by skill set rather than by job title. A few people are born to be organizational leaders, possessing an open mindset, interpersonal skills and a powerful desire to drive change. However, anyone can learn the tenets of organizational leadership through practice, collaboration and a commitment toward self-improvement. 

Here are the most important areas for current and aspiring organizational leaders to develop and nurture

  • Possessing Technical and Professional Skills

All leaders are considered trusted experts in something – whether it’s an industry, a sport, a job or even a lived experience. Organizational leaders have the education and background to earn respect within their field, and are able (and eager!) to share their knowledge or experiences with others in their team or organization. Such individuals have a love of learning and look to foster that same advancement in others. 

That’s not to say that organizational leaders need to know everything. A true leader knows who best to turn to in order to answer questions or solve problems. They’re comfortable navigating organizational hierarchy to find answers, even when that means they’re not the ones “in charge.”

  • Showcasing Problem Solving and Analytical Skills

When organizational leaders don’t have the answer, then they display an eagerness to solve the problem and are able to dedicate resources toward finding solutions. Rather than trying to work the problem on their own, they will determine how their team can best approach the situation. Organizational leaders aren’t afraid to innovate new ways of addressing existing problems.

A major way that organizational leaders are able to encourage that innovation is by creating an environment where everyone is encouraged to participate. Organizational leaders understand that problems must be approached through multiple angles, and the most obvious solution might not be the most efficient, or provide the most benefit.

  • Employing Communication Skills

Sharing skills and knowledge, and interacting with team members requires effective communication. Organizational leaders shape their communication based on their audience and the complexity of the information being delivered – they’re able to judge when, where and how things can be best communicated. Examples of organizational communication include:

    • Mass electronic communication to team members.
    • Detailed written reports for stakeholders on important matters.
    • Public speaking events to inspire others and provide organizational updates.
    • One-on-one discussions to resolve inter-employee disputes. 
    • Direct presentations for senior leaders informing about progress or current issues.

Navigating different situations and understanding the best communication means for the moment is a skill that is developed through time and experience.

  • Utilizing Motivational Skills

One of the most important uses of communication skills is to keep a team motivated and focused. Organizational leaders consider it important to promote goodwill across an entire team, but are also comfortable reaching out to employees on a personal level. That degree of connection is important, because when people feel like their voices are being ignored, they feel disconnected to the organization and their team. Disconnection will cause team members to only put in the minimal amount of effort, or simply leave the organization. 

There are several methods by which organizational leaders can motivate others: incentive programs that reward effort, employee perks that reward loyalty, or recognition that rewards their day-to-day performance. However it’s done, leaders ensure that they put in extra time to model positive behavior, helping to secure buy-in from their team members. 

  • Relationship Building Skills

Though team building partly comes about as a result of the other organizational skills, actively working to build good working relationships is considered the most important management skill. Leadership expert Dr. John C. Maxwell considers it important for the second level of leadership, a foundational component of leadership that strengthens both smaller teams and the larger organization. There’s a LOT that goes into building good relationships within organizations; in general, keep the following goals in mind:

    • Showcase and highlight the skills and expertise of team members.
    • Take time to offer advice, constructive criticism and mentoring to others.
    • Take responsibility and follow through on tasks to build trust.
    • Create spaces where team members are able to collaborate and work together.
    • Be emotionally intelligent and work through negative instances of jealousy, frustration, prejudice and anger.
  • Facilitating Organizational Change

It’s already been said that organizational leaders push for innovation, so they’re not interested in just maintaining the status quo, they’re looking to offer progressive change by growing teams, developing new initiatives or leading new programs in the interest of improving the organization. They are, as stated in Maxwell’s third level of leadership, “change agents” who are able to disrupt the very nature of the organization itself. Sometimes this might mean ending certain practices or programs, but always in the pursuit of positive development.  

The biggest change, however, comes from ensuring that development is sustainable. The greatest contribution an organizational leader can provide is to help others become leaders in their own right. Again, this doesn’t mean they’re all elevated to management level, but that they’re part of a culture of open communication, critical thinking, personal responsibility, team building and overall positive motivation. This investment in the future is part of Maxwell’s fourth level of leadership

  • Employing Ethics and Integrity

All too often, ethics and integrity are sacrificed at the altar of productivity and efficiency. In truth, creating an environment that is inclusive and open to all employees, regardless of origin or background, creates the best possible organization. When organizational leaders insist on “doing things the right way” through accuracy and in compliance with rules and regulations, then they’re able to lead through virtue of who they are and what they represent – the pinnacle of leadership and Maxwell’s fifth and final level. 

Leaders can inspire others when they support an organization’s ethos toward promoting the well-being of employees and making positive contributions to the local community. This promotion of community is exemplified in the “servant as leader” mindset championed by the Greenleaf Center. As it states, the “servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. … The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.”

Careers Related to Organizational Leadership

Organizational leaders are greatly needed in all sectors: business corporations, technology startups, healthcare facilities, government positions, educational and nonprofit organizations. As such, organizational leadership jobs can be found at all different levels across many industries. Some of the more notable positions include:

  • Training and Development Manager – Median Salary $115,640
    These managers work with other department leaders to onboard and oversee employees. They plan, direct and coordinate programs to develop the skills and knowledge that employees need. As the need for highly skilled employees increases, so does the importance of this position. Organizational leaders are especially effective in designing programs to develop the skills of individuals and integrate them into teams.
  • Management Analysts / Consultants – Median Salary $87,660
    Consultants and analysts are sought after to assist organizations and businesses in improving employee efficiency, solving organizational issues or implementing new initiatives. They work to assess current practices, examine the current structures and interview employees to determine what’s working and what needs improvement. Organizational leaders are great for identifying key issues within another organization and then collaborating to implement the necessary changes.
  • Sales Manager – Median Salary $132,290
    Sales managers are leaders of sales teams and are responsible for overseeing all the functions of the sales department, including setting sales goals, collecting and analyzing sales data and hiring and training new sales representatives. Today’s sales managers are expected to work within the online space as both online sales and organizational software programs become increasingly important. Motivation and communication is extremely important for this position, which is where organizational leaders can really shine.
  • Social and Community Service Manager – Median Salary $69,600
    These leaders are responsible for coordinating and supervising nonprofit and community organizations. Because these organizations service a lot of needs and often rely upon volunteers, CSMs often are required to fill a lot of roles and need to motivate and organize an ever-changing team. CSMs also must directly engage with the community they serve, in order to determine the impact the program is having and identify possible areas of improvement. These positions are tailor-made for dedicated organizational leaders.
  • Human Resources Managers – Median Salary $121,220
    The main responsibilities of a human resources manager is to serve the needs of both the employees and the organization while maximizing productivity. The exact duties of an HR manager will vary depending upon the size and complexity of an organization, though generally they will have a hand in recruiting and training employees while overseeing benefits management and personnel development. Organizational leaders make great HR managers as they manage both the structural details of the department and need to engage with employees in the most open and supportive means possible.
  • Fundraising Managers – Median Salary $69,600
    These managers work with community organizations to coordinate fundraising campaigns. Whether part of an organization or working as a consultant, they’ll work mainly to organize events and reach out to potential donors. Beyond handling financial matters, this is a very “people forward” position as fundraising managers need to give speeches, attend events and participate in community activities to promote awareness of an organization – a great fit for service-minded organizational leaders.

* Salaries were as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in July 2021 and are subject to change.

All organizations, whether public or private, for-profit or nonprofit, established or startup, will benefit from having people with strong organizational leadership skills. These are people of influence who not only drive the company forward in a positive direction, they elevate others to achieve a similar level of excellence. 

Educational Requirements for Organizational Leadership

While some aspects of organizational leadership are innate, all of the skills can also be trained or nurtured over time through experience, education and training.

If you’re looking to shore up your skills or are looking for specialized instruction in a specific field, research career certifications or schools within the field(s) you’re interested in. As an academic discipline, organizational leadership combines insights from:

  • Organizational development and learning
  • Change management theory
  • Data analytics
  • Human resource management
  • Organizational communication
  • Entrepreneurial studies

For those interested in joining groups or reading more from experts regarding organizational leadership theory and practice, consider the following resources for additional information: 

Schools of higher education, such as master’s degree programs, that emphasize hands-on learning experience and the creation of business models are great resources for developing organizational leadership skills and experiences.

Curious About a Master’s Program that Hones Organizational Leadership Skills?

In the University of San Diego’s Master of Science in Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship (MITE) program, students work closely with each other and with program faculty advisors for a collaborative, hands-on learning experience that helps to develop organization leadership skills.

The curriculum is designed to assist students in developing an organizational vision, mission and goals that are consistent with those of modern, technology-based corporations. More importantly, the program is structured to guide students in articulating and communicating those ideas from a strategic perspective. Students will learn to build high-performing teams, manage people’s productivity and handle personnel issues with an understanding of the impact that “social system concepts” have within organizations.

USD MITE is committed to helping future leaders develop their own brand of organizational leadership and management that is aligned with their natural strengths and abilities. To learn more about this exciting online program visit our site or contact us directly

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