What Is Organizational Leadership? A Guide to Theory and Practice

A pyramid of block representing a leadership structure
A pyramid of block representing a leadership structure

Professionals who grow their organizational leadership skills can reach new heights in their careers while helping organizations thrive.

Consider Mark Barrenechea, a computer programmer who advanced to the CEO of OpenText. OpenText is a $4.5B Canadian company that develops and sells enterprise information management software.

During Mark’s tenure, OpenText has received numerous awards that reflect his leadership—including Canada’s Most Admired Corporate Cultures, Forbes' World’s Best Employers and Canada’s Top 100 Employers.

"I believe that to navigate any career and bring others along with you, you must lead with your mind and your heart,” Mark said. “And it is an obstacle course, not a ladder."

Influential leaders like Mark need strong organizational leadership skills to be successful in overseeing an entire organization, a department or a team.

This post explores organizational leadership theory and practice. Keep reading to learn about the many benefits of organizational leadership and how earning a Doctor of Education (EdD) in Leadership can help professionals become more effective leaders in the modern era.


What Is Organizational Leadership? 

Organizational leadership is a management style. It’s unlike traditional management, which relies on command and control. Organizational leaders focus on motivating and empowering team members to utilize their unique talents in achieving the organization’s mission with minimal oversight.

Organizational leaders develop strategic goals and then guide stakeholders to achieve them. They understand, develop and leverage people’s strengths to pursue a shared mission.

Just 1 in 5 U.S. employees “strongly agree” that they trust their organization’s leadership. Leaders who develop organizational leadership skills can build trust, helping their team members and organizations thrive in today's marketplace.


Why Is Organizational Leadership Important?

Organizational leadership is vital to organizational success. When leaders motivate stakeholders effectively, their engagement rises. High stakeholder engagement helps organizations thrive.

For example, research shows that engaged employees improve business outcomes. This is true regardless of the organization's size or industry or the state of the economy.

A Gallup meta-analysis of over 2.7 million employees found that business units with high employee engagement “double their odds of success.” They realize better employee performance, customer outcomes and profit:

  • Employee Performance: Engaged employees are more likely to show up to work and stay with their employer. They’re also more productive than their less-engaged peers.
  • Customer Outcomes: Employee engagement leads to higher customer ratings and sales.
  • Profit: Improved employee performance and customer satisfaction boost profit. Highly engaged business units realize a 23% difference in profitability.

Employees who trust their leaders are four times as likely to be engaged. Developing organizational leadership skills helps build trust and grow engagement.


What Are Organizational Leadership Skills?

Organizational leadership skills are the abilities that enable leaders to navigate change, drive performance and foster positive and productive working environments. Developing the following 10 characteristics helps professionals become effective organizational leaders.

1. Ethics

U.S. adults believe ethics is one of the most important traits of successful leaders. Ethical organizational leaders are honest. They demonstrate justice-oriented reasoning and behavior and actively contribute to community and societal welfare.

2. Effective Communication

Organizational leaders communicate clearly and persuasively. They reason logically and transmit ideas accurately and effectively in verbal, written and non-verbal contexts.

3. Self-Awareness

Professionals must know themselves before they can lead others effectively. Organizational leaders reflect upon and understand their own behavior. They are also open to adapting and changing as needed.

4. Curiosity

Scholarly organizational leaders dedicate themselves to the pursuit of knowledge. They appreciate and apply knowledge acquisition, which helps them stay abreast of developments, adapt to change and innovate.

5. Empathy

Approximately 29% of employees wish their organizations were more empathetic. Growing empathy begins with organizational leadership. Leaders actively listen and validate others’ perspectives to build trusting, cooperative relationships.

6. Problem Solving

Organizational leaders are expert problem solvers. They identify issues, assess various options and think critically and strategically to reach reasonable conclusions.

7. Innovative Thinking

According to Boston Consulting Group, the most innovative companies consistently deliver new products, enter new markets and create new streams of revenue. To shift paradigms, organizational leaders must think creatively and apply new perspectives and methods.

8. Humility

Organizational leaders show humility and flexibility, which builds trust with stakeholders. But they’re also decisive. They make firm, timely decisions and take responsibility for the outcomes.

9. Collaboration

Leadership involves self-respect and respect for others. These behaviors foster a positive and inclusive work environment that empowers people to work autonomously and collaborate.

10. Reliability

Organizational leaders are responsible and dependable. By promoting a culture of reliability and accountability, they grow stakeholder confidence.


How Can Professionals Build Organizational Leadership Skills?

The path to becoming an effective organizational leader looks different for every professional. Undertaking a variety of experiences can help build well-rounded organizational leadership skills:

  • Professional Development: Participate in leadership development workshops and seminars through professional associations, industry organizations and learning and development companies.
  • Research: Read books, articles and research papers to understand trends and best practices in leadership development.
  • Mentorship: Connect with a mentor or networking group to exchange ideas, get feedback from peers and learn about leadership from experienced practitioners.
  • Practical Experience: Take on new responsibilities that allow you to learn and apply leadership skills in real-world scenarios.
  • Education: Pursue a formal education program designed to develop organizational leadership skills.

Less than 15% of U.S. adults age 25 and over have earned a post-graduate degree. If you want to stand out as an exemplary organizational leader, completing a post-graduate leadership program can help.


Doctoral Education in Organizational Leadership

The Doctor of Education (EdD) in Leadership is a terminal degree that prepares professionals with the highest level of knowledge and skills in organizational leadership theory and practice. Another option is the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Leadership, a research-focused terminal degree.

The career path is the main difference between EdD vs. PhD degrees. A PhD in Leadership prepares professionals for research roles, whereas EdD careers involve leadership roles. Graduates of EdD in Leadership programs are prepared to lead and innovate across industries.


Inspire Change as an Organizational Leader through Spalding’s Online EdD Program

If you want to develop your organizational leadership skills in an academic program, you may consider Spalding University’s online EdD in Leadership. It’s designed for current and future leaders who aspire to create meaningful change. Graduates are extraordinary team builders and systems thinkers who drive change and innovation in a global economy.

Spalding’s online EdD in Leadership addresses modern-day issues, preparing students as exemplary practitioners of ethical organizational leadership:

  • Advanced Leadership Concepts in Practice: Evolving one’s leadership approach through analyzing traditional and modern theory and personal development.
  • Global and Cultural Perspectives: Developing a sophisticated awareness and understanding of cultural differences in local, national and global contexts to evolve leadership practices.
  • Organizational Innovation and Change: Using proven methods and systems thinking to facilitate innovation and influence organizational transformation.
  • Research-Informed Decision-Making: Applying research-based best practices and methodologies to support impactful, data-driven decisions.

Spalding is a mission-focused university and the first university certified as a Compassionate College in the Charter for Compassion. Students in the online EdD in Leadership program grow their organizational leadership as part of a community that emphasizes the cultural understanding, diversity and dignity of every person.

The online EdD in Leadership program also allows professionals to continue working while completing just eight online courses and a leadership capstone, one at a time. They graduate in two years, faster than traditional EdD in Leadership programs. Plus, the program has three intakes per year, so professionals can start whenever it's convenient.

If you want to create meaningful change in business, social services, the arts or higher education, Spalding’s online EdD in Leadership could be right for you.

Spalding supports you wherever you are in your leadership journey. Connect with an enrollment advisor to get started.