Program Format

Organizational Leadership courses are delivered in 7-week terms, typically with a one-week break between terms. Two 7-week terms comprise the standard academic semester. Students focus on just one course at a time (i.e., one course per 7-week term), which helps them juggle the competing demands of their busy personal, professional and academic lives. By taking one course per term (two courses per semester), students usually complete the program in five semesters (including summers), or around 19 months.

Our Learning Models

Part of what makes CU Boulder’s program special is its use of two models: a cohort model and an independent model. Whichever way you advance your degree, you will grow a strong professional network and make connections that last beyond the program. 

Cohort model benefits: 

  • Close professional cadre: Progress through the core courses with the same group of students.
  • Structured learning: Receive a set academic plan that clearly outlines which courses you will take each semester.  
  • Defined timeline: Complete the program in five semesters (fall, spring and summer) by taking one course in each 7-week term. 

Independent model benefits: 

  • Broad professional network: Interact with different students throughout your time in the program.
  • Flexible learning: Adjust your schedule based on your availability and needs. 
  • Flexible timeline: Complete the program on your schedule. You can take more classes per semester to finish the program quickly or take one course per semester as your schedule allows.  

Can’t decide which learning model is right for you? You may choose to move between the cohort and independent models as needed. If you have questions about which model is the best fit for you, email us at

Course Structure

Our 100% online courses are presented in an asynchronous learning model which means that you can complete your coursework when it’s convenient for you.

However, Organizational Leadership courses are not self-paced, where you are left to teach yourself. Our expert faculty are very engaged and involved in every course. You’ll have specific deadlines each week, but with flexibility as to when to complete the work to meet those deadlines. Also, unlike some online programs, there are no long (say, 2½ hour) lectures that you have to call into or watch! Each week, there may be a chapter or two from a textbook to read, articles or case studies to review, discussion questions to which you’ll respond in an online discussion forum, short videos to watch, etc. The format makes the classes dynamic and engaging – and more manageable in terms of when and where you do the classwork. In general, students report spending at least 15 hours per week on coursework.

Comprehensive Curriculum 

CU Boulder’s Organizational Leadership program offers a focused 10-course, 30-credit curriculum consisting of the following components:

  • Core courses: Six classes that provide a foundation in leadership theory and practice
  • Specialized tracks: Four courses that offer you the opportunity to customize the program to your interests
  • The Professional Skills Mastery Lab (ProLab): A noncredit, professional development component that helps students enhance their professional skills and knowledge.

Core Courses

The core courses ensure you have the necessary understanding of the complexities of organizational leadership within the context of public, private and nonprofit organizations. The curriculum prepares you to be successful in understanding organizational strategy, anticipating and managing change and enhancing performance and human capital management.

Focuses on leadership theory and practice in contemporary organizations, discussing, comparing and contrasting theories of leadership, as well as factors that impact leadership in an organization. Students assess their own leadership style in the context of existing leadership models and potential organizational settings. Current topics and case studies in leadership are also discussed.

Addresses theories, methods and challenges associated with organizational change. The course exposes students to forces that drive organizations to change, why organizations change or fail to change, impediments and barriers associated with change and how change helps organizations become more competitive and profitable. The course also examines a variety of approaches, tools and techniques for effective personal and organizational change.

Focuses on analyzing data for making high quality predictions and decisions. The course covers use of statistical packages to make sense of large sets of data and turn them into actionable information for various audiences. The problems faced by decision makers in today's competitive business environment are often extremely complex and can be addressed by numerous possible courses of action. Evaluating these alternatives and choosing the best course of action represents the essence of this course.

Communicating competently in the workplace requires the ability to express thoughts and ideas across all domains and barriers of an organization. From one-on-one interactions, conflict management situations and large scale presentations, Strategic Communication is the backbone of a successful business model and it represents one of the most important foundations of career success.

Focuses on organizational performance management systems and individual performance appraisals, explored in relationship to other human resource activities and processes designed to achieve organizational success. The course builds requisite management and leadership competencies of assessing performance, providing feedback, coaching, motivating, engaging and increasing employees’ achievement. Course utilizes lecture, readings, discussion, case studies, role plays, research and/or personal peer feedback.

Taken at or near the end of the Organizational Leadership program, this course allows students to synthesize the theoretical knowledge acquired during the program to complete a basic business research project involving actual data in a realistic setting. Students will identify a problem, form a methodology for possible solution of a hypothesis, gather data, test the hypothesis and form implementable recommendations.

What is the capstone?

The purpose of the Capstone, the final course of the program, is for you to apply knowledge and skills acquired during your program to address actual challenges facing an organization. You do this—under the guidance of the instructor and other subject matter experts—by collecting, and processing and analyzing data and information about the organization and applying appropriate analytic methods to develop, propose and substantiate your recommended solution to the organization’s problem.

Specialized Tracks

In addition to the six core courses, you will select one of the specialized tracks to customize your degree to fit their specific career goals. You may elect to complete the general Organizational Leadership track or to specialize in one of the following tracks listed below. With pre-approval, you may also opt to transfer in up to three of the four track courses from other graduate programs for the ultimate in degree customization.

Human Resources

This track is ideal for students who wish to enter or advance a career in Human Resources or who want to focus on enhancing employee satisfaction and organizational performance as they assume increasing management and leadership responsibilities.

This course introduces students to theory and research behind negotiation and conflict resolution as they relate to professional experiences in the workplace. Students will learn necessary information for understanding how negotiation can be used to resolve conflict. Students will also apply knowledge about negotiation and conflict resolution through addressing negotiation problems that are commonly faced by managers and professionals.

This course provides an overview of employment and labor law, regulations and emerging issues. Covered topics include: proper classification of workers and pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act, civil rights (race, color, gender, religious, disability, age and national origin discrimination), family and medical leave, workplace torts and contracts, privacy rights, OSHA, workers' compensation and the National Labor Relations Act.

This course studies the total rewards provided to employees in return for their contributions to an organization. The principles of modern compensation and benefits are considered from legal, practical and theoretical perspectives. Students examine how compensation and benefits can add strategic value by aligning total compensation with organizational goals.

This course provides an understanding of the knowledge and skills required to assess employee training needs, design and administer employee training and development programs and evaluate both the efficiency and effectiveness of such programs. Training and development is based on the premise that people are the most valuable asset of an organization.

Strategic Leadership

This track is geared to students who want to hone their ability to think, plan and operate strategically, lead personnel in the allocation of organizational resources and accomplish organizational objectives in a deliberate and systematic manner.

This course addresses theories, techniques and challenges associated with strategic planning. Students are exposed to the processes and tools that drive organizations to create a framework for developing, adapting and aligning organizational vision, mission, values and goals to achieve and sustain a strategic advantage. Students gain the knowledge needed to facilitate, formulate, execute and monitor strategic planning for any organization.

This course discusses how to perform a formal competitive analysis to understand better a company’s brand, the brand's position in the marketplace and the role the brand’s competitors play in shaping the marketplace. The course addresses product positioning, Integrated Marketing Communications, markets (realized and potential) and company/brand strengths and weaknesses and how those may become threats. Students learn how to create Buyer Personas, conduct SWOT analyses and establish Communication Objectives.

This course provides an overview of business law and the legal environment. Students examine contracts, torts, sales, employment law, property, forms of business organization and government regulation and how they impact managerial decision making.

Students learn to use processes and tools that contribute to the competitiveness and survival of an organization, develop an understanding of how organizations affect and are affected by their environments and learn principles of organizational operations and design that can be used to improve the match between an organization and its environment.

Leading Innovation

This track explores leadership at the intersection of business and innovation and helps students learn to drive strategic organizational transformation. This program addresses the gap that exists between the aspirations of executives to innovate and their ability to execute. It focuses on the question: why and how should leadership, innovations and technologies be leveraged to shape and support strategic and entrepreneurial initiatives in the global competitive landscape?

Intrapreneurship is the discipline of behaving entrepreneurially within a large organization. An intrapreneurial leader champions innovative ideas from their inception, through their design and into the market. This course teaches the student how to build intrapreneurship through the use of motivational techniques characterized by risk-taking, knowledge-sharing and empowerment.

Design thinking provides the tools to become an innovative thinker and uncover creative opportunities that are there. This course provides an overview of design thinking and work with a model containing four key questions and several tools to help students understand design thinking as a problem solving approach. It also looks at several stories from different organizations that used design thinking to uncover compelling solutions.

This course is about the issues and challenges of running a firm in a competitive environment. It is an integrative course emphasizing a total organizational perspective as opposed to a functional viewpoint (accounting, finance, marketing, information technology, etc.). The emphasis is on the use innovation as an integral part of business strategy. Furthermore, it gets deeper in studying sustaining innovation enhancements for traditional business models, as well as disruptive innovations for radical new technological models.

In a business world of increasing complexity, creativity often comes from the synergistic efforts of innovative work teams. In this course the student will first learn how to build innovative work teams, with a special focus on promoting cohesion among groups that are inclusive and diverse. Students will also learn how to diagnosis low-performing groups before they reach the point of failure. The course will then turn its attention to the use of “tight-loose” leadership, which controls the process while giving free rein to diverse thinking. Special attention is paid to specific managerial tools, such as brainstorming, the nominal groups technique, devil’s advocacy and dialectical inquiry.

Organizational Communication

Organizational communication is the key social process that creates and sustains all features of organizational life – including assumptions about power, knowledge, diversity, culture and teamwork that shape the practice of leadership. This track offers a perspective that puts communication at the center of our understanding and explanation of all organizational and leadership phenomena.

Examines social identity as a communication practice and reframes identities like gender, race and sexuality as something consequential that we do through ongoing communication at work, rather than as something we are or have and merely bring to work.  Students learn to practice reflexivity regarding their own contributions to routine practices of identity and power and to lead others in organizational practices conducive to meaningful diversity.

Focuses on aspects of group communication leaders need for success in a variety of organizational contexts. Topics include decision making, creativity and innovation, conflict management, technology and virtual environments, difference and diversity, systems and institutions, group development and socialization, negotiation, identity and interaction design. Organizational work often occurs in groups and communication is essential to effective group work. Therefore, organizational leaders need to understand the dynamics of group communication and improve their group communication skills.

Focuses on concepts, theories and skills that enable individuals to shape their organizational cultures reflectively through designing, performing and sometimes resisting related communication. The course considers perspectives on: studying and enacting organizational culture (e.g., as a control system), various material and symbolic forms (e.g., stories, rituals, artifacts, etc.), ethical and political issues such as whistleblowing and "managing" diversity and the challenges of leading organizational culture in the contexts of globalization and continuous change.

Discusses how Knowledge Management (KM) initiatives typically define knowledge as a commodity that is easily stored and transferred and explores how technological advancements and claims to knowledge ownership constitute management in KM. The course focuses on alternative conceptions of knowledge and management that increasingly characterize KM, whereby knowledge is understood as a component of ongoing activity, and management is portrayed as the construction of communities of practice that share responsibility for continuous innovation and adaptation.

Organizational Leadership

This is a great track option for those who want to customize their degree to obtain broad exposure to the field of organizational leadership. Students select any four track courses from the offerings available under the other tracks (Human Resources, Leading Innovation, Organizational Communication and/or Strategic Leadership). With pre-approval, students also have the option of transferring in up to three relevant graduate courses from other programs and colleges.

Visit the University Catalog for a complete summary of the program as well as its requirements, course descriptions and learning outcomes.