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Responsible Leadership - (B-E-M)

Course code
Course type
MSc Course
Weekly Hours
FS 2024
Prof. Dr. Miriam Müthel
Please note that exchange students obtain a higher number of credits in the BSc-program at WHU than listed here. For further information please contact directly the International Relations Office.

The environmental, economic, and social crises of recent times revealed the threat of so-called societal grand challenges, such as climate change, for our economic and social well-being. At the same time, the breadth and depth of these crises raised people’s expectations about the role of business in solving societal grand challenges resulting in a call for responsible leadership. It is thus important for future leaders to understand societal grand challenges, to know how to tackle them, and to do so with passion and confidence – jointly with others.

Responsible leaders are aware of and understand societal grand challenges and their root causes. They constantly strive to address these grand challenges, using their resources to tackle them through innovation, collaboration, and entrepreneurial thinking. Furthermore, responsible leaders obtain specific leadership skills. These include systems thinking, stakeholder relations, change and innovation, self-awareness, ethics, and values.

In this class, we will distinctively tackle all five of these responsible leadership skills. 

  1. Systems thinking: To nurture your system thinking skills, i.e. your capability to deal with complex issues and understand the consequences of human action, you will analyze current societal grand challenges to understand their underlying root causes and the magnitude of their consequences. Furthermore, you will depict how exemplary startups have started tackling these challenges. The societal grand challenges tackled include: Plastic Oceans, Sea Level Rise, Biodiversity Loss, Food Insecurity, Fresh Water Scarcity, Financial Inclusion, Disinformation, Modern Slavery, Corruption, and Money Laundering. The outcome will be a team presentation. This task will be done in groups of three. These will be deliberately assigned during the kickoff meeting in January. Therefore, 20% of the grade will be based on team effort and 80% on individual effort.
  2. Stakeholder relations: To further develop your stakeholder relation building skills, you will interview (corporate) sustainability managers on how they are tackling societal grand challenges and what they could do to be more impactful. The outcome will be a short paper summarizing your findings and managerial takeaways. This task will be done individually.
  3. Change and innovation: To bolster your creative and change confidence, you will identify a role model from the business arena that exemplifies how managers can successfully address societal grand challenges through innovation and change. You will explain why that person impresses you and what you can learn from this person for your career. The outcome will be a short video. This task will be done individually.
  4. Self-awareness: To foster your self-awareness, we will do reflection exercises during the seminar. These tasks will be done individually.
  5. Ethics and values: To increase your confidence in ethical imagination, we will invite startup founders tackling societal grand challenges that have been significantly switching their career plans during their lives and will share their live stories with us. From these role models, you will learn a lot about the crucial role of optimism, confidence, and a growth mindset as enablers of societal change. There will be no deliverable for students here. However, we are expecting you to participate in the seminar day.

Please note that the number of participants is limited to 30 students. Places will be distributed on a first-come-first-served basis. In case more than 30 students sign up, we will inform those who are over the limit and therefore cannot participate.

Date Time
Tuesday, 16.01.2024 15:30 - 18:45
Wednesday, 21.02.2024 08:00 - 18:45
Content-wise, you will learn about the grand challenges of modern society, the role of responsible leaders and how to..
  • ..grasp the magnitude of societal grand challenges
  • ..understand the root causes of societal grand challenges
  • ..apply theoretical approaches to tackle societal grand challenges
  • ..determine practical approaches that proved to be effective in solving societal grand challenges
  • ..reflect upon your own role as a responsible leaders

Methodology-wise, you will learn how to..

  • .. do a literature review
  • .. conduct and analyze interviews
  • .. relate research findings to managerial implications
Introductory LiteratureShaping the Sustainable OrganizationHow responsible leaders can create sustainable organizations that deliver value and impactSeeking New Leadership – ReportSiegel, D. S. (2014). Responsible leadership [Editorial].The Academy of Management Perspectives, 28(3), 221–223.https://doi.org/10.5465/amp.2014.0081Waldman, D. A., Siegel, D. S., & Stahl, G. K. (2020). Defining the Socially Responsible Leader: Revisiting Issues in Responsible Leadership.Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies,27(1), 5 20. https://doi.org/10.1177/154805181987220
There will be four deliverables for students. They will be graded as follows:
  1. Systems thinking (Deliverable): Team presentation of research model on a societal grand challenge (30% of total grade). To account for teamwork, 20% of the grade will relate to the collective impression. However, students will individually present distinctive parts of their research model, so that 80% of the grade stems from individual effort. This requires that students be present during the seminar day.
  2. Stakeholder relations (Deliverable): Individual short paper with no more than 10 pages (40% of total grade).
  3. Change and innovation (Deliverable)Individual video on role model with no more than 5min (20% of total grade)
  4. Self-awareness (Deliverable): Individual reflection exercises during class (will be part of the oral grade, 10% of total grade).
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