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Leading Through Challenging Times: Our Mission and Expertise

At the Chair of Organizational Behavior, we explore how top managers can lead effectively in challenging circumstances, from crises and scandals to the complexities of a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world and disruptive change.

Our research aims for publication in top international journals and practical implementation in business practice. To this end, we collaborate closely with partner companies throughout the research process. Prof. Muethel offers keynotes, coaching, and senior advisory services to deepen these insights.

Practice: Guiding Top Managers to Lead in Difficult Situations

Crises emerge suddenly and have profound effects on companies, necessitating immediate and effective management. Crises can be caused externally, such as during the Covid-19 pandemic or the Ukraine war. Unfortunately, due to geopolitical instability and climate change, the frequency of external crises will increase. Against this background, managers must be prepared and ready to serve as crisis leaders. We provide insights into what truly matters in these situations and how to lead effectively.

However, not all crises stem from external factors. Internally caused crises arise from serious errors or misconduct within the company. Internal crises erode trust among both external and internal stakeholders. We demonstrate how to lead effectively through these challenges and restore trust. Contact us to learn more.

VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) has become a constant companion in the business world, no longer an outlier but a defining characteristic of modern reality. We elucidate what is crucial in VUCA situations, emphasizing the unique priorities of each VUCA dimension. With our guidance, you can successfully navigate the VUCA landscape and lead with confidence. Contact us to learn more. 

Digital transformation is inevitable, yet 80% of digitalization initiatives fail. While failure is a natural part of the journey to success, it should not be simply tolerated or anticipated. We empower leaders to take strategic risks, nurture an entrepreneurial mindset, and cultivate a culture of radical honesty and experimentation. We guide leaders in increasing the "return on failure" to bolster their company's competitive edge. Contact us to learn more.

Change is often unwelcome, yet it is an integral part of business. Unfortunately, over 70% of change projects fail. Most of them die in silence as no one steps up to accept responsibility. It's not surprising that many employees try to avoid change, hoping it will eventually fade away. We demonstrate how to manage change projects successfully, highlighting the critical role of a culture of radical honesty. Contact us to learn more.

We all make mistakes, yet failure is often painful and costly. While companies may claim it is acceptable to fail, they cannot sustain themselves if they do nothing else. As a manager, establishing a positive failure culture is crucial, but it is equally important to differentiate between types of failures. Not all mistakes should be tolerated; willful deviations, compliance violations, and gross negligence are exceptions. However, a fear of mistakes is also counterproductive. We will guide you on how managers can distinguish between different types of mistakes and foster a culture of radical honesty. Contact us to learn more.

Practical Examples

  • Volkswagen AG Supervisory Board (2020): Training to the Supervisory Board of Volkswagen AG on “Ethical Crisis Management”.
  • Audi AG Board of Management (2021): Training for the entire Board of Management of Audi AG on "Ethical Leadership and the Challenges of Digital Transformation."
  • IT Strategy Days: Master Class Summit (2024): Keynote on "Failing Forward: Myths and Reality Around Positive Failure Culture."
  • Henkel AG (2023): Pep talk on "Failing Forward" to Henkel managers.
  • Volkswagen AG (2020-2023): Senior advisory services over three years in the field of Compliance & Integrity. In collaboration with VW Together4Integrity, Prof. Muethel developed an Integrity Skillset for the Volkswagen Group and a train-the-trainer program for this skillset, which was integrated into all leadership development programs globally.
  • Henkel AG (2019-2023): Four-year, research-based collaboration on “Agile Leadership” with the HR Board of Henkel AG.
  • German Armed Forces (2017) Presentation on „Leadership Excellence: Definition, Criteria & Impediments” at the Opening Event of the “Inner Leadership Today” Initiative of the German Armed Forces.
  • Ministry of Defense (2018): Discussion on "Trust, Leadership, and Consistency in Dealing with Risks" at the "Trust, Leadership & Consistency" event hosted by the Ministry of Defense, invited by Defense Minister Dr. Ursula von der Leyen.
  • Volkswagen AG (2021): Featured in a podcast interview with the Culture & Change Factory of Volkswagen AG on the topic of "Culture of Honesty."
  • Handelsblatt (2024): Interviewed by Julia Beil for the Handelsblatt podcast "Rethink Work," discussing the topic of "Failure Culture."

Research: How to Lead in Difficult Situations

Professional Responses to Corporate Misconduct 

In internally-caused crisis situations, such as corporate scandals, swift and responsible action is imperative. Often, however, those involved attempt to conceal the misconduct to protect themselves and/or the company, exacerbating the situation. We guide you on the crucial steps to take to act responsibly in these scenarios and demonstrate how companies can establish a reputation for accountability in addressing misconduct. Contact us to learn more.

Resistance Against Misconduct by Superiors (with Jens Marga) 

When a superior engages in misconduct, it presents a significant challenge for employees deciding how to respond. Should they address the superior directly, contact compliance, or perhaps take a silent stand to avoid immoral or illegal actions? We explore various forms of resistance and the conditions under which they are effective. Contact us to learn more.

Mission Command and Inner Leadership – What Business Can Learn from the Military (with Dr. Louisa Bloedorn) 

The military has long dealt with VUCA environments. The German Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) have developed a dynamic and complex leadership model known as Mission Command and Inner Leadership, which has proven effective in navigating VUCA situations. We analyze how these military principles can be applied in a business context. Contact us to learn more.

Paradoxical Agile Behavior (with Thekla Schmidt, Dr. Louisa Bloedorn, & Yan Zhang) 

In the digital age, rapid development and increasing complexity create conflicting demands. Employees must make quick yet correct decisions, act rapidly while adhering to processes, and passionately pursue ideas, only to abandon them abruptly when necessary. We show how managers can navigate these paradoxes to drive their company's innovative success. Get in touch with us to learn more.

Organizational Rebels (with Dr. Louisa Bloedorn) 

In the digital age, employees must respond swiftly to unforeseen changes. They must act quickly and independently to seize opportunities or mitigate threats. Employees cannot always wait for feedback or permission from their managers; inaction is often more detrimental than making a wrong decision. Thus, companies need organizational rebels who boldly make their own decisions while keeping the broader vision in mind. We demonstrate how responsible employees can challenge their superiors' instructions for the company's benefit and explore the consequences this has for both the company and the individuals involved. Get in touch with us to learn more.

Successful Communicating Failure (with Julia Büntig) 

Managers are now encouraged to exemplify a positive culture of failure, actively contributing to its development within their organizations. With over 80% of digitization projects failing, they have ample opportunities to do so. However, how can leaders discuss these failed projects without being perceived as failures themselves? We demonstrate how, particularly in situations of failure, successful communication can be achieved, and we explain why this approach works differently for men and women. Contact us to learn more.

Failure Culture in Germany (with Twumwaa Ansah) 

In the German startup world, it is widely accepted that the culture surrounding failure is poor. However, when engaging with entrepreneurs who have experienced bankruptcy, it becomes evident that their perspective on failure culture is not as negative as commonly believed. This discrepancy raises intriguing questions: Where does this negative perception originate? Why is it more closely tied to our attitude toward risk rather than failure itself? We delve into the true nature of failure culture in Germany and uncover valuable lessons for the startup ecosystem. Contact us to learn more.

Success Theater (with Hyungwoo Oh) 

Despite the call for a positive failure culture, many German companies still practice 'success theater'—presenting polished successes while hiding failures. This culture often stems from the belief that top management prefers only good news. We reveal the detrimental effects of success theater on innovation, motivation, and commitment, and offer solutions to foster a more honest and productive environment. Contact us to learn more.

Successful Implementation of Failing Forward (with Sophia Kohlenberg) 

The increasing volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity of today's business environment, combined with the challenges of digital transformation, necessitate cultural change within companies. To remain competitive, companies must embrace faster, more dynamic, and agile practices, inevitably encountering failures along the way. We detail the steps required to foster a corporate culture that successfully incorporates strategic risk-taking and learning from failure, enhancing overall competitiveness. Contact us to learn more.

Our Chair: What You Need to Know About Doing Your PhD with us

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What We Do
Our research aims to support top managers in effectively leading through difficult situations. We tackle new research questions that have not yet been scientifically addressed to address current challenges in business practice. Using both quantitative and qualitative empirical research methods, we help our research partners understand their current situation, the challenges they face, and potential next steps. Thereby, we work closely with our corporate partners to offer relevant recommendations that guide their corporate strategy and operational practices.
How We Work
Our research aims for publication in leading international management journals. Therefore, we conduct all our research projects empirically and work exclusively in English. We operate as a tightly-knit team, regularly exchanging ideas and collaborating on articles. As passionate researchers, we unite to address current business challenges with innovative ideas, aiming not only to advance research but also to have a tangible impact on business practice.
What We're Looking For
PhD positions at our chair may be internal, paired with a paid position as a teaching assistant within our department. These internal positions are advertised. Alternatively, PhD positions can also be external, established through collaboration with a company. In such cases, the doctoral student is employed by the company, which enters a research collaboration with our chair. In both scenarios, we encourage prospective candidates to reach out early to inquire about available positions or supervision capacity.

To pursue a PhD with us, the following requirements must be met:
1) Hold a degree in Business Administration, Business Psychology, or Business Engineering at the time of appointment
2) Have completed an English-language master's thesis
3) Conducted independent empirical research (qualitative or quantitative) as part of their master's thesis
4) Possess a strong proficiency in empirical research methods and their application (ideally by showing initial experience in writing scientific articles)
5) For an external PhD position: The company commits to supporting the project by facilitating data access and allowing the doctoral student to dedicate 2.5 days per week to their doctoral studies.

If you have any questions about pursuing a PhD with us, please contact Prof. Dr. Miriam Muethel.
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