Our main interest is managerial behavior in the global business arena. In particular, we focus on positive organizational behaviors such as trust, ethics and pro-social behavior offering guidance to business practitioners of how to shape ethical behavior at the different levels of corporate action including ethical culture, ethical leadership and ethical followership. Within this field, we put particular emphasis on how companies can overcome ethical failures and restore trust by providing responsible leadership.

With regard to the global business arena, we further address cross-cultural differences in behavioral expectations with regard to ethics and responsible leadership offering suggestions how difficulties in intercultural collaboration can be addressed successfully.

We thus offer managerial guidance at the intersection between ethics, leadership and international management.

Our research projects

China became world’s third largest investor in 2012. The scope of Chinese companies’ foreign direct investments in the German market place grows steadily. In this research project, we delineate the soft side of Chinese companies’ FDI endeavors, and investigate Chinese managers’ leadership effectiveness in the German context. Due to high institutional, economic developmental and cultural discrepancies, Chinese leaders face serious difficulties in leading their German employees. To address this research gap, we explore Chinese managers’ indigenous understanding of leadership effectiveness and investigate German employees’ perception of Chinese managers’ leadership effectiveness. Based on our analyses, we formulate managerial implications for Chinese managers.

In the digital age, employees need to react quickly to unforeseen changes in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (vuca) business environment. It is thus important that employees take initiative to respond to new business opportunities and conditions in order to ensure the companies’ agility to succeed. Agility, however, also implicates employee actions without the prior approval of their leader. When employees need to respond quickly to new developments and changes, there may be no time to align with their leader or their leader may simply not be available. In this vein, it is crucial to understand the interpersonal facets of constructive deviance in the leader-follower dyad. For this aim, we explore when employees engage in pro-organizational misbehaviors that deviate from their leaders’ instructions and what consequences result from such behaviors not only for the employee but also for the leader.

The work environment in the digital age is characterized by rapid evolvement and increasing complexity. This digital transformation process is triggering unprecedented challenges for organizations on all levels. Leadership is a driving factor in the success of businesses adapting to these changes. Thus, it is crucial to understand what behaviors, skills and competencies leaders require in the digital age. For this aim, we investigate what constitutes effective leadership in such a dynamic work Environment.

With rising expectations in terms of innovation, transparency and managing complexity in today’s corporate world, failures and successes are inextricably linked. While it is human nature to strive for success, the question of how to implement a positive way of dealing with failures is prevalent. Especially in the corporate world, where the demands for an entrepreneurial fast failure culture rise, leaders must be mindful of the negative connotations of failure. They need to find a way to stop a “have-to” risk averse mindset, where failure is stigmatized and foster an agile way of thinking. Therefore, it is important to understand how one can facilitate communications about failures in a way that fosters learning but doesn’t impede competency and the (self-) image of the affected person. We combine management and communications sciences to explore how leaders can inspire their follower to openly talk about failure and support them to recover from difficult situations and challenges that are prevalent in today’s innovation cycles.

Employees frequently face interactions or situations in the work setting which pose a threat to their professional identity, i.e. their self-perception regarding a specific professional belonging. These threats undermine goals, attitudes, skills or knowledge associated with a profession and lead to feelings of uneasiness in the individual. Professional identity threats also absorb employees´ cognitive attention and potentially reduce their performance - having a negative impact on overall organizational performance. Therefore, the aim of our research is on the one hand to disentangle why certain situations or interactions threaten professional identity and on the other hand to provide individuals with instruments to manage these threats effectively in the workplace.

Practice – our current areas of interest

Ethical Leadership Effectiveness

Recent scandals and their disastrous effects for the respective companies and their employees show the ever more growing importance of ethical leadership. In our work, we specify the behavioral expectations towards ethical leaders and provide managerial guidance on how to develop ethical leadership skills.

A central driver for managers’ ethical leadership is ethical confidence, i.e. their perception that they are able to live up to their values while serving the company and to being able to solve ethical conflicts satisfactory for the company, but also from their own perspective. In our work, we discuss the nature of ethical confidence and show how companies can foster their employees’ ethical confidence.

While ethical leadership is an important driver of firms’ ethical behavior, also followers have a say when it comes to ethics. This is ever more important, when leaders fail to provide ethical guidance. Above and beyond ethical leadership, there is thus demand for ethical followership, i.e. followers giving voice to their values and challenging their superiors’ leadership style. In our work, we specifically address the role of followers for firms’ ethical behavior and provide managerial guidance how to foster ethical followership in practice.

Effective Ethical Failure Treatment

In the face of an ethical scandal, companies apply different tactics to take responsibility for wrongdoing. These vary dependent on internal and external acceptance for the wrongdoing. Companies then choose between low, medium, and high impact strategies. While some companies try to escape via identifying and publicly dismissing a scapegoat, others more willingly accept own responsibility for failure, systematically analyze underlying reasons for failure and induce change. In our work, we discuss the different types and forms of corporate reactions to their own wrongdoing and offer guidance on how companies can use an ethical crisis to induce ethical culture change.

A central call for top management facing an ethical scandal is to restore trust by the different stakeholder parties. However, corporate scandals do not only erode external parties’ trust in the company, such as customer, the public or legal institutions, but also internal stakeholders’ trust – above all those of the employees. Ethical culture change and responsible crisis leadership thus need to develop measures to restore trust externally and internally. In our work, we particularly address the need for sincerity and credibility in top management’s efforts to restore trust at multiple levels.

Corporate culture change is targeting at the roots of the norms and beliefs within a company. In the aftermath of a corporate scandal, top management is confronted with the challenge to prevent further wrongdoing by corporate representatives. Particularly when previous wrongdoing has been conducted in favor of the company, it is difficult to explain that illegal behavior is not wanted (even not silently) by top management and that in fact, illegal behavior is not a favor to the company, but a threat with potentially underestimated disastrous consequences. In our work, we address the specific challenges that top management faces when aiming to induce ethical culture change and offer managerial guidance on how to shape ethical cultures.

Leadership Effectiveness Across Cultures

Due to cultural differences, behavioral expectations towards leaders vary across countries. Particularly in intercultural collaboration between business partners from distant cultures with different legal, cognitive and normative institutions, there are likely to be profound differences in the interpretation of proficient leadership. In our work, we address differences in behavioral expectations with regard to proficient leadership and provide guidance on how leaders might address these differences to increase their leadership effectiveness.

Not only do behavioral expectations towards leaders vary across cultures, but also behavioral expectations towards followers. While in some cultures, followers are expected to precisely follow leaders’ orders, in other cultures, followers are expected to be proactive, to take responsibility and to solve problems on their own. In our work, we address cultural differences in the interpretation of followership and offer managerial guidance on how leaders can adapt to different types of followers and thus become truly effective leaders in intercultural collaborations.

While cultural differences can be a liability for collaboration, they can also be a source of superior performance, if managed adequately. Understanding cultural differences in the behavioral expectations towards leaders and followers is a prerequisite for global leaders to be effective. However, global leaders aiming to adapt to cultural differences still need to develop their own, authentic leadership style. In our work, we elaborate, how leaders can activate the positive potential of intercultural differences and show how leaders can harbor from cultural variety for their own leadership success.

Effective Collaboration Across Cultures

Particularly in intercultural collaborations with business partners from distant cultures with different legal, cognitive and normative institutions, both parties hold different behavioral expectations. Initial distrust, due to the uncertainties about the external environment, prejudices and stereotyping, as well as unfavorable past experiences thus often endanger successful collaboration. However, intercultural collaboration depends on trust. In our work, we thus address proactive trust development as means to overcome initial obstacles in intercultural collaboration offering managerial guidance on how to establish trustful business relationships without running the risk of being naïve.

In many cultures, there are specific behavioral expectations with regard to how to earn respect from another party and how to pay respect to another party. Business partners aiming to gain others appreciation or to display their appreciation for another party may thus fail to reach their aim, due to cultural differences and misunderstandings. In our work, we display different cultures’ behavioral expectations with regard to how to earn and how to display respect to one another and offer managerial guidance for leaders and followers aiming to build respectful relationships across cultures.

Cultural differences and unmet behavioral expectations may result in perceptions of disrespect and distrust. These, in turn, are likely to evoke negative reciprocation. Such negative spirals und unmet conflict resolution endanger intercultural collaboration. In our work, we specifically address negative spirals of revenge behavior and provide managerial guidance on how to collaborate under conditions of distrust without further reinforcing the conflict.

Get in touch with us –

We look forward to hearing from you

WHU Campus Düsseldorf

Entrance 228c
WHU Campus Düsseldorf
WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management
Erkrather Straße 224a
40233 Düsseldorf