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What Does An MBA Teach You About Responsible Leadership?

Professor Stephan Stubner, dean of HHL Leipzig Graduate School of Management, explains how MBA programs can help create the responsible leaders of the future


Fri Jul 24 2020



In June 2020, former Wirecard CEO Markus Braun was arrested after admitting to a $2 billion hole in the company's profits. Plastered over the front pages, Braun's example is the most recent public display of unethical and irresponsible leadership.

The attention on these scandals speaks to how important responsible leadership has become over the last decade. With increasing scrutiny on leaders under the spotlight, corporations and organizations demand leaders with responsible practices.

Stephan Stubner, dean of Germany's HHL Leipzig Graduate School of Management, has been part of the movement to push responsible management to the forefront of the MBA curriculum. Responsible beliefs and practices, he says, have to start at business school. 

Why is responsible leadership important?

A growing focus on responsible leadership at business school is reflected in the Financial Times MBA rankings, where in 2019 corporate social responsibility (CSR) was introduced to the methodology.

With rankings previously focused primarily on graduate salaries and employment rates, the move symbolizes a broader global shift away from pure profit, to the incorporation of responsible practices in business. bad9a819c678ad3c67be0ebffcb39b76665b6538.jpeg

“Governments are increasingly asking for organizations to highlight their approach to responsibility and sustainability,” says Stephan (pictured right). “Therefore, for MBA students there is a business need to be aware of responsible leadership.”

Stephan maintains that as a business school, HHL has a duty to talk about responsible leadership, with their MBA students likely to move into influential leadership positions. “They’ll have a responsibility over money, people, and resources,” he says. “Therefore, their decisions won’t just affect the company’s bottom line, but also society.”

“We try to help students develop the right mindset, value set, and competencies to make the right decision—not only for themselves in the short term, but for all of us in the longer term," he continues. "That’s where we want to contribute.”

Stephan is aware that the increasing demand for responsible leadership is being driven by the next generation of students, too. “We see that young people are coming to us and asking how we at the school deal with responsible leadership, and how we approach our own responsibility. There is a desire to learn more about it, so students can take those practices into an organization.”

Responsible leadership on the MBA

So how can you learn how to become a responsible leader? 

At HHL, Stephan explains, it starts right at the beginning. “The first week is largely social, but right from the off our focus shifts to responsible leadership."

Students are introduced to the Leipzig Leadership Model, aimed to help future leaders find orientation in today's fast moving times, and form critical and creative opinions on complex matters. The model provides a template for responsible leadership, based on four dimensions: purpose, entrepreneurial spirit, responsibility and effectiveness

Professor Timo Meynhardt, part of the core team in developing and transferring this model, explains: “In the Leipzig Leadership Model, the idea of responsibility is crucial to remind leaders that even the most attractive purpose does not justify the means.”


Throughout the MBA program, case studies in class put the student in the position of making a business decision in terms of sustainability and responsibility.

Complementing this is a co-teaching method where two professors take a case and both present different positions on what leadership approach to take. “It spurs a lot of discussion in the class,” Stephan says. “What is a good and responsible leadership approach?”

It’s this debate with your peers that makes all the difference on an MBA, Stephan asserts. He cites the value of being able to constantly reflect and discuss, and makes sure he is always asking “What do the students think?" and "How is it impacting their life goals?”

Students are asked after each session to write their own reflection notes, which is then discussed with your peers, private from the professor.

“I don’t want to tell students that this is how you should lead your life,” he says. “Instead, I simply ask they take a second to think about why you’re making a decision."

“Leadership style is linked to that self-reflection. Finding out your own goals means our coaching programs can build on individual style throughout the program.”


©HHL Leipzig via Facebook

Taking responsible leadership into your post-MBA career

In a typical corporation, Stephan explains that those most likely to discuss responsible leadership are those at the top. “But for the middle manager level, while there is a desire to talk about the topic, they often don’t have the same time; they’re busy with other demands first,” he says.

To change an organization more easily in a responsible direction, Stephan contends that those middle and senior management roles—often filled by MBA graduates—need to know and understand the value of responsible leadership too.

A shift towards responsible leadership is also being reflected in the jobs market, with the world’s biggest asset managers doubling their hiring of sustainable investing teams over the last three years.

“The value of an MBA isn’t just the tools and skills you get,” Stephan says. “Networking and discussion with peers mean you can acquire the tools to really engrain responsible leadership and take that with you as you progress in your career.”

Student Reviews

HHL Leipzig Graduate School of Management




Part time MSc Management

I decided on attending this program since it is 100% in English, the option for a Semester abroad, and it has a nicely designed curriculum. I enjoyed very much the studies at the Leipzig location (I do not live in Leipzig and was staying in Airbnb flats with other students during the course weekends). There was great enthusiasm within the students' group, the courses were challenging and we had experienced/diverse professors which added to the overall experience. HHL is focused on teamwork and is big on its network and career development which is a definite value add for students. I can recommend HHL to other students who want to sharpen their skill set to be prepared for leadership positions.




Impressive Journey

I’m doing my Master Part-time at HHL and love the Journey. The teaching is between good and outstanding. The service around the lectures is amazing. Never had to wait longer than a day for a response. The Network I was able to build and the lecture about entrepreneurship are the major takeaways which strongly influenced my future. I can strongly recommend the Master in Part-time at the HHL for a course with impact. But be prepared they will broaden your horizon and you will have to grow with it.





Horrible Experience

I am also a recent student at HHL. I would agree with your post wholeheartedly. HHL is brilliant at marketing, however, it's more like a Ponzi scheme. A lot of Indians happen to fall into this trap, including me. I joined HHL while letting ESMT go primarily because I thought Leipzig is a cheaper city to live in and the course is cheaper. Always remember if a deal looks too good it is probably a scam. The studies are extremely below average, the college has an abysmal career centre and the campus is a joke. Now let me give you some deeper insights : 1. Given that the college is located in EAST Germany- you need to understand that RACISM is a truth. The college runs MBA and MSc. (Management). MBA is a mere point of luring students as unaware students come to HHL with dreams and hopes of doing an MBA and getting placed. To break it to you softly: MSc is the FLAGSHIP program for HHL- this means 99% of the class is German, and they got offers from the likes of Mckinsey, Bain and Deutsche come to the Germans. Even the foreigners doing MSc. do not get a whiff of the opportunity- please understand- Germany is a "German" speaking country and not internationalised enough to include "English" as the business language. Nonetheless, HHL is such a weak school that it cannot do **** about anything- their placement cell always keeps on crying but they are of absolutely ZERO help. You will not get any scholarships like the Germans do here thanks to the Dean who promotes this divide between Germans and others by giving scholarships thatd more or less cover the entire tuition fees of the German students. 2. The Academic Director for MBA is definitely someone people look at and think that good there's an Indian there- he has absolutely zero value in HHL and in the research world anyways. He is only out there to lure you in to get a fatter commission-the more Indians he gets in the higher his commission and his job is SAFE. 3. The faculty is so horribly poor in their own research work and competence that you'd feel why did I come here. The only reason why some people come here: VISA and citizenship in a few years. You may also procure a job but with the HHL tag being so weak the salaries are way below AVERAGE. Free advice: So either way if you're planning to come to Germany either perfect your German or choose a different country because colleges like HHL get students from all over the world- after which they do not really give a damn whether you get placed or not- it's ALL BUSINESS TO HHL. I cannot speak about many other colleges, but, due to the sheer presence of colleges like Frankfurt business school, WHU and ESMT in bigger cities such as Frankfurt, Berlin and Dusseldorf provide better chances to network during the duration of the course. Do NOT come to HHL and waste your money. Your entire education and stay would cost 50 lacs, instead invest in BITCOIN or STOCKS. OR just do your Masters in Management from a public University in Germany which is way cheaper, has higher chances of scholarship and better placement opportunities. Hope this helps Thanks.