Leadership is a featured research topic and an initiative at Harvard Business School.
As our world grows increasingly global, intricate, and ever-changing, the role of leaders is becoming more and more complex and critical to business success. In the 1950s and 1960s, Fritz Roethlisberger and Elton Mayo's contributions to the "Hawthorne effect," and work by Paul Lawrence and Jay Lorsch on organizational integration, sparked the field of Organizational Behavior. Early work by Michael Beer on leading organizational change, Rosabeth Kanter on innovation for productivity, John Kotter on power and influence, and Michael Tushman on innovation management helped shape today's understanding of organizational transformation. With an interest in Leadership that spans our academic units, our approach to research is collaborative and multi-disciplinary. We leverage a wide range of research methodologies – from onsite field research to surveys, experiments, and extensive longitudinal studies. 
  1. Fresh to Table

    Gautam Mukunda and Brooks C. Holtom

    After the contentious firing of an office manager, the leadership at Fresh to Table, a software-as-a-service provider for luxury hotels and restaurants, make an unpleasant discovery. While reviewing the office manager's internal electronic communications, company leaders discover that several key employees, including two that were recently promoted, had been spending substantial time on internal social media channels disparaging other employees, citing days when they skipped work, and referring to other instances of unprofessional behavior. This 5-page case explores issues related to electronic communications; termination and disciplinary procedures; and leadership, culture, and values. It can be used in General Management, Organizational Behavior, Human Resource Management, Management Communication, Leadership, and Employee Relations courses. The case also allows students to consider how technology affects organizational interactions and culture.

    Keywords: Behavior; Resignation and Termination; Organizational Culture; Values and Beliefs; Leadership;


    Mukunda, Gautam, and Brooks C. Holtom. "Fresh to Table." Harvard Business School Brief Case 917-541, May 2017. View Details
  2. Taj Hotels: Leading Change, Driving Profitability

    Krishna Palepu, Anjali Raina and Rachna Chawla

    Rakesh Sarna, MD and CEO of the Indian Hotels Company ltd (IHCL) was faced with the challenge of leading and embedding changes in IHCL to turnaround its trajectory. IHCL and its subsidiaries, headquartered in India, were a venerable hotel chain, collectively known as Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces, and colloquially referred to as Taj Hotels. Taj Hotels, revered across India for their values and renowned for their hospitality, had been plagued with performance challenges since Dec’08. It was August 2016, nearly two years since Sarna had been recruited from the Hyatt Hotels Corporation, with a mandate to revive the flagging fortunes of Taj Hotels. Having introduced a number of changes, Sarna reflects on progress made and next steps required.

    Keywords: turnaround; Hospitality Industry; Leadership; Brands and Branding; Marketing; Strategy; Globalization; Leading Change; Accommodations Industry; India;


    Palepu, Krishna, Anjali Raina, and Rachna Chawla. "Taj Hotels: Leading Change, Driving Profitability." Harvard Business School Case 117-061, May 2017. View Details
  3. The Error at the Heart of Corporate Leadership

    Joseph L. Bower and Lynn S. Paine

    Agency theory, a new model of governance promulgated by academic economists in the 1970s, is behind the idea that corporate managers should make shareholder value their primary concern and that boards should ensure they do. The theory regards shareholders as owners of the corporation—but raises grave accountability problems: shareholders have no legal duty to protect or serve the companies whose shares they own; they are shielded by the doctrine of limited liability from legal responsibility for those companies’ debts and misdeeds; they may buy and sell shares without restriction and are required to disclose their identities only in certain circumstances; and they tend to be physically and psychologically distant from the companies’ activities. Joseph Bower and Lynn Paine examine the agency-based model’s foundations and flaws and its implications for companies before proposing an alternative model that would have at its core the health of the enterprise rather than near-term returns to its shareholders. Their model would refocus companies’ attention to innovation, strategic renewal, and investment in the future.

    Keywords: Agency Theory; Business and Shareholder Relations; Leadership; Corporate Governance;


    Bower, Joseph L., and Lynn S. Paine. "The Error at the Heart of Corporate Leadership." Harvard Business Review 95, no. 3 (May–June 2017): 50–60. View Details
  4. CEO Activism (A)

    Michael W. Toffel, Aaron K. Chatterji and Julia Kelley

    This case introduces CEO activism, a phenomenon in which business leaders engage in political or social issues that do not relate directly to their companies. The case uses several examples to describe why business leaders are engaging in CEO activism and the potential benefits and drawbacks: (1) how Angie’s List’s CEO responded to the state of Indiana passing a controversial religious freedom law; (2) how Duke Energy’s CEO supported pending U.S. legislation addressing climate change, and (3) how Chobani Yogurt’s CEO publicly supported refugees. Students are then provided with the situation faced by PayPal CEO Dan Schulman after North Carolina passed House Bill 2, which Schulman perceived as discriminatory against LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) individuals. Students are asked to consider whether Schulman should engage in CEO activism and, if so, how best to approach the situation. The (B) case provides an update on Schulman’s decision.

    Keywords: Leadership & Corporate Accountability; leadership; environmental and social sustainability; environment; climate change; Gender equality; Communication Strategy; Moral Sensibility; Values and Beliefs; Leadership; Law; Rights; Risk Management; Media; Corporate Social Responsibility and Impact; Religion; Expansion; Strategy; Social Issues; Consumer Products Industry; Electronics Industry; Technology Industry; United States; Indiana; North Carolina;


    Toffel, Michael W., Aaron K. Chatterji, and Julia Kelley. "CEO Activism (A)." Harvard Business School Case 617-001, March 2017. View Details
  5. A. Lange & Söhne

    Stefan Thomke and Daniela Beyersdorfer

    The case describes how A. Lange & Söhne became one of world’s leading watch companies. Its obsession with quality and innovation were behind its initial rise in the 19th century and, after a 40-year involuntary hiatus under the East German regime, again at the end of the 20th century. In 2016 its current CEO Wilhelm Schmid and the heads of product development and production have to decide on how to price its innovative watch collection and how to grow the Glashütte-based watchmaker.

    Keywords: watches; operational excellence; Brand & product management; Product Development; Leadership; Growth and Development Strategy; Marketing Strategy; Product Positioning; Operations; Production; Innovation and Invention; Price; Business History; Germany;


    Thomke, Stefan, and Daniela Beyersdorfer. "A. Lange & Söhne." Harvard Business School Case 617-058, March 2017. View Details
  6. Swagbucks

    Jeffrey F. Rayport and Matthew G. Preble

    In early 2016, Chuck Davis, chairman and CEO of Prodege LLC, parent company of the brand promotion business Swagbucks, and Josef Gorowitz, Prodege’s founder and president, must decide whether to acquire MyPoints, a competitor to Swagbucks, after a significant cultural transformation that the company has just gone through. Over the preceding two years, Davis and Gorowitz had grown Swagbucks from a relatively small venture staffed by people from Gorowitz’s personal and professional networks into a professionally managed and rapidly scaling business. This had been no easy task, because Davis had to be careful not to destabilize Prodege’s strong culture, which was built around the deeply held religious beliefs of the company’s founding employees, many of whom were devout ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jews, as he introduced change. The culture had resulted in some unique challenges for a growing technology company, such as a requirement that the company shutter its office on Jewish holidays and every week for observance of Shabbat. By 2016, the company was thriving both financially and operationally. Considering the opportunity to acquire MyPoints, which was an established competitor with millions of members, Davis and Gorowitz must determine whether the company’s culture is sufficiently robust to integrate another business and its employees.

    Keywords: loyalty management; scaling; Scale; Entrepreneurship; Human Resources; Employees; Employee Relationship Management; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Organizational Culture; Organizational Design; Leading Change; Growth Management; Religion; Technology; Online Technology; Internet; Transition; Leadership; Web Services Industry; Technology Industry; United States;


    Rayport, Jeffrey F., and Matthew G. Preble. "Swagbucks." Harvard Business School Case 817-068, March 2017. View Details
  7. Hiring an Entrepreneurial Leader: What to Look For

    Timothy Butler

    Aspiring to be innovative and agile, companies of all shapes and sizes want to recruit entrepreneurial managers. But most firms lack a scientific way to separate the true entrepreneurs from other candidates. To address that problem, Butler compared the psychological testing results of over 4,000 successful entrepreneurs and of approximately 1,800 business leaders who described themselves as general managers but not as entrepreneurs. His analysis uncovered three factors that differentiate entrepreneurs: thriving in uncertainty, a passion for ownership, and unique skill at persuasion. In this article Butler dives deep into the skills, mindset, and traits of entrepreneurs, explaining what the stereotypes about them often miss. For instance, they aren’t always more creative or in love with risk, but they are deeply inquisitive, open to new experiences, and comfortable with the unpredictable. He also offers evidence-based, practical advice for interviews and résumé screening that hiring managers can use to identify entrepreneurial leaders.

    Keywords: Selection and Staffing; Leadership Style; Attitudes;


    Butler, Timothy. "Hiring an Entrepreneurial Leader: What to Look For." Harvard Business Review 95, no. 2 (March–April 2017): 85–93. View Details
  8. Royal DSM: From Continuous Transformation to Organic Growth

    William W. George, Carin-Isabel Knoop and Amram Migdal

    Royal DSM CEO Feike Sijbesma was pondering the challenges of shifting DSM’s global organization from the constant transformations of the past 100 years to creating organic growth. When Sijbesma took the helm as CEO in 2007, he further pushed and completed the company’s final moves away from commodity chemicals and toward more sustainable businesses whereby DSM could create value with differentiated offerings. Sijbesma emphasized innovation and moving into “sunrise” businesses that would fuel future growth by playing a positive role in the broader society. Sijbesma asked himself, did DSM’s current portfolio in life sciences and materials sciences provide sufficient growth opportunities to sustain consistent and superior performance? Would DSM’s 21,000 employees worldwide embrace the DSM Strategy 2018: “Driving profitable growth through science-based sustainable solutions,” anchored via the Lead & Grow support and development program for key managers of the company? Should DSM continue making moves in mergers and acquisitions (M&A) to complement organic growth, or could its growth goals be achieved by focusing on organic growth for now, followed later by M&A activities again? What new markets should it look to in order to ensure sustainable growth? Sijbesma felt that after a decade of transformations (divestments and acquisitions), it would be healthy for the company to focus fully on organic growth for several years. During that period, the company had already indicated it would divest three of its major holdings in joint venture companies, which would generate the financial capacity for M&A activities again in later years. In the meantime, Sijbesma wanted the company to prove it could grow organically as well.

    Keywords: organic growth; Organizational change; M&A; mergers and acquisitions; divestment; Business Ventures; Business Divisions; Business Growth and Maturation; Restructuring; Change; Change Management; Transformation; Transition; Engineering; Chemicals; Mining; Ethics; Values and Beliefs; Finance; Capital Markets; Financial Markets; Food; Globalization; Global Strategy; Globalized Firms and Management; Globalized Markets and Industries; Health; Nutrition; History; Leadership; Leadership Development; Leadership Style; Leading Change; Management; Business or Company Management; Growth and Development Strategy; Growth Management; Management Practices and Processes; Management Style; Organizations; Corporate Social Responsibility and Impact; Mission and Purpose; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Organizational Culture; Organizational Design; Ownership; Public Ownership; Performance; Strategy; Adaptation; Consolidation; Corporate Strategy; Value; Value Creation; Biotechnology Industry; Chemical Industry; Food and Beverage Industry; Mining Industry; Pharmaceutical Industry; Europe; Netherlands;


    George, William W., Carin-Isabel Knoop, and Amram Migdal. "Royal DSM: From Continuous Transformation to Organic Growth." Harvard Business School Case 317-063, January 2017. (Revised March 2017.) View Details
  9. Medtronic: Making the Big Leap Forward (A)

    William W. George and Monica Baraldi

    In 2014, Medtronic was about to execute a $50 billion acquisition of Ireland-based Covidien. Medtronic CEO Omar Ishrak was committed to building the largest medical technology company in the world while broadening its ability to fulfill its mission of “alleviating pain, restoring health, and extending life” for millions more patients every year. The acquisition plan might change when, in September 2014, U.S. Secretary Jacob Lew issued new rules for American companies seeking to change their legal domicile through mergers with foreign companies—so-called tax inversion. Should Medtronic proceed with the acquisition? What would be the challenges of integration for both organizations?

    Keywords: acquisition; Medtronic; Covidien; mission; tax inversion; Business Strategy; Leadership; Mergers and Acquisitions; Pharmaceutical Industry; Republic of Ireland; Europe; Minnesota; United States;


    George, William W., and Monica Baraldi. "Medtronic: Making the Big Leap Forward (A)." Harvard Business School Case 317-031, January 2017. View Details
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