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Simple Rules for Leadership and Strategy: a Practical Approach

  • Teacher(s):  
  • Course given in: English
  • ECTS Credits:
  • Schedule: Spring Semester 2021-2022, 4.0h. course (weekly average)
      WARNING :   this is an old version of the syllabus, old versions contain   OBSOLETE   data.
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Have you ever had to lead others through difficult situations? Have you ever had to formulate answers to strategic questions, such as how to position an institution in a challenging, uncertain environment? And have you reflected about what tools might be at your disposal to succeed in such tasks? Regardless of whether it comes to leading others or to strategic decision-making, being able to draw from a toolbox of simple problem-solving rules may aid performance in real-world organizational settings.

In exploring a toolbox of “simple rules” for leadership and strategy, this course aims (1) to convey practice-relevant knowledge and soft-skills. By embedding real-world cases, role plays, and other practical, self-experiential exercises within interdisciplinary research, the course furthermore allows its participants (2) to deepen their understanding of corresponding scientific theories and empirical findings.

Target audiences:

  • Master students
  • Interested PhD students and professionals


In opening up the toolbox of “simple rules” for real-world problem solving, we will put theory to practice.

(1) In cases, role plays, and other practical, self-experiential exercises, participants will acquire, practice, and reflect about “simple rules” for leadership and strategy. The idea is that participants acquire knowledge by-doing. In corresponding sessions, participants may take over the role of a decision maker (e.g., a manager) who faces a real-world (e.g., leadership) task. For instance, we may focus on:

  • managing interpersonal communication (e.g., in cross-cultural teams)
  • managing a group (e.g., in face of external pressures)
  • managing difficult social situations (e.g., conflict, mobbing)
  • designing work environments (e.g., error culture)
  • positioning institutions within society (e.g., sustainability-focus)
  • increasing institutional resilience / response capacity (e.g., to possible perturbations in business environments)

Those topics may be modified or complemented, also as a function of participants’ interests.

(2) This practical approach comes in tandem with learning from an interdisciplinary literature on simple problem-solving rules. Discussed also as “rules of thumb” or “heuristics”, those rules may be acquired by training and experience (e.g., “on the job”) and serve different task environments effectively. “How can those environments be described, what simple rules are known, and how can the rules be tested?” are questions we will try to answer by reflecting about existing theory, empirical findings, and – where adequate – by conducting own exploratory research in groups.

(3) To further enhance their knowledge and skills, as part of graded group projects (see below), participants will train, in teams, others about the workings of simple tools and deliver a coaching session as course highlight. Finally, participants will reflect about their learnings from this course in graded individual written essays (see below). Within constraints, participants will be able to focus, in their group projects and essays, on sub-topics of their own choice in the domain of "Simple rules for leadership and strategy".


Compulsory materials include exercises (e.g., cases) and scientific literature. Other “compulsory” materials will be chosen by participants (e.g., when developing their group projects).


Participants must be willing to participate in practical, self-experiential exercises as well as in the class discussion. They must also be willing to prepare corresponding materials (e.g., cases) prior to each session.

Due to the course contents and pedagogical approach, the number of participants is limited to about 30. The selection is made based on letters of motivation to be submitted for the second session (or later if places remain).

***Depending on the evolution of the COVID-19 situation, the study plans may be adapted during the semester.***


First attempt

Without exam (cf. terms)  


  • Group project: 35%
  • Individual written reflection (essay): 40%
  • Individual participation in class activities: 25%

Except for the grades for the group project, all grades are assigned as a function of individual performance. The group project is team work to be verbally presented in class. The same grade applies to all group members.

The participation grade hinges on the in-depth preparation of the materials (e.g., exercises, readings) for each session. In order to receive satisfactory evaluations, participants are requested to demonstrate via active participation (i.e., verbal participation in the class discussion, participating in the role plays and other practical exercises) that they have worked on the class materials. Merely being present in the sessions (i.e., attending without speaking up) does not count as participation.


Without exam (cf. terms)  

In case of a retake, evaluation modalities will resemble as closely as possible those of the first attempt, albeit with constraints related to the nature of the evaluations.

  • Group project: The group project can be replaced by a new project to be presented to the instructor; however, if not all members of a group need to take a second attempt a new group may have to be formed; or if that is not possible, the group project can be replaced by an individual project, to be presented to the instructor.
  • Individual written reflection (essay): The initial submission can be improved or a new one be submitted.
  • Individual participation: An individual oral examination may replace the participation grade.

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