Humble bosses are more effective and better liked, according to new research.
“Leaders of all ranks view admitting mistakes, spotlighting follower strengths and modeling teachability as being at the core of humble leadership,” said Bradley Owens, Ph.D., assistant professor of organization and human resources at the University of Buffalo School of Management.
“And they view these three behaviors as being powerful predictors of their own, as well as the organization’s, growth.”
In the study, researchers asked 16 CEOs, 20 mid-level managers, and 19 front-line managers to describe in detail how humble leaders operate in the workplace and how a humble leader behaves differently than one who is not humble.
Although the bosses were from a variety of industries, ranging from manufacturing to health care to financial services, they all agreed that the essence of a leader’s humility is the ability to be a role model to show employees how to continue growing and learning.
“Growing and learning often involves failure and can be embarrassing,” said Owens. “But leaders who can overcome their fears and broadcast their feelings as they work through the messy internal growth process will be viewed more favorably by their followers. They also will legitimize their followers’ own growth journeys and will have higher-performing organizations.”
The study found that some humble leaders were more effective than others.
Bosses who were young, non-white or female were reported as having to constantly prove their competence to employees, making their humble behaviors both more expected and less valued. In contrast, experienced white males who were humble were reported as reaping large benefits from admitting mistakes, praising followers and trying to learn.
The study also found the female leaders often experience a “double bind,” according to Owens. They are expected to show more humility than their male counterparts, but then they have their competence called into question.
The researchers offer straightforward advice to leaders: You can’t fake humility. You either genuinely want to grow and develop, or you don’t, and employees pick up on this.
A follow-up study expected to be published in Organization Science using data from more than 700 employees and 218 bosses confirmed that humility in company leaders is associated with more learning-oriented teams, more engaged employees, and lower voluntary employee turnover, the researchers add.
The new study is scheduled to be published in the Academy of Management Journal.
Source: The University of Buffalo