Should Leaders Show Humility?

In today’s complex workplace, a single person cannot solve all the problems or have all the answers. Therefore, there is increasing awareness that leaders should display humility. We indeed observe that effective leaders often display humility, as characterized by being open to admitting their limitations, shortcomings, and mistakes. Many also show appreciation and give credit to their followers. At the same time, it is easy to find examples to the contrary: Leaders without humility climb the corporate ladder quickly. This paradox leaves unanswered questions: Does leader humility matter to successful team outcomes? Why and when does humility of leaders help their teams?

In a recently published article in Journal of Applied Psychology, we share how we examined these questions. We expected that leader humility can be beneficial for encouraging team members to share information and exchange ideas to produce creative outcomes, but this benefit only occurs when team members have a low level of power distance values (i.e., with low acceptance of the distance between the powerful and the powerless and high expectation of power sharing). This means humble leaders are best suited to work with members with low power distance because they will be attentive to members’ input and enable individual members to share information and speak up.

We found support for our expectation using data gathered from 72 work teams and 354 individual members from 11 information and technology firms in China using a multiple-source, time-lagged research design.

The findings offer practical insights to team managers. They should be aware that humility may make a bigger difference in teams with low power distance values, suggesting that they should pay particular attention to express humility in such contexts. Furthermore, behavioral patterns of humble leaders can be trained. Thus, companies can provide training that allows leaders to see shortcomings as starting points and to identify and appreciate members’ strengths and contributions.

See Jasmine Hu's related article in Harvard Business Review by clicking this link

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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.