Study: Why It Pays to Have a Humble CEO

A new study suggests that bosses who are more self-aware and appreciative of others make for better leaders than those who are self-focused and opposed to feedback.

Of all the million-dollar questions out there, what it takes to be a great leader may be one of the most commonly asked, written about, and studied.

It’s time we understood that humility isn’t a sign of weakness or lacking confidence, but rather a good thing that can benefit us all.

New research is adding to the existing body of knowledge and is suggesting that the answer may lie in humility, at least when it comes to CEOs. The study from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University found that humble CEOs make for happier, more engaged employees and, ultimately, a better bottom line.

“Humble CEOs are more open to making joint decisions and empowering others,” Angelo Kinicki, one of the study’s authors and a professor at the W. P. Carey School of Business, said in a statement. “Their behavior positively affects both top and middle managers, who then exhibit higher commitment, work engagement, job satisfaction, and job performance. We see a trickle-down effect that seems to influence the company overall.”

To conduct the study, Kinicki and fellow researchers interviewed about 60 CEOs of private Chinese companies, as well as roughly 1,000 of the managers who report to those CEOs, whom the managers ranked on a “humility scale” of 1 to 6. The researchers found that the more humble chief executives garnered more positive reactions from managers.

For example, managers reporting to humble CEOs reported a greater sense of autonomy, confidence, and willingness to collaborate with others. They also said they found more meaning in their jobs.

What makes for a humble CEO? Kinicki outlined the following characteristics in an interview with AZCentral:

  • self-awareness
  • openness to feedback
  • appreciation of others
  • low self-focus
  • appreciation of the greater good

Less-humble CEOs, meanwhile, were more self-focused, concerned with their own gain as opposed to helping the team, and more controlling. They also were unilateral decision makers and opposed feedback.

“Humble people are quieter, more in the background, but they lead in a different way, by empowering their employees, which trickles down,” Kinicki said.

The study’s findings seem to refute conventional wisdom that says self-aggrandizing, egocentric bosses are the best leaders and suggests that it may be time to take a new look at those leaders “in the background.”

“It’s time we understood that humility isn’t a sign of weakness or lacking confidence, but rather a good thing that can benefit us all,” Kinicki said.


Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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