Guest Post by Maren Kasselik

Eating crow could help you climb the corporate ladder: Humble leaders are more effective and better liked by coworkers, finds a study to be published in the Academy of Management Journal.

Humility in the workplace is defined by three traits:

  1. The ability to admit your mistakes
  2. The ability to spotlight your subordinates’ strengths
  3. The ability to be teachable or accept correction

The study also found humility was contagious; humble leaders’ subordinates were more willing to admit their own mistakes, more receptive to feedback, and more engaged with their work.

“You need to open up and admit what you don’t know. You need to recognize when your followers do something better than you and when they’re more talented than you—and celebrate it,” says study coauthor David Hekman, Ph.D., an assistant professor of management at the Lubar School of Business at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Otherwise, your coworkers will start doing the bare minimum to complete their jobs without being yelled at, Hekman warns.

Humility can also help you be less stressed on the job. “Leaders who are constantly trying to maintain a strong front and macho personality are often psychologically exhausted, which leads to leader burnout,” says study author Bradley Owens, Ph.D., an assistant professor of management at the State University of New York at Buffalo. “In contrast, the humble leaders in our study felt psychologically relieved and liberated,” he told Men’s Health.

But be wary: You can’t fake humility. In the study, flattery and empty praises were pinpointed as dishonest and met with contempt and suspicion.

To act like a humble leader, ask the right types of questions from your team, Hekman says.

Humble leaders ask open-ended questions that make coworkers feel valued:

  • Do you have any ideas for what our strategy should be?
  • Any ideas on how to stop this competitor?
  • Any ideas why this customer is using our services less and less?

Avoid questions that blame a person:

  • Where’s the report I asked for?
  • Why didn’t you include the other analysis in your report?
  • What were you thinking?

Maren Kasselik  Freelance journalist, NU grad and sports junkie moonlighting as a medical assistant.  You can find Maren in NorCal or chasing pow. She describes herself as, “Just a stranger trying to make Him known.”  You can follow Maren on Twitter at:  @marenismaren

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2 thoughts on “The Trait that All Good Bosses Share

  1. Mark Householder says:

    This hit the nail on the head, Bob….just this week I am dealing with leadership issues where greater humility seems to be an issue at play. Thanks for sending this out!

  2. Mark I am reminded of Dale Carnegie’s quote in “How to Win Friends and Influence People” “If you’re wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.”

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