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Bosses looking to uncover the secret of how to be an effective leader had better start eating some humble pie.
According to a poll of 55 executives ranging from mid-level leaders to chief executive officers, bosses who exercised humility in leadership were seen as being more effective since they appeared to be more human and were not seen as holding all the answers. This research, conducted by Bradley Owens of the University of Buffalo and David Hekman of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, confirms the findings of a report awaiting publication in the journal Organizations Science showing that employees with humble bosses demonstrated lower turnover and experienced increased engagement at work.
Additionally the research found that female and non-white leaders had a harder time proving their aptitude in leadership to their employees, since these bosses were expected to be humble. Consequently, humility by these bosses had less impact on employees.
"Leaders of all ranks view admitting mistakes, spotlighting follower strengths and modeling teachability as being at the core of humble leadership," Owens said. "And they view these three behaviors as being powerful predictors of their own as well as the organization's growth."
According to the researchers, the fact that leaders, like all employees, are constantly going through a learning process, means that if bosses are seen as taking part in that learning process alongside their employees, they are better-accepted.
"Growing and learning often involves failure and can be embarrassing," Owens said. "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."
According to Owens and Hekman, bosses who show a genuine humility will be able to maximize their employees' talent and grow along with them. This research is set to be published in an upcoming issue of the Academy of Management Journal.