Have you experienced leader humility? If you have ever had a manager who was able to admit to mistakes, who constantly praised employees, and who was open to feedback, then you know what leader humility is all about. Researchers (Owens & Hekman, 2016) found this leadership style creates humble followers, and has other benefits for teams. Humble leaders admit to mistakes and limitations, draw attention to follower strengths, shift personal recognition to the team, and are teachable, which makes them open to the advice and feedback of other employees.
THE ROLE OF SOCIAL CONTAGION
Have you ever seen someone smiling and suddenly felt yourself smiling too? This is how humility spreads from the leader to their followers, and is called social contagion. Managers are role models for how employees should act, and employees mimic this behavior in teams. Employees especially look at leader behavior in ambiguous situations for the appropriate course of action. One way humility may spread is when leaders give up positional power to admit to mistakes. Admitting, “I’m wrong” sends a message to followers that collective goals take precedence over personal status seeking.
When a leader is able to admit to mistakes and takes action towards the greater good, it creates an atmosphere of promoting group goals. Then, instead of competing against each other, the team’s focus shifts toward achieving its highest potential. This collective promotion focus is the backbone to better team performance. By focusing on collective performance, employees will be more inclined to prioritize group performance and goals. Researchers explored this whole process and found the benefit of this shift is higher team performance ratings. Another benefit of an atmosphere of humility in teams may be that employees feel more comfortable sharing and generating ideas. Without the threat of embarrassment, more introverted team members may also be more likely to speak up.
It is important to note that collective humility is different from each person being humble on the team. The difference is in the values and social interaction between team members. Here are some example behaviors of teammates with high collective humility:
- One member gets an award during a meeting, but identifies the contribution of each team member in reaching this point.
- The team fails to reach a performance goal and members identify their areas of weakness and how they can each contribute to group goals more next time.
- During a brainstorming session, teammates are open to doing things a new way because their approach may not be the best.
- A new employee to the team suggests an idea and the team implements the suggestion.
- Team members feel able to voice opinions about the performance of their peers as well as accept constructive criticism.
Organizational leaders—from supervisors to CEOs—impact performance at the team and firm level. This article highlights one piece of the pie that may help explain how this impact occurs. Leader humility leads to humble teams who transcend competition with each other to perform better together. Instead of being seen as weak, humble leaders find it easier to continually adapt and role model positive virtues. In addition to things like group mottos and collective rewards, this leadership style promotes a collective promotion focus that leads to better performance. Because of this non-traditional leadership style, everyone has room at the table to eat their humble pie.
Owens, B. P & Hekman, D. R. (2016). How does leader humility influence team performance? Exploring the mechanisms of contagion and collective promotion focus. Academy of Management Journal, 59, 1088-1111.