The Humble Leader: Understanding Perceptions and Implications of Humility in Leadership
Rebecca Park, Julie Van de Vyver and Roger Bretherton
Citation: Park, R., Van de Vyver, J., & Bretherton, R. (2020). ‘The Humble Leader: Understanding Perceptions and Implications of Humility in Leadership’. European Journal of Applied Positive Psychology, 4, 14, 1-12. https://www.nationalwellbeingservice.org/volumes/volume-4-2020/volume-4-article-14/
Processing dates: Submitted: 16 January 2020; Resubmitted: 14 May 2020; Accepted: 21 May 2020: Published 4 November 2020.
Background: Recently, research has demonstrated that leader humility enhances team performance (Rego et al., 2017) as well as employee resilience (Zhu, Zhang, & Shen, 2019). The current research extends this body of work by testing whether humility is perceived as a desirable trait in leaders and by disentangling distinct forms of humility (relational vs. intellectual).
Aims: To experimentally test perceptions of humility in leaders, specifically comparing relational and intellectual humility in leaders.
Methods: Study 1 (N = 64) compared explicit perceptions of humble leadership through observer-report measures and implicit perceptions of humble leadership using an Implicit Association Test. Study 2 (N = 140) developed four vignettes describing variants of relationally and intellectually humble leaders and used observer ratings to explore the perceptions of each leader.
Results: Study 1 showed that humility (both relational and intellectual) is perceived as a desirable strength in leaders. However, IAT scores indicated that participants associated humility with low-status roles and arrogance with high-status roles. Study 2 showed that humble leaders were rated as significantly warmer, more competent and effective than arrogant leaders. Additionally, the intellectual humility of participants moderated the relationship between the perceived humility and effectiveness of leaders. Specifically, while all participants perceived humble leaders as more effective than arrogant leaders, this difference in perceived effectiveness was stronger among participants high in self-rated intellectual humility.
Conclusions: The current research demonstrates that humble leaders are viewed as more desirable and effective, regardless of the type of humility displayed, although this was moderated by the participant’s own intellectual humility.
Keywords: Relational humility, intellectual humility, humility, leadership, character strengths
Rebecca Park is with the Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
Julie Van de Vyver is with the Department of Psychology, Durham University, UK
Roger Bretherton is with the School of Psychology, University of Lincoln, Lincoln, UK