Humble leadership and employee performance

How is humble leadership related to the confidence of employees? A paper by Cho et al (2020) provides insight into this.

Humble leadership 

Within leadership research, more and more attention is being paid to humble leadership. According to Owens et al. (2013), this is characterized by: 

  1. willingness to see oneself accurately 
  2. appreciation for the strengths and contributions of others 
  3. teachability, or openness to new ideas 


Research suggests that humble leadership has a variety of benefits. Some examples of this are: 

  1. greater employee engagement, commitment and satisfaction (Owens et al., 2013; Basford et al., 2014
  2. better relationship between manager and employees (Qin et al., 2014
  3. more psychological safety and creativity at team level (Hu et al., 2018) 


Cho et al (2020) examined the relationships between the following variables: 

  • Humble leadership 
  • Felt trust by employees 
  • Job performance
  • Organizational citizenship behavior toward colleagues and toward the organization (organizational citizenship means showing a commitment that goes beyond what the own position requires) 
  • Job autonomy


The researchers expected the relationships between the variables to be as shown in the figure below. In other words, humble leadership influences how trusting employees feel and this in turn influences performance and engagement with colleagues and organizations. 

Job autonomy is a moderator in the relationship between humility of the leader and trust of the employee. The greater the autonomy, the stronger this relationship.


They tested this model through experimental vignette data and three-wave survey data collected from 233 employees and their executives from a large Chinese internet company. The results supported their model.  


As I noted in a previous article, the focus on humble leadership fits well with mindset theory and research into wisdom. This research shows that humble leadership also has a link to self-determination theory.  

The usefulness of humble leadership is most effective when employees experience autonomy in their work. So the combination between humble leadership and autonomy support seems to be a powerful one.