Leadership humility leads to follower authenticity
A study by Oc et al. (2019) looks at the relationship between the humility of managers and the authenticity of employees. Their finding: leaders' humility leads to followers' authenticity. Read more.
Authenticity is the feeling that you can behave in accordance with who you really are. This feeling is associated with a variety of positive outcomes such as well-being, life satisfaction, job satisfaction, meaning in life, job performance and moral behavior. Authenticity is not just a human trait. It depends on external factors, including social factors.
Leader modesty and follower authenticity
Researchers Oc et al. (2019) investigated how managers influence the authenticity of their employees. They expected that humility on the part of leaders will make employees feel less vulnerable. This could also make them feel more authentic. Oc and his colleagues examined the following variables in their research:
- Leader humility: The extent to which leaders admit their own mistakes, recognize their own fallibility, and reduce power disparities between them and their employees
- Authenticity of leader humility: the degree to which leaders are authentic in their modesty. In other words, to what extent their modesty is an expression of what they really are
- Follower vulnerability: the degree to which employees feel vulnerable in their relationship with their manager
- Follower authenticity: the degree to which employees feel authentic
Oc et al. expected that leader humility, provided it is authentic, leads to less vulnerability among employees, so that they can be more authentic. The figure below shows the expected relationships between the variables:
Study 1 was a correlational survey of a sample from India (N = 258). The second study was an experimental study and was conducted on an American sample (N = 325). In this survey through surveys, leadership humility was manipulated.
In Study 3, which served as a replication of Study 2, follower vulnerability was manipulated (N = 103). In the fourth study (N = 207) the entire model was tested. It was examined whether the authenticity of leader humility was indeed a moderator of the relationship between leader humility and follower vulnerability. This study used a situation description and manipulated the authenticity of leader humility.
The results in all four studies consistently supported the hypothetical model.
The results of this research seem to indicate that it is good to cultivate leader humility, both through selection and leadership development. This could lead to employees feeling less vulnerable and therefore more authentic.
This could have benefits in the aforementioned areas: well-being, life satisfaction, job satisfaction, meaning in life, job performance, and moral behavior.
In order to cultivate leader humility, it is necessary not to confuse it with weakness, submission, or incompetence.
Relationships with other concepts
I see a relationship between this research and mindset theory and the research into wisdom. Mindset research shows that a growth mindset goes hand in hand with normalizing mistakes. Leaders who model a growth mindset recognize their own mistakes and are open to feedback. In this sense, they express leader humility.
Research on wisdom shows that one aspect of wisdom is intellectual humility. That is to say: recognizing the limits to one's own knowledge. Wisdom (and therefore intellectual modesty) is seen as important to leadership. This is because wisdom is seen as essential for dealing with complex problems involving uncertainty and conflicting interests and perspectives.