But, it turns out, what we imagine we want from a leader and what actually makes one effective in real life are often at odds. Now a new study has confirmed what other researchers have been insisting--quieter, less-remarked-on traits determine the success of those at the top more often than highly visible qualities such as charm and conviction.
The latest research, published in Administrative Science Quarterly, looked at the leaders of 63 Chinese companies and their employees and discovered that, when it comes to high-functioning teams, the humility of leaders is key.
The power of being humble
In case you need a working definition, the study authors note that "humility is manifested in self-awareness, openness to feedback, appreciation of others, low self-focus, and pursuit of self-transcendence. Humble people willingly seek accurate self-knowledge and accept their imperfections while remaining fully aware of their talents and abilities. They appreciate others' positive worth, strengths, and contributions and thus have no need for entitlement or dominance over others."
Accepts feedback? Appreciates others? Focused on service, not self? Clear-headed about his or her limitations? Appealing qualities all, so perhaps it's no wonder that humility, though undersung, is so powerful. But what exact effect did it have? PsyBlog sums up the researchers' findings: "CEOs who were humble were more likely to empower the top management team, which in turn enabled the management team to be better integrated. The empowering organisational climate then trickled down through the middle managers which increased their job performance, commitment and engagement with work."
No shortage of evidence
Lest you think this is only true in culturally distinct China, PsyBlog also stresses that earlier studies here in the U.S. uncovered much the same thing. One study of Fortune 1000 executives "found that one important factor which lifted leaders from 'good to great' was modesty," for instance.
Likewise, here on Inc.com this isn't the first time humility has come up as a leadership essential. We've featured experts insisting that the key to bringing out greatness in your team is to stop acting like a stereotypical leader and focus on letting others shine instead; quoted Harvard professors on leading less and following more; and covered research out of Google showing that one of the most essential traits of successful leaders is also one of the most boring--being predictable and getting out of people's way.