Humble leaders have huge impacts, UniSA study finds
The Sector > Workforce > Leadership > Humble leaders have huge impacts, UniSA study finds

Humble leaders have huge impacts, UniSA study finds

by Freya Lucas

May 29, 2024

Humble leaders can have a significant impact on their teams, researchers from the University of South Australia (UniSA) have found


Humble leadership is a workplace leadership behaviour characterised by leaders who view themselves accurately, appreciate the strengths and contributions of others and are open to feedback, even if it’s critical.


Humble leaders practice “bottom-up leadership” that involves behaviours such as listening actively and valuing the input of employees, supporting professional development of others and encouraging initiative within their workers.


While there are many different types of workplace leaders, from those who prioritise the needs of team members and the organisation above their own, to authentic leaders who foster openness, trust and transparency, humble leaders can drive employees to enhance their own leadership potential by motivating them to lead and take charge.


The study, by UniSA’s Dr Xiao Lin, showed that humble leadership can also effectively elevate the workplace status of employees by boosting their sense of respect and prominence.


Dr Lin said that understanding humble leadership is important in today’s complex and competitive business environment.


“Understanding and implementing humble leadership is essential as it’s been shown to positively impact individual and team outcomes in the workplace including work engagement, proactive behaviour, wellbeing and resilience and increased innovation, learning and performance,” she said.


“Humble leadership is a powerful tool for lifting employees’ status and unlocking their potential, leading to a more engaged, innovative and high-performing workplace. It can also help build a pool of effective leaders for the future. By fostering the leadership potential of employees, organisations can maintain competitive advantages.”


Humble leadership works when leaders provide ‘status cues’ to communicate their humility and approachability. This could include a leader demonstrating their own willingness to listen, learn and work with their employees instead of asserting dominance or superiority.


Another example is the practice of ‘role reversals’ which allow employees to teach their leaders, driving them to exert more influence in the workplace.


Not all employees, Dr Lin said, will respond to humble leadership behaviour in the same way and that it depends on their personal characteristics.


“Employees who focus on individual development, success and competition respond best to humble leadership behaviours,” she said. 


“These are people who feel the need to be at the top, stand out and be excellent employees so they have the chance to influence their leaders and become high-status team members.” 


“People who don’t place as much value on their own development and success in the workplace are less likely to benefit from humble leadership behaviours,” Dr Lin warned. 


“These sorts of employees will do whatever the leaders tell them. They have no interest in teaching their leaders or displaying their own strengths or contributions.”


Access the study findings here

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