Four ways managers can be more 'humble'—and better leaders

Survey finds that observing selfless behaviors in managers promotes innovation

Editor's note: This story was updated on March 21, 2018.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Catalyst researchers Jeanine Prime and Elizabeth Salib explain the importance of humility in management and the creation of an inclusive workplace.

A recent survey of 1,500 employees in Australia, China, Germany, India, Mexico, and the United States shows that humility is one of four key leadership factors for creating an environment where workers from varying backgrounds feel included. Specifically, they said that observing altruistic or selfless behaviors in their supervisors made them feel more included in their work teams and more innovative in their work.

"[O]ur study raises one common, perhaps universal implication: To promote inclusion and reap its rewards, leaders should embrace a selfless leadership style," Prime and Salib write. They identified four ways to embrace this style:

  • Discuss your mistakes as a teachable moment;
  • Have conversations, not debates;
  • Embrace uncertainty; and
  • Show that you are able to follow team members' leads.

Prime and Salib note, "It takes tremendous courage to practice humility in the ways described above. Yet regrettably, this sort of courage isn't always rewarded in organizations." They encourage organizations to "re-imagining what effective leadership looks like" (Prime/Salib, "HBR Blog Network," Harvard Business Review, 5/12).

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