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International Journal of Management Reviews, Vol.

20, 805–824 (2018)


DOI: 10.1111/ijmr.12160

Humility: Our Current Understanding of


the Construct and its Role in Organizations
Rob Nielsen and Jennifer A. Marrone1
JLL, 601 Union Street, Suite 2800, Seattle, WA 98101, USA, and 1 Department of Management, Albers School of
Business and Economics, Seattle University, 901 12th Avenue, PO Box 222000, Seattle, WA 98122-1090, USA
Corresponding author email: marronej@seattleu.edu

Since 2000, researchers and practitioners have shown increased interest in humility.
This construct has been studied in disciplines ranging from organizational behaviour to
positive psychology, culminating in a wealth of information that can now be analysed and
reviewed through the lens of humility in organizations. This review begins by reflecting
on existing conceptualizations of humility and presenting a summary of findings that
reflects a greater consensus in definitional work than some researchers may realize. It
then considers the progress that has been made in measuring humility by specifying key
measurement strategies. It next synthesizes existing empirical findings on humility to
illuminate the uniqueness of the construct. It also shows that researchers have focused
on studying dependent variables that exist at multiple organizational levels and that
largely comprise pro-social and relational variables, emotional well-being, and learning
and performance outcomes. The paper concludes with recommendations for future
research.

Introduction without experiencing significant ego threat (e.g.


Owens and Hekman 2012; Tangney 2000).
A great deal of research and popular press attention Understanding humility is important for organiza-
has been devoted to the role of humility in organiza- tional scholars because it underlies the choice and
tions since 2000. Humility has recently been defined capacity to approach one’s work (and life) from a
as a dispositional quality of a person – whether that larger, interdependent perspective that is productive,
person is a leader or an employee – that reflects ‘a relational and sustainable. Humility is generally con-
self-view that something greater than the self exists’ sidered a character strength that is deeply aligned
(Ou et al. 2014, p. 37). Humble persons possess a with and uniquely representative of the interdepen-
self-regulatory capacity that guards against excess dent nature of today’s organizations and marketplaces
and fosters pro-social tendencies (Jankowski et al. (Frostenson 2016). Indeed, the more recent empha-
2013; Owens et al. 2013), which mitigate common sis on flatter organizations and bottom-up commu-
human vices that lead to dysfunction over the long nication (Groysberg and Slind 2012) may be di-
term, such as hubris, self-aggrandizement and pride rectly spurring interest in developing virtues such
(Peterson and Seligman 2004). Rather than having as humility throughout organizations (Owens and
an excessive focus on oneself and one’s positive Hekman 2012). This interest is arising in part be-
qualities, humble individuals acknowledge their cause humility fosters a broader understanding of ‘the
limitations alongside their strengths, seek diverse small role that one plays in a vast universe’ (Morris
feedback and appreciate contributions from others et al. 2005, p. 1331), and humility brings a pro-
relational perspective that is increasingly necessary
for collaboration with diverse parties within and ac-
Both authors contributed equally to this paper. ross organizational boundaries. Additionally, humble

This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License, which
permits use and distribution in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non-commercial and no
modifications or adaptations are made.

C 2018 The Authors. International Journal of Management Reviews published by British Academy of Management and John
Wiley & Sons Ltd. Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street,
Malden, MA 02148, USA
806 R. Nielsen and J.A. Marrone

organizational leaders model a productive response is? Many scholars have noted a lack of established
to today’s dynamic work environments featuring consensus on the key components of humility. In re-
growth and continual learning. By encouraging sponse, we offer a detailed analysis of the theorized
‘teachability’, wherein human fallibility and depen- components of humility and uncover important areas
dence are accepted and met with empathy, these of consensus. In so doing, we move beyond recent
leaders increase the psychological freedom and em- studies in the organizational domain that review the
powerment of employees and spur organizational humility concept (e.g. Ou et al. 2014; Owens et al.
progress and innovation (Owens and Hekman 2012). 2013). Second, how has humility research evolved
In a conceptual paper published more than a decade in developing measurement strategies, and what are
ago, Vera and Rodriguez-Lopez (2004) discussed hu- the implications when interpreting or designing re-
mility as a source of competitive advantage for in- search? Because the humility construct has proved
dividuals, leaders and organizations. Since that time, challenging to measure, given the relatively high po-
the burgeoning empirical research has supported this tential for biased self-reports (Davis et al. 2010), re-
contention. viewing this domain provides necessary insights for
Discussions of humility as a human virtue have organizational scholars wishing to include humility
had a long history within philosophy and religion. in future research. Third, can extant empirical find-
Human virtues are those core characteristics of per- ings emerging across various fields be organized into
sons – or predispositions to act in certain ways – that meaningful categories of outcomes that are of value
lead to human excellence and flourishing (Peterson to work organizations? Here, we contribute by syn-
and Seligman 2004; Yearley 1990). Thus, interest in thesizing the diverse array of variables considered
humility has necessarily been intertwined with ques- with humility, placing intentional emphasis on how
tions of morality, such as what makes a person ‘good’ findings further inform key goals relevant to organi-
or what are the right ways to act. However, as Frosten- zational scholarship. We believe that such synthesis
son (2016, p. 92) noted, ‘a historical account of the is necessary for clarifying the unique predictive va-
virtue of humility is somewhat problematic . . . Dif- lidity of humility for organizational outcomes and for
fering worldviews generate conflicting conceptual- encouraging its inclusion into broader management
izations of what humility is and when, how and why it and organizational studies.
should be exercised’. For instance, humility has been To select articles, we conducted keyword searches
reflected in Christianity as man’s relegation of him- for the term ‘humility’ in online databases (e.g.
self below God, while moral philosophers have taken EBSCO, ProQuest, JSTOR). Our search included
a different and more secular stance, pointing to humil- literature since 2000, and uncovered humility studies
ity as the recognition of one’s dependence on others. primarily in organizational behaviour (including
Others, such as Nietzsche, have rejected the utility of management and leadership), positive psychology
humility or regarded it as a vice instead of a virtue. and religion. Using Google Scholar, we also searched
Detailed historical accounts have been provided in for articles that cited prominent published humility
other papers. The scope of our paper is to review articles. We focused our review on those studies most
the scholarly attention given to humility since 2000 relevant to organizational settings; studies focusing
within and relevant to the organizational domain. solely on children, for example, were excluded.
Gaps in the literature on the role of humility in A summary of the reviewed studies is found in
organizations provide fertile ground for this review. Appendix S1 in the Supporting information.
If not adequately examined, questions regarding the Our review should appeal to a variety of organi-
definition, measurement and applicability of humility zational scholars interested in the flourishing of em-
to organizational performance may stymie research ployees, teams and their leaders. First, at micro-levels
progress. Furthermore, a large number of research in organizations, scholars seeking to understand how
findings have now emerged, with few attempts to coa- employees initiate and maintain productive interper-
lesce around common themes and conclusions. In this sonal relationships at work are likely to be interested
paper, we comprehensively review the extant humil- in the strong relationships between humility and help-
ity research from disparate fields. We seek to answer fulness, learning and performance, even after Big 5
three specific research questions, each with unique personality traits, self-esteem, impression manage-
contributions to organizational research. First, does ment and others are controlled (e.g. Exline and Hill
conceptual and empirical research to date now of- 2012; Owens et al. 2013). Additionally, our review ad-
fer a coherent, compelling picture of what humility dresses increasing calls for greater consideration of

C 2018 The Authors. International Journal of Management Reviews published by British Academy of Management and John
Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Humility 807

how organizational leadership relates to ethical out- Tangney 2000) and possess an openness that appre-
comes, as it provides novel insights into how, when ciates the views and contributions of others (e.g.
and why organizational leaders are likely to hold Owens and Hekman 2012). Humble individuals are
an others-oriented view, especially in times of stress not self-deprecating; they recognize their strengths,
and adversity, that prevents leader impulses towards admit their mistakes and weaknesses (see Exline and
defensiveness, aggression and excessive self-focus. Geyer 2004), and assume their role with others in a
Studying humble leadership, for example, can lead to broader community (e.g. Nielsen et al. 2010).
a new understanding of the collaborative behaviours, Humility is sometimes used synonymously with
information-sharing and joint decision-making that modesty or is defined as the opposite of arrogance or
are necessary for performance in today’s complex and narcissism; however, the relevant research is unclear.
dynamic work environments (Ou et al. 2014). Organi- Woodcock (2008) defined modesty as the quality of
zational leadership scholars may also note interesting being unassuming or otherwise having a moderate
parallels among humble, authentic and servant lead- estimation of oneself. In displaying modesty, people
ership. These scholars may also use our review to under-represent their own positive traits, contribu-
further study these leadership types together, uncover tions and expectations (Cialdini and de Nicholas
important areas of divergence, and specify each type’s 1989). Such modesty would not equate to humility, as
unique predictive value. Finally, given the particu- defined by humility scholars, because humble persons
lar impacts of humility on team members’ contribu- hold a balanced perspective that acknowledges both
tions beyond conscientiousness and efficacy (Owens strengths and limitations and does not seek to under-
et al. 2013) and given the construct’s predictive in- or over-represent the self (Morris et al. 2005). Ad-
fluence on overall team performance (e.g. Owens and ditionally, as Tangney (2000) and others (e.g. Zhang
Hekman 2016), the inclusion of humility in future et al. 2017) have noted, a lack of arrogance or nar-
team research appears critical. Team scholars may cissism does not equate to the presence of humility.
thus draw on our review to generate new prescriptions Narcissists display patterns of grandiosity, a strong
regarding the drivers of team effectiveness in contem- need for admiration and a lack of empathy (American
porary workplaces that increasingly lack hierarchical Psychiatric Association 2013). However, the opposite
command structures, direct controls and clearly de- of narcissism does not necessarily include a view
lineated roles. Scholars may also theorize and test that something greater than the self exists.
humility as a missing piece in understanding the in- Theories of positive leadership, such as authentic
fluence of personality on team effectiveness, which and servant leadership, suggest that leaders are de-
has thus far proved challenging to ascertain. In sum, scribed as humble. We briefly review some conceptual
our review supports humility as productive yet over- differences among authentic leaders, servant leaders
looked in organizations. Organizational researchers and humble leaders to help clarify the content domain
studying multiple levels of analysis will benefit from of humility. Servant leaders (Greenleaf 1977) convert
thoroughly understanding the humility construct. We their followers into leaders, prioritize the needs of
begin by addressing our first research question. their followers, and are particularly concerned about
followers with less power or greater need for help
(Bass and Bass 2008). However, humble leaders do
What is humility? not necessarily place the needs of others ahead of
themselves (Nielsen et al. 2010, 2014). Such leaders
It is important to provide grounding on ‘what humility are supportive of followers, but are ‘more likely to
is’ before analysing its components. In the organi- adopt a stance of egalitarianism rather than superior-
zational literature, Ou et al. (2014, p. 37) defined ity or servility in their communications with others’
humility as a ‘relatively stable trait that is grounded (Morris et al. 2005, p. 1341). Authentic leaders have
in a self-view that something greater than the self ex- been characterized as having integrity and a profound
ists’). This quotation captures an essence that we find sense of self-awareness of their strengths, knowledge
present within many of the proposed scholarly def- and morals (Avolio and Gardner 2005), yet this view
initions and elements emergent in our review below. does not necessarily indicate a proper perspective
For example, humble individuals do not have strong of the self or suggest a model for growth. Authen-
needs to self-enhance or to dominate others (Peterson tic leadership emphasizes values and self-expression,
and Seligman 2004). Humble individuals understand whereas humble leadership focuses on the leader’s
their own strengths and limitations accurately (e.g. transcendent self-view that something greater than

C 2018 The Authors. International Journal of Management Reviews published by British Academy of Management and John
Wiley & Sons Ltd.
808 R. Nielsen and J.A. Marrone

the self exists (Ou et al. 2014; Rego et al. 2017b), and contributions of others without experiencing ego
which includes not only self-awareness, but also an threat in ways less humble individuals may (Owens
appreciation of others and an openness to feedback and Hekman 2012; Tangney 2000).
and growth. Despite some overlaps, other positive Finally, and perhaps most controversially, a
leadership theories ‘focus only on limited aspects of fourth component capturing ‘transcendence/larger
humility’ (Ou et al. 2014, p. 37). perspective’ is suggested in six of the 11 works
Finally, we highlight the Honesty–Humility factor (55%). However, these works do not all agree on what
(H–H) of the HEXACO personality inventory transcendence is or whether it serves as an essen-
(Ashton and Lee 2005; Lee and Ashton 2004) as tial requirement of humility. Historically and philo-
distinct from humility. H–H has four facets: Sincerity, sophically, the meaning of transcendence is rooted
Fairness, Greed Avoidance and Modesty. The latter in awe-inspiring beliefs in God and/or nature. How-
two facets are used in some studies to measure ever, as humility research has evolved, transcendence
humility. However, others have criticized H–H has been discussed by some organizational and psy-
because it is limited in its focus on modesty (Davis chology scholars as more generally experiencing a
et al. 2011). Owens et al. (2013) have contended that connection to some larger perspective. Morris et al.
H–H is related to, but distinct from, humility and (2005, p. 1331) have noted this shift and argued that
have found that it is only moderately correlated with humble individuals have an ‘understanding of the
their assessment of humility. As they have noted, small role that one plays in a vast universe’. Ou et al.
H–H does not capture key elements of humility, such (2014) have described the notion of the transcendent
as willingness to view oneself accurately, teachability self-concept as including beliefs that some things in
and appreciation of others. We thus excluded studies the world are greater than oneself and that some things
examining humility solely through H–H. are not under one’s control.
Concerns with transcendence as a separate com-
ponent of humility, however, lie in the divergence
Theorized key components of humility: synthesizing
across definitions and disagreement over its rele-
prior work
vance. In discussing transcendence, Owens et al.
Next, from our analysis, we observe a particular set (2013, p. 1519) noted that they intentionally differ-
of theorized components consistently included in the entiated their conceptualization of humility from the
humility concept. For a visual representation, see ‘more intrapersonal, philosophical approaches to hu-
Figure 1. mility’ and did not include transcendence as a core
The first component to emerge is ‘accurate self- theorized component. The authors provided com-
awareness’, or the willingness to see oneself ac- pelling evidence and rationale that humility, particu-
curately (e.g. Davis et al. 2011). This component larly in social and organizational contexts, is interper-
encompasses ‘an acceptance/appreciation of one’s sonal and relational, thus rendering an intracognitive
limitations’ (e.g. Tangney 2000). Humble individu- aspect such as transcendence as less relevant to the
als have realistic views of themselves and their capa- expression of humility.
bilities (Nielsen et al. 2010) and admit their mis- Our review of the theorized components leads us
takes and limitations (Owens and Hekman 2012). to propose the following components constituting the
All 11 (100%) of the reviewed works from psy- conceptual core of humility: a willingness to see one-
chology and organizational research include the self accurately; an appreciation of others; and teach-
self-awareness/acceptance component as part of ability. These components have found strong consen-
humility. sus across scholars in disparate fields because they
Two other components emerge consistently: ‘an indicate a proper perspective of oneself and the recog-
appreciation of others and their strengths and con- nition and appreciation of knowledge and guidance
tributions’ and ‘openness to feedback/teachability’ beyond the self (Owens and Hekman 2012). Further-
(five and six times, or 45% and 55%, respectively). more, this conceptual core has sufficient breadth and
Both components demonstrate the humble individ- flexibility to encompass intra- and interpersonal as-
ual’s willingness to acknowledge and accept the views pects of humility, even though transcendence is not
and feedback of others. Humble individuals have an explicitly included, as these components can be (and
open-minded attitude and a desire to learn from and have been in prior humility research) used to capture
through others (e.g. Owens et al. 2013). In addition, both a humble person’s internal attitude and his/her
they can acknowledge and appreciate the strengths relational approach, depending on the frame. For

C 2018 The Authors. International Journal of Management Reviews published by British Academy of Management and John
Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Humility 809

Figure 1. Analysis of the theorized components of humility [Colour figure can be viewed at wileyonlinelibrary.com]
Notes: ࢳ Includes recognition of limitations/admitting one’s mistakes; ࢳࢳ Low self-focus has generated mixed findings (e.g. it was proposed
but then removed owing to poor loadings and high cross-loadings in Owens (2009)); *These authors used Hill and colleagues’ expanded
36-item measure (Bollinger 2010; Bollinger et al. 2006) and the earlier 21-item version of the same scale and only the former is included in
Figure 1 to avoid double-counting; **See their Appendix B for details on all of Ou et al.’s (2014) components, including self-transcendent
pursuit; ***We used their definition, adapted from Solomon (1999, pp. 394–395), to identify their theorized components; # We did not include
Oc et al.’s (2015) study, given its intentional goal of discovering humility components unique to Singapore.

example, accurate self-knowledge can be manifested Exploring deeper: expressed and experienced
intrapersonally as an internal willingness and means humility
for self-improvement as well as interpersonally as a
Understanding humility also requires a considera-
way of relating to others (see Argandona 2015). In
tion of the distinction between the ‘expressed’ or
contrast, other components appear isolated or nar-
relational attributes of humility and the ‘internal’
rowly focused or reflect the ‘lack of’ elements that,
or ‘experienced’ attributes of humility (see also
as noted previously, may be inappropriate (Tangney
Argandona 2015; Davis et al. 2011; Ou et al. 2014;
2000). As such, these other components are less fre-
Owens et al. 2013). For instance, Tangney’s (2000)
quently relied on by humility scholars, especially
seminal research on humility describes ways in which
those studying organizational settings.
one experiences humility. Others have explicitly

C 2018 The Authors. International Journal of Management Reviews published by British Academy of Management and John
Wiley & Sons Ltd.
810 R. Nielsen and J.A. Marrone

focused on humble behaviours or attributions in so- measurement is critical to clarify the unique predic-
cial contexts, emphasizing the relational and inter- tive validity of humility for organizational outcomes.
personal aspects of humility. For instance, Owens
et al. (2013, p. 1518) defined ‘expressed humility’
Other-reports
as ‘an interpersonal characteristic that emerges in so-
cial contexts that connotes (a) a manifested willing- The predictive validity of other-reports is equal to or
ness to view oneself accurately, (b) a displayed ap- greater than that of self-reports, and the combined
preciation of others’ strengths and contributions, and judgement of two acquaintances has been proven to
(c) teachability’. Each component was framed in outperform self-reports in terms of predictive validity
terms of observable and outward manifestations of (Kolar et al. 1996). This method is most often used
humility. Additionally, ‘relational humility’ was de- when studying the impacts of leader humility and
fined by Davis et al. (2011, p. 226) as ‘an observer’s relational outcomes associated with humility, such
judgment that a target person (a) is interpersonally as facilitating social bonds and granting forgiveness
other-oriented rather than self-focused, marked by a (e.g. Davis et al. 2011, 2013). This approach may
lack of superiority; and (b) has an accurate view of be uniquely appropriate for exploring the expressed
self - not too inflated or too low’. Others have humility attributes described earlier. We discuss three
explicitly incorporated both ‘experienced’ and ‘ex- prominent other-reports.
pressed’ attributes with commensurate emphasis (e.g. First, Davis et al. (2010, 2011) developed theoreti-
Jankowski et al. 2013; Ou et al. 2014). We share cal support for their relational humility scale (RHS).
the sentiments of Argandona (2015), Jankowski After exploratory factor analysis, the scale contained
et al. (2013) and others who identified humility as three main factors: global humility; superiority (re-
self/individual and other/relational, involving an in- verse coded); and accurate view of self. Cronbach’s
ternal self-regulating capacity that fosters prosocial alphas for the respective factors were 0.92, 0.87 and
relating that results in intrapersonal and interpersonal 0.82, and the alpha value for the full scale was 0.89
well-being. (see study 1). Subsequent research included modesty
as an additional factor with adequate fit indices (Davis
et al. 2016).
Summary Second, Owens (2009) and Owens et al. (2013)
Although numerous definitions of humility exist, our established and validated a scale frequently used in
review and analysis demonstrate that particular com- management studies. After initially exploring both
ponents have been theorized with moderate to high a self-report and an other-report, Owens’ (2009) re-
levels of frequency and consistency. Differences in search shifted towards the other-report due to its bet-
scholars’ relative emphasis on the ‘expressed’ or ‘ex- ter test–retest reliability. The other-report scale has
perienced’ attributes of humility may account for three key components with nine items in total: will-
some variance across definitions, but we present three ingness to view oneself accurately; appreciation of
components as forming the conceptual core of hu- others’ strengths; and teachability (α = 0.94 for the
mility and as sufficiently reflecting intrapersonal and full scale).
interpersonal aspects. Finally, Ou et al. (2014) created an other-report
measure in conjunction with the previous other-report
from Owens and colleagues described above. The
How is humility being measured? combined measure had 19 items in total, nine from
Owens et al. (2013) and ten newly created items
Regarding our second research question, measuring (see Owens et al. 2013, Appendix B). These addi-
humility has proved challenging. This difficulty is not tional items added three factors: low self-focus; self-
attributable to a lack of effort in developing measure- transcendent pursuits; and transcendent self-concept
ment instruments. In fact, humility has been mea- (α = 0.81, 0.75 and 0.77, respectively, and 0.88 for
sured through other-reports, self-reports, implicit as- the comprehensive scale).
sociation tests (IATs) and multi-method approaches.
We highlight these primary approaches below, pro-
Self-reports
viding examples from key studies implementing and
assessing the efficacy of the respective measurements. Self-reports may provide opportunities to explore
Organizational scholars’ awareness of accurate the internal experienced elements of humility. The

C 2018 The Authors. International Journal of Management Reviews published by British Academy of Management and John
Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Humility 811

primary critique of self-reports, however, is that Finally, subsets of the 10-item Modesty–Humility
the results are susceptible to self-enhancement (MH) subscale of the Values in Action Inventory of
(Asendorpf and Ostendorf 1998), and in the case of Strengths survey (Peterson and Seligman 2004) have
humility, the reverse is possible (i.e. a person with been used in religious studies. However, the inclusion
low humility could self-enhance, and a person with of modesty has been criticized by those seeking to iso-
high humility could report low humility) (Davis et al. late the humility concept. Furthermore, Davis et al.’s
2010). Morris and colleagues (2005) have also sug- (2010, p. 245) critique noted that ‘[T]he MH lacks
gested that relying solely on a self-report measure is primary evidence of construct validity, though some
inadequate in assessing humility. Despite increasing evidence is found in Rowatt et al. (2006)’. Rowatt and
critiques and debate, the self-report has been a fre- colleagues tested the measure on 55 undergraduates
quent method of measurement, particularly in disser- and found an alpha of 0.84 for the scale. This measure
tations and pilot studies. Evidence of underreporting exhibited convergent findings with the IAT implicit
bias has not emerged in psychological studies to date measure discussed below (LaBouff et al. 2012).
(Davis et al. 2016), though some evidence of self-
enhancement reporting bias has emerged in organi-
IATs
zational research (e.g. Rego et al. 2017b). Scholars
examining emotional well-being and pro-social ten- An IAT is a computerized measure of the degree to
dencies of humble persons have most frequently re- which a person automatically associates two target
lied on self-report measures, often employing multi- concepts (Greenwald et al. 1998). In a meta-analysis
ple self-report scales, with some convergent findings of IAT studies, Greenwald et al. (2009) concluded
emerging across scales (e.g. Exline and Hill 2012). that the incremental validity of IAT measures was
We discuss three frequently used self-reports. high compared with that of self-reports for socially
At least four studies have used Bollinger and sensitive topics, and they recommended the joint use
colleagues’ humility self-report (Bollinger 2010; of IATs and self-reports to predict behaviour.
Bollinger et al. 2006; Kopp 2005), an extension of Rowatt et al. (2006) developed an IAT to mea-
an earlier 21-item self-report measure created by Hill sure humility versus arrogance. After undergraduates
et al. (2003). Bollinger’s team collected data from 566 completed the Humility IAT, the authors found strong
undergraduates to create the expanded 36-item mea- reliability at time period one (α = 0.87) and two weeks
sure comprising five factors: worldview (nine items; later at time period two (α = 0.89). Findings suggest
α = 0.80); recognition of limitations (11 items; α = that this IAT is equivalent to or better than self-reports
0.74); low self-focus (nine items; α = 0.67); personal in predicting the impact of humility on pro-social
finiteness (three items; α = 0.68); and accurate self- helpfulness (e.g. LaBouff et al. 2012), and it yields
assessment (four items; α = 0.57 (Bollinger 2010). convergent findings with other-reports for predicting
The original and expanded scales yielded consistent academic performance (Owens et al. 2013; Rowatt
findings in Exline and Hill’s (2012) study of humil- et al. 2006).
ity and generosity. Jankowski et al. (2013), however,
found that the 36-item measure did not fit their study’s
Multi-method approaches
data. Further construct validation using confirmatory
factor analysis (CFA) yielded a shortened 18-item As strategies for measuring humility increase, re-
measure. searchers often use more than one measurement
Rowatt et al. (2006) developed a seven-item self- method in a single paper. For example, Ou et al.
report based on the semantic differentials of humility. (2014) employed other-reports to assess CEO humil-
The scale was developed as part of their overall ity and then interviewed the same 51 CEOs. Over-
research goal of creating an IAT of humility (de- all moderate agreement was found between the two
scribed below). The end labels to the self-report scale approaches (r = 0.28; p < 0.05), except between
are humble/arrogant, modest/immodest, respectful/ the other-reports and the interviewer coding of low
disrespectful, egotistical/not self-centred, conceited/ CEO humility: ‘CEOs with low humility may be
not conceited, intolerant/tolerant and closed-minded/ more inclined to feign humility in their answers to
open-minded. They administered the scale to 135 un- interviewers’ (Ou et al. 2014, p. 59). As another ex-
dergraduate participants (α = 0.72). In a later study ample, LaBouff et al. (2012) employed both an im-
(Peters et al. 2011), the self-report yielded similar plicit measure and two self-report measures of hu-
results (α = 0.75 based on 109 college students). mility and found that humble people are more helpful

C 2018 The Authors. International Journal of Management Reviews published by British Academy of Management and John
Wiley & Sons Ltd.
812 R. Nielsen and J.A. Marrone

Table 1. Summary of published measurement approaches

Frequency count Used most often when examining


Measure description: Citation (%)a Area used most often the following

Other-reports
Owens et al. (2013) or Ou et al. (2014) 11 (34%) Organizational research Learning and performance outcomes
Leader humility outcomes for
followers, teams and organizations
Davis et al. (2011) (RHS) 3 (9%) Psychology Pro-social/relational outcomes
Self-reports
Bollinger et al. (2006); Bollinger (2010) or 7 (22%) Psychology Pro-social/relational outcomes
Hill et al. (2003) Emotional well-being outcomes
Peterson and Seligman (2004) (MH) 7 (22%) Religion Antecedents to humility
Emotional well-being outcomes
Rowatt et al. (2006) (seven-item semantic) 4 (13%) Psychology Pro-social/relational outcomes
IAT
Rowatt et al. (2006) 3 (9%) Psychology Pro-social/relational outcomes
Learning and performance outcomes
Other
Variousb 4 (13%) Psychology Varied

Notes: a The percentage is out of 32 empirical papers examining humility and is rounded to the nearest whole number. Five empirical
papers used multiple and distinct measures of humility when testing hypotheses; b This includes Zawadzka and Zalewska’s (2013) self-report
scale; Dwiwardani et al.’s (2014) self-report scale; Rego et al.’s (2016) self- and other-report scales; and Rowatt et al.’s (2002) self- versus
other-ratings on religious items.

than less humble people. They concluded that ‘im- relational leadership; Uhl-Bien 2006), it would not
plicit and explicit measurement strategies in humility be surprising if future humility studies incorporated
may inform and complement each other rather than measurement techniques that seek to capture directly
overlap’ (LaBouff et al. 2012, pp. 23, 25). the social processes creating and embedding hu-
mility (discussed more in future research sections).
These techniques could include conversation anal-
Summary ysis, ethnography interviewing observation, linguis-
Calls for valid and reliable measures of humility tic analyses and others (Fairhurst and Putnam 2004;
(Morris et al. 2005; Nielsen et al. 2010) have been Uhl-Bien 2006).
heeded. Most recently, particularly in the organiza- Table 1 summarizes the frequency of measurement
tional domain, other-reports have been used to assess approaches and indicates the literature domains and
humility (e.g. Davis et al. 2011; Ou et al. 2014, 2015; categories of outcomes most commonly associated
Owens et al. 2013). This measurement strategy has with each measure. These outcome categories are de-
the primary benefits of mitigating ‘self-enhancement’ scribed in the next section.
or ‘modesty-effect’ biases in self-report measures and
is conceptually aligned with assessing the expressed,
interpersonal aspects of humility that scholars are
finding increasingly salient in organizational settings. Empirical findings on humility: can
Self-reports are often employed in dissertations (e.g. findings be organized into meaningful
Bollinger 2010) and published studies examining the categories relevant to organizations?
emotional experiences of humble persons. Addition-
ally, Rowatt et al.’s (2006) humility IAT has been We now examine our third research question. Through
combined with other methods, and such combinations a review and synthesis of empirical findings, we of-
may increase based on LaBouff et al.’s (2012) find- fer an organizing framework that is parsimonious,
ing that the Humility IAT complements self-reports. relevant to organizations and easily accessible to
We expect growth in multi-method approaches as organizational scholars and practitioners alike. We
the focus on other-reports and efforts to combine begin with an overview of the framework and fol-
measurement methods continue to flourish. Further- low up with a detailed account of primary empirical
more, following advancements in related fields (e.g. findings.

C 2018 The Authors. International Journal of Management Reviews published by British Academy of Management and John
Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Humility 813

Moderators: Self outcomes:


Environmental conditions4 Pro-social and relational:
Social Pressure2 Helpfulness2,3
TMT faultlines1 Generosity2
Team proactive behavior1 Social relationship bonding1,2
Team performance capability1 Group status/acceptance1
Strength of leader expressed humiltiiy1 Forgiveness1,2,3
Leader traits4 Social justice commitment2
Antecedents: Leader narcissism1,2
Religious Male2 Emotional well-being:
commitment2 Spiritual transcendence2 (-) Depressive symptoms2
Religiousness2 (-) Depressed affect2
Spiritual support2 Subjective well-being2
Resilience2 Humility Self-reported health2
Attachment2 Positive emotions2
Forgivingness2
Leader Apology1 Learning and performance:
Academic performance1,3
Mediators:
Contextual performance1
Empowering leadership1
Perceived leader effectiveness1
Balanced processing1
Perceived transformational leadership1
Employee job satisfaction1
Team learning orientation1
Follower outcomes:
Team shared leadership1
Engagement 1
Collective humility1
Intentions to turnover 1
Collective promotion focus culture1
Psychological freedom4
Team PsyCap1
Team task allocation1
Team outcomes:
TMT integration1
TMT integration1
(-) TMT vertical pay disparity1
Team performance1
Ambidextrous strategic orientation1
Socialized charisma1,2
Organizational outcomes:
Firm performance1
Firm innovation1,2

Figure 2. Summary illustration of empirical findings


Notes: Humility was measured via 1 Other-report; 2 Self-report; 3 Implicit Association Test; and 4 Qualitative interview data. Variables in
italics indicate that leader humility was assessed.

Overview and performance outcomes are demonstrated in aca-


demic and organizational settings. These outcomes
The great majority of studies to date have examined
include higher course grades, enhanced contributions
outcomes of humility. Notably, given our third re-
to teams and greater perceptions of leadership ef-
search question, we find that these outcomes reside
fectiveness. Beyond self-related outcomes, positive
at multiple levels inherent to organizations – self,
outcomes for followers, teams and organizations re-
follower, team and organizational. The largest num-
sult from leader humility. These outcomes include
ber of outcomes examined includes self-related out-
employee engagement, retention and psychological
comes, which can be further organized into three
engagement, team integration and performance, and
categories: (1) pro-social and relational variables;
firm performance and innovation. Below, we detail
(2) emotional well-being; and (3) learning and per-
the empirical findings regarding self, follower, team
formance outcomes. Each of these categories is also
and organizational outcomes. Mediating and moder-
relevant for achieving organizational goals and ob-
ating variables in the relationships between humil-
jectives. First, pro-social/relational variables include
ity and outcomes are discussed throughout as appro-
the positive ways in which humility impacts one’s
priate. We end by discussing the antecedents of
relationships with peers and followers. These rela-
humility. For a visual representation of empirical
tional elements enable and promote fruitful social
relationships, see Figure 2.
exchanges and interactions at work that are necessary
for organizational viability and success. Second, pos-
itive emotional well-being, as evidenced by lower de-
pressive symptoms, greater self-reported health and Self outcomes: pro-social and relational outcomes
increased positive emotions, is also associated with Our first category of self-related outcomes reveals
humility and should underlie sustained employee con- that humility strengthens social relationships through
tributions through job satisfaction, empowerment, helpfulness, social bonding, forgiveness and social
commitment and resilience. Third, positive learning justice commitment. These effects may be partly due

C 2018 The Authors. International Journal of Management Reviews published by British Academy of Management and John
Wiley & Sons Ltd.
814 R. Nielsen and J.A. Marrone

to the humble person’s collective and relational ori- real team projects. These findings may extend un-
entation (Nielsen et al. 2010). Those with humility derstanding of positive team-member exchange rela-
may have a self-view of interdependence with others tionships in organizations (TMX; Seers 1989), and
and feel deeply motivated to contribute to the suc- they demonstrate the utility of the positive social cap-
cess of their relationships and to fulfil their roles as ital generated by humble team members. The find-
productive and helpful relationship partners. Re- ings are particularly interesting when contrasted with
search has thus found that humble individuals are recent research on leaders who work to create divi-
more generous and helpful than non-humble individ- sions in social bonds. Case and Maner (2014) found
uals, and that they are more likely to be regarded by that dominance-motivated leaders created divisions
others as cooperative and worthy of forgiveness. This among subordinates when they perceived their power
robust outcome category has been assessed across as being threatened by highly-skilled subordinates.
multiple measurements and disciplines. We posit that humble leaders are not threatened in
these ways and, instead, work to incorporate sugges-
Helpfulness and generosity. Humble people are tions from subordinates and strengthen social rela-
more helpful than less humble people, even when re- tions among them.
searchers control for personality and impression man-
agement (LaBouff et al. 2012). For example, similar Forgiveness. The finding that humility fosters
findings across multiple self-report measures and IAT forgiveness has emerged in at least four studies and
indicated that humble students volunteered signifi- across self-reports, other-reports and IAT measures
cantly more time to help a fellow student than students of humility. In religion, Powers et al. (2007) found
demonstrating less humility. Notably, in ‘altruistic’ that self-reported humility predicted self-reported
conditions (with low social pressure to volunteer), tendencies to forgive a transgressor. Implicit humility
this effect was strong. However, in the high social did not serve as a predictor, but it was associated with
pressure condition, this effect was attenuated, and the an individual’s attitudes towards forgiveness more
results suggested no significant differences in the ex- generally. These authors also found that people with
tent of volunteering between humble and non-humble high humility scores and high spiritual transcendence
respondents. Additionally, humility predicts generos- scores were most likely to self-report that they might
ity. Using the 21-item and 36-item self-report mea- forgive someone. Additionally, self-reported humble
sures, Exline and Hill (2012) conducted three stud- individuals were more likely to recall or envision
ies. Humility predicted the following indicators of themselves committing offences similar to those
generosity: larger charitable donations; a ‘pay it for- committed by others and thus presented higher self-
ward’ attitude in giving more money to anonymous reported motivation to forgive transgressors (Exline
future study participants; and greater self-reported et al. 2008). Not surprisingly, using self-ratings on
motives of kindness towards others that extended the RHS scale and implicitly priming humility, Van
beyond close friends to enemies and strangers. These Tongeren et al. (2016) found that humility reduced
findings may have utility for broader organizational aggressive intentions and behaviours towards reli-
studies, for example, in furthering our understand- gious out-group members who criticized people’s
ing of employee organizational citizenship behaviour religious convictions. The authors theorized that
(OCB; Organ et al. 2006). humility may allow individuals to view out-groups
positively and empathically. Finally, seeing an
Social relationship bonding and group status/ individual as humble facilitates forgiveness of that
acceptance. Those who are humble enjoy bond- individual (Davis et al. 2011). Forgiveness has been
ing with and acceptance by others in interpersonal found to be a salient leader attribute and to positively
settings. For instance, Peters et al. (2011) used the influence organizational performance in several
semantic differential scale and found that humility studies (Cameron 2007). Moreover, a growing body
was positively related to higher social relationship of research has explored the importance of for-
quality, and Davis et al. (2013) found that humility giveness in organizations (Fehr and Gelfand 2012).
(measured via their RHS scale) strengthened social Furthermore, if humility plays a corrective role in
bonds and positively predicted status and acceptance reducing negative feelings and intentions towards
in groups. These findings aligned with those of Owens out-group members, this could have significant im-
et al. (2013), who examined the other-reported hu- plications for understanding intergroup relationships
mility of undergraduate team members working on at work.

C 2018 The Authors. International Journal of Management Reviews published by British Academy of Management and John
Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Humility 815

Social justice commitment. Using a self-report mea- 3010 US adults and found that self-reported humil-
sure based on Bollinger et al.’s (2006) measure, ity (measured via three items from Bollinger et al.’s
Jankowski et al. (2013) found that humility mediated (2006) scale) buffered the otherwise adverse effects
the relationship between increased forgiveness and in- of stressful life events on well-being. That is, humble
creased social justice commitment. Interestingly, the individuals reported higher levels of happiness and
impact of humility on social justice commitment was life satisfaction and lower levels of depressed affect
stronger for males than for females. These results ex- and anxiety disorders when facing stressful events
tend the prosocial impacts of humility beyond peer- than less humble individuals. This finding suggests
to-peer relationships to a concern for systemic justice. that the humblest employees are likely to be the most
resilient at work in times of economic uncertainty,
recession or organizational layoffs. Likewise, longi-
Self outcomes: emotional well-being
tudinal studies by Krause (2010, 2012) using a subset
This second category of self-related outcomes of MH items found that humility positively predicted
suggests that humility predicts well-being. Some self-reported health.
theorize that the views held by humble individuals
(e.g. seeing strengths alongside weaknesses, not Positive emotions. Finally, Exline (2012) found that
placing oneself in a low-status role, and accepting humility was a strong predictor of positive responses
knowledge/help from others) result in the confidence, to receiving kindness and suggested that humble per-
resilience and resources needed for sustained positive sons do not regard such a receiving role adversely.
self-adjustment in life (e.g. Exline 2012; Oyer 2011). Based on Bollinger and colleagues’ self-report mea-
Studies in this category most frequently rely on sure, humility was associated with more positive emo-
self-report measures, some of which have not been tions (e.g. love, gratitude) and less negative emotional
validated in previous studies or have not isolated responses (e.g. mistrust, shame/weakness) ‘when re-
the humility concept. Thus, this area is rife with flecting on an experience of receiving kindness’
opportunities to incorporate additional measurement (Exline 2012, p. 45). These findings may be impor-
approaches. The primary outcomes are decreased tant for understanding the effects of unsolicited assis-
depressive symptoms, greater subjective well-being tance or positive feedback on subsequent employee
and positive emotions. attitudes and performance.

Depressive symptoms and depressed affect. Two


Self outcomes: learning and performance outcomes
studies in religion have found that humility lessens
depressive symptoms and affect. Krause (2014) found The third category of self-related outcomes includes
that humility reduced the impact of negative church the impacts of humility on individual learning and
interactions on depressive symptoms. Krause and performance. We speculate that these outcomes stem
Hayward (2012) found that humility reduced the im- from a desire for accurate self-awareness, openness
pact of lifetime trauma on depressed affect. In both to feedback and incorporation of the contributions
studies, the researchers used items from Peterson and of others. Self-awareness allows individuals to maxi-
Seligman’s (2004) MH scale to measure humility. mize performance through enabling a person to lever-
Given the inclusion of modesty in the MH scale, it is age strengths and compensate for weaknesses (Owens
important to note that Jankowski et al. (2013), who et al. 2013), while openness to novel ways of think-
used Bollinger et al.’s (2006) self-report measure of ing and alternative ideas is associated with learning in
humility, also found that humility significantly pre- organizational settings (Owens and Hekman 2012).
dicted decreased depressive symptoms.
Academic and contextual performance. Rowatt
Subjective well-being and self-reported health. et al. (2006) found implicit humility to be positively
Subjective well-being was assessed by Zawadzka and correlated with higher coursework grades. Subse-
Zalewska (2013, p. 445), who found that ‘humility quently, Owens et al. (2013) found that other-reported
positively correlates with subjective well-being and humility was a better predictor of students’ test and
may be its preferred predictor’. They created a assignment scores and contributions to classroom
49-item humility self-report measure (α = 0.88). team projects (referred to as contextual performance)
More recently, Krause et al. (2016) analysed the than general mental ability, conscientiousness or
Landmark Spirituality and Health Survey data for self-efficacy. Moreover, humility had a compensating

C 2018 The Authors. International Journal of Management Reviews published by British Academy of Management and John
Wiley & Sons Ltd.
816 R. Nielsen and J.A. Marrone

effect on academic performance for students with they are more engaged (mediated via stronger team
lower general mental ability. Humble individuals learning orientation), are less likely to leave the or-
enjoy learning benefits in academic settings that ganization (mediated via higher employee job sat-
should extend to organizational life. isfaction) and enjoy higher psychological freedom
than followers of non-humble leaders. Collectively,
Perceived leader effectiveness and perceived transfor- these studies have been conducted primarily in or-
mational leadership. At least two empirical stud- ganizational settings and have used longitudinal de-
ies have suggested that humble leaders in organi- signs. Particularly in studies of leader humility, schol-
zations also experience positive outcomes, namely ars have begun proposing and testing for mediation
through enjoying greater perceptions of leader effec- and moderation. We highlight underlying mediating
tiveness and transformational qualities by their fol- mechanisms and moderating conditions where appro-
lowers. First, Rego et al. (2016) found that humble priate. Unless otherwise noted, all studies have mea-
leaders were perceived as positively impacting their sured leader humility via other-reports established by
work team’s effectiveness. Leader humility was as- Owens or by Ou and their respective colleagues.
sessed through a 360-degree instrument that included First, in a quantitative study of healthcare pro-
self- and other-reports of items taken from Dennis fessionals, Owens et al. (2013) found that hum-
and Bocarnea (2005) and Park et al. (2004) and of ble leader behaviours fostered employee engagement
items generated by the authors. The effects were me- through facilitating stronger team learning goal ori-
diated through the inclusive and balanced qualities entation in employees (i.e. a climate focused on learn-
of the humble leader’s decision-making (termed ‘bal- ing and development). Leader humility also pro-
anced processing’ by the authors), which includes moted higher job satisfaction in employees, which
being open to criticism and contrary ideas and asking was then negatively related to voluntary employee
for others’ opinions before making decisions. This turnover, after controlling for demographic differ-
notion regarding openness is also supported by the ences. These authors theorized that the tendency
findings from Owens and Hekman’s (2012) quali- of humble leaders to send clear signals validat-
tative study: organizational leaders whose follow- ing and accepting employees’ learning and personal
ers rated them as strongly demonstrating personal development processes fosters trust and openness,
humility were also rated highly on behaviours that which promote a learning goal orientation (Owens
included a willingness to consider ideas contrary to et al. 2013).
their own. Second, Basford et al.’s (2014) study of Second, Ou et al.’s (2016) study of 313 top ex-
US workers found that humble leaders, measured via ecutives supports the links to turnover and suggests
Owens’ (2009) other-report, were perceived by fol- an important moderating influence. The researchers
lowers as transformational leaders. In this study, hu- found that companies with humble top executives
mility played a mediating role, such that, when leaders tend to have higher job satisfaction for middle man-
sincerely apologized to followers, they were assessed agers, who were therefore less likely to leave their
by followers as humble, which in turn facilitated per- organizations. These relationships existed only when
ceptions of transformational leadership qualities. TMT (top management team) faultlines, which create
Not illustrated in Figure 2 (for simplicity), Owens stressful rifts that challenge communication and coor-
et al. (2015) found that narcissistic leaders whose fol- dination across team members, were low. When high,
lowers rated them as having high levels of humility faultlines significantly impeded the humble leader’s
were perceived as more effective by those follow- otherwise positive influence on member satisfaction
ers. Such leaders also had more-engaged and higher- and retention. The authors theorized that faultlines
performing followers than narcissistic leaders with create a demanding and frustrating context that ‘di-
low humility. This study is intriguing because it ex- verts MMs’ [middle managers’] attention from lead-
plored the paradoxical notion of narcissistic leaders ers’ benevolent qualities, reduces their preference
with humility. for such leadership, and stigmatizes such leaders’
(Ou et al. 2016, p. 10). This context may lead mid-
dle managers to attribute the team’s challenges to
Follower outcomes
leader incompetence, thereby devaluing the positive
We now shift to discussing the outcomes for followers aspects of their leader’s humility and producing a de-
of humble leaders. Followers led by humble leaders sire for leaders whom they deem more directive and
experience at least three primary outcomes at work: decisive.

C 2018 The Authors. International Journal of Management Reviews published by British Academy of Management and John
Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Humility 817

Finally, qualitative data from Owens and Hekman authors provide compelling evidence that humble
(2012, p. 802) indicate that humble leaders model leaders, by virtue of modelling teachability and
growth to followers; that is, ‘humble leaders were re- open-mindedness, encourage the team’s members to
ported as making outwardly explicit the step-by-step listen to one another and to accept one another’s
process of personal development’. The outcomes of attempts to claim leadership. Furthermore, humble
these behaviours for followers resulted in followers leaders recognize and openly acknowledge their own
feeling validated in their own development efforts. limitations, and this tendency underscores and re-
Specifically, this situation entailed psychological inforces the contributions and leadership capabili-
freedom for both the leader and the followers. ties of team members. Notably, the indirect effect
Followers of humble leaders were also accepting of through enhanced shared leadership was signifi-
unpredictability, open to new information, and will- cant only when a team’s proactive personality and
ing to take a trial-and-error approach to experiments performance capability were also high, again sug-
at work. Evidence was also found for the moderating gesting that certain supportive external conditions
roles of contextual variables: high-pressure envi- may be critical for realizing the potential of leader
ronments and strongly hierarchical organizational humility.
structures/cultures weakened the above relationships, Third, examining team performance in a study
whereas organizational cultures that emphasize learn- of 84 laboratory and 77 organizational field teams,
ing and collaboration strengthened the ties between Owens and Hekman (2016) observed that leader hu-
leader displays of humility and the resultant follower mility influenced the team’s collective humility via
outcomes. Leader traits (namely, competence and sin- social contagion processes. Humility fostered col-
cerity) also had this enhancement effect. Thus, leader lective promotion focus, that is, a team’s focus on
humility results in productive outcomes for followers, achieving, reaching its highest potential, and taking
and these leaders may be most effective and most advantage of opportunities. Notably, both collective
appreciated in open, collaborative and low-stress humility and collective promotion focus mediated the
environments. humble leader’s positive influence on ultimate team
performance. In sum, humility begets humility and
enables groups to focus on reaching their highest
Team outcomes
potential. In further support, Rego et al. (2017a)
This section reviews the outcomes for teams that are found strong team performance effects for leader
led by humble leaders. Two primary team-level out- humility. Across three studies, humble leaders in-
comes have been examined to date: team integration creased their team’s psychological capital (PsyCap)
(mediated via empowering leadership) and team per- and task allocation effectiveness, which in turn pro-
formance (mediated via shared leadership, collective duced significant and positive performance effects
humility and collective promotion focus). First, team for teams. In a second study examining 82 team lead-
integration reflects the team’s dynamics and ‘includes ers from 41 organizations in Portugal, Rego et al.
collaborative behavior, information sharing, and joint (2017b) also found that humble team leaders en-
decision making . . . , as well as shared vision . . . ’ hanced team PsyCap through facilitating greater col-
(Ou et al. 2015, p. 6). Team integration also en- lective humility. Importantly, the indirect effect of
hances more distal outcomes, such as engagement leader humility was strongest when team leaders were
and firm performance. Ou et al. (2014) studied 63 consistently perceived as humble by all team mem-
CEOs and 328 TMT members in Chinese companies bers (i.e. when the ‘strength of leader-expressed hu-
and found that CEO humility is positively and directly mility’ was high). The relationship between team
related to CEO empowering leadership and indirectly PsyCap and subsequent team performance was incon-
related to TMT integration. Through interviews, the clusive, although this may have been due to measure-
authors also found that humble leaders, compared ment issues or to low sample size, according to the
with less humble CEOs, are more likely to see more researchers.
strengths in their TMT and to empower TMT mem-
bers to make decisions collectively.
Organizational outcomes
Second, in a sample of 62 professional Taiwanese
work teams, Chiu et al. (2016) found that hum- Finally, at least two studies have examined organiza-
ble team leaders fostered team performance through tional outcomes. First, leader effects on firm perfor-
the enhancement of team shared leadership. The mance have been partially explained by the humble

C 2018 The Authors. International Journal of Management Reviews published by British Academy of Management and John
Wiley & Sons Ltd.
818 R. Nielsen and J.A. Marrone

leader’s impact on their TMT’s dynamics. Ou et al. significance (p = 0.051) and that secure attachment
(2015) found that CEO humility led to higher TMT reached significance as predictors of humility in
integration (supporting Ou et al.’s (2014) findings) a sample of 245 graduate students. The authors
and negatively predicted TMT vertical pay disparity. used their own self-reported measure. Additionally,
Both TMT integration and TMT vertical pay disparity avoidant attachment negatively predicted humility,
indirectly influenced overall firm performance. For but anxious attachment did not significantly predict
example, TMT integration led to adopting an am- humility.
bidextrous strategic orientation, ‘or the simultaneous
pursuit of exploration and exploitation in firm strate- Forgivingness and leader apology. Finally,
gic activities . . . ’ (Ou et al. 2015, p. 7), which pos- Jankowski et al. (2013) used Bollinger et al.’s (2006)
itively predicted firm performance. Second, Zhang self-report measure of humility and found that in-
et al. (2017) hypothesized and found that humble creased forgiveness of others led to greater humility.
Chinese CEOs who were also high in narcissism posi- Additionally, the ability to communicate regret to
tively enhanced their firm’s innovative culture and in- others for one’s transgressions was a predictor of
novative performance. These relationships were fully other-reported leader humility according to Basford
mediated through displays of socialized charisma. et al. (2014). As they noted, ‘Leader apologies,
Neither humility nor narcissism directly predicted so- when appraised as sincere by followers, engender
cialized charisma or firm innovation; instead, the traits perceptions of humility . . . ’ (Basford et al. 2014,
interacted in contradictory and complementary ways p. 114).
(a paradox also illuminated by Owens et al. (2015)).
Summary
Moving beyond outcomes: independent variables
In reviewing empirical work on humility across nu-
Although overwhelmingly focused on outcomes, merous disciplines, we make four summary ob-
some humility research has sought to understand the servations. First, the majority of humility research
antecedents of humility. Such attention is especially has focused on dependent variables, which reside
warranted given recent research that emphasizes the across self, follower, team and organizational lev-
state-like qualities of humility, including its capacity els. The largest grouping of outcomes – self-related
to be primed (e.g. Wright et al. 2017) and developed outcomes – can be further categorized into pro-social
or grown over time (e.g. Rego et al. 2017a). Primary and relational variables, emotional well-being, and
antecedents tested and supported to date concern re- learning and performance outcomes. Studies have
ligious experiences or attributes of primary relation- consistently found humility to be a reliable predic-
ships, such as adult attachment and leader apologies tor of these hypothesized outcomes after controlling
to followers. for the Big Five personality traits, self-esteem, im-
pression management, narcissism, self-enhancement,
Religion commitment, religiousness and spiritual general mental ability and demographics (e.g. age,
support. Data from four studies (Krause 2010, gender). The cumulative body of work provides sup-
2012, 2014; Krause and Hayward 2014) have in- port that humility is positive and productive in a vari-
dicated that more religious commitment and spir- ety of diverse social settings, including organizations
itual support (such as trust in God and receiving and work teams. Second, recent advances are begin-
social support at church) are predictors of self- ning to suggest important moderating conditions. The
reported humility assessed via subsets of the MH positive influences of humble leaders are strength-
scale items. In addition, Rowatt et al.’s (2002) study ened by and may require the presence of comple-
assessed humility using self- versus other-ratings mentary environments (e.g. organizational cultures
and suggested that quest religiousness leads to more of learning and collaboration, proactive and high-
humility. Quest religiousness involves facing exis- functioning teams) and leader traits (e.g. competence,
tential questions and perceiving religious doubts as sincerity and narcissism). High-pressure conditions
positive. and hierarchical organizational contexts can attenuate
or negate humility’s influence on hypothesized out-
Resilience and attachment. Supporting theoretical comes. Third, some studies use only self-report mea-
claims by Peterson and Seligman (2004), Dwiwardani sures of humility, whereas others use multiple and var-
et al. (2014) found that ego resilience approximated ied strategies to assess humility. Finally, we observe

C 2018 The Authors. International Journal of Management Reviews published by British Academy of Management and John
Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Humility 819

that within organizational research, many empirical hierarchy is made salient and/or threatened. Extend-
advances have emerged from the leadership domain, ing this thought, future work might examine whether
an area in which hierarchical roles and power differ- humility, by definition, is phasic to some degree,
ences are naturally salient and consequential for all meaning that ‘it is relevant in only settings that afford
involved. it’ (Peterson and Seligman 2004, p. 23) or trigger its
display. For instance, is it possible that the expression
of humility is not needed – and perhaps by definition
Future research: studying humility would not be displayed – in relatively neutral situ-
in organizations ations (e.g. two co-workers discussing an upcoming
project deadline), but is highly relevant in discus-
Conceptualizing humility
sions that challenge roles, relationships or the sta-
To date, scholarly definitions are consistent in de- tus quo (e.g. discussions of mistakes, disagreements
scribing humility as dispositional, importantly noting over power in decision-making)? Such future research
that it is both generally stable over time and malleable could help explain and answer common questions that
(e.g. Peterson and Seligman 2004). In these ways, complicate discussions of humility, such as the per-
humility – like other virtues, strengths or interper- plexity regarding why some individuals are humble
sonal orientations – is thought to have both state-like but may not be regarded as humble and why the same
and trait-like qualities (Chancellor and Lyubomirsky person can be viewed so oppositely in terms of their
2013; Owens 2009). However, in terms of conceptu- humility.
alizing humility, it is unclear whether one can vary In addition, future research could focus more di-
in his/her displays of humility and still be assessed rectly on the capacity for humility to develop and
(by oneself or by others) as humble. That is, the grow in persons. The state-like quality of humility
extent to which humble individuals vary in display- has long been theorized (e.g. Tangney 2000), and re-
ing humility and perhaps vary in the internal experi- cent studies have demonstrated the impact of leader
ences constituting humility (intrapersonal cognitions humility on fostering humility in teams and follow-
and motives) is unclear. Stability associated with hu- ers (e.g. Rego et al. 2017b). For example, writing
mility is discussed as critical, given that instability exercises that ask individuals to recall humbling
or variance in displays of humility are likely to be events may improve and facilitate one’s humility by
regarded by others as compelling signs that an in- ‘getting people to write and think in ways that align
dividual lacks the trait (Davis et al. 2010, 2011) with how humble people write and think’ (Wright
and given that variance in displays of humility is et al. 2017, p. 9). Additionally, organizational train-
also discussed as both practical and likely to occur ing programmes aimed at increasing humility could
based on situational cues (e.g. Owens et al. 2013; provide an overview of the quality’s key components,
Tangney 2000). Despite these tensions, scholars have identify situational cues that commonly trigger and
not explored variability – and, more specifically, sta- reinforce one’s pre-existing connections between cog-
ble variability in humility – as a meaningful construct nition and affect that result in humility, and thus pro-
itself. vide effective developmental opportunities fostering
Accordingly, we suggest that humility scholars use the formation of new connections. Notably, the orga-
advances in personality theory to understand the con- nizational context may both promote and constrain
cept more deeply. We offer several specific sugges- humility (Ou et al. 2014; Peterson and Seligman
tions. First, following Mischel and Shoda (1995), 2004). Greater attention to the psychological aspects
we identify a need to understand more about the of situations that trigger the development (or display)
complex linkages among goals, motives, expectan- of humility could advance our understanding of the
cies and affect that are internal to humble individu- possible ways that organizations can build employee
als and constitute their personality system. Similarly, humility.
we need to understand more about the psychological
aspects of situations that trigger such linkages and
Studying humility and its effects: extending theory
result in the humble person displaying his/her humil-
and practice
ity for others to observe and receive. Prior research
has given us some initial clues. For example, Davis Another important topic for advancing humility
et al. (2011) have argued that humility is likely to research is a deeper understanding of the underlying
be most accurately observed in situations in which rationale through which humility has its effects. We

C 2018 The Authors. International Journal of Management Reviews published by British Academy of Management and John
Wiley & Sons Ltd.
820 R. Nielsen and J.A. Marrone

highlight two possible areas future research might greater understanding of the conditions under which
explore. humility may directly or indirectly lead to negative
First, the capacity of humility for prosocial relating performance should be answered. Similarly, Weidman
may be mediated at least partly by collective or rela- et al. (2016) are critical of the overwhelming focus on
tional identity orientations. For example, according to positive, socially desirable characteristics in humility
Exline and Hill (2012), one possible mediating mech- research and suggest that humility can also assume
anism explaining the relationship between humility negative and self-abasing forms.
and generosity is the ability of humble individuals to Finally, future research could expand the concep-
look past themselves and their self-interests. The au- tualization of humility by considering alternative on-
thors have theorized that because humble individuals tological approaches. Traditionally, humility research
do not regard themselves as superior to others, they relies on an entity approach that assumes that truth
are also more likely to look towards the interests of and reality can be known and individually constructed
others, find strengths in others, and regard others as and that they reside within the minds of individuals
worthy of positive outcomes. Although we argue that (see Uhl-Bien (2006) for detailed discussions). This
it remains unclear from this logic alone why or how perspective focuses on individuals as discrete entities
humble individuals are more likely to find strengths and approaches humility as an individual characteris-
in others, we do believe that an ability to look past tic that would influence particular outcomes and so-
one’s self-interest – particularly as it relates to a col- cial dynamics. Alternatively, relational perspectives
lective or relational identity orientation discussed by assert that knowing and reality are always socially
Nielsen et al. (2010) – is probably an important mech- constructed, residing and constructed within relation-
anism underlying the effects of humility on pro-social ships, constantly changing, and embedded within and
outcomes such as generosity. created by rich historical and social contexts. Future
Second, with respect to leadership effectiveness humility research incorporating relational perspec-
and team outcomes specifically, humility researchers tives could examine humility as ‘made “in” processes’
are turning their attention towards mediating mech- between individuals as opposed to a ‘maker “of”
anisms such as collective humility, team promotion processes’ (Hosking (2000) cited in Uhl-Bien (2006,
focus and shared leadership (e.g. Chiu et al. 2016; p. 655)). Humility would be conceptualized not as
Owens and Hekman 2016). However, additional links a characteristic or state of ‘being’ but as relational
to leader decision-making may also be relevant here. ‘doing’.1
That is, future studies may explore whether leader Cunliffe and Eriksen’s (2011) study, for instance,
humility leads to higher-quality team and organiza- used ethnography and semi-structured interview tech-
tional decisions. This relationship seems likely, given niques to discover leadership embedded in everyday
the humble leader’s preferences for inclusive, col- relational practices, mundane activities and conver-
laborative and flexible decision-making processes. sations. Leaders were revealed as considering them-
Similarly, additional attention to the humble leader’s selves in relation to others and as being morally
openness to others’ ideas (including contrary ideas accountable to others. Similar research approaches
and criticisms) (Rego et al. 2016) and his/her capac- could be used to understand the relational practices
ity to consider exploitation and exploration strate- of humble persons or of humility. Guiding research
gies simultaneously (Ou et al. 2015) could extend questions may include: How do relational dynamics,
the implications of humility to the broader strat- dialogue and/or language contribute to the construc-
egy literature examining CEOs’ and other top ex- tion of humility? What are the everyday struggles, de-
ecutive members’ individual preferences in decision- tails and meaning-making processes occurring within
making. these interactions? We suspect that such approaches
Although the above suggestions would further re- would uncover humility as embedded in ways of being
search on the benefits of humility, additional atten- and relating to others that illuminate interdependen-
tion to the potential disadvantages of humility is also cies and intersubjectivity make meaning of hierarchy,
warranted. Among the most pressing issues may be facilitate empathy in small moments, and foster the
the notion that leader humility is effective only un- acceptance of limits. Future research is needed to
der limited conditions that do not involve external confirm, deny or add to these ideas. Such approaches
threats or crisis and that allow for a learning culture.
Ou et al.’s (2014) questions concerning the univer- 1
We would like to thank an anonymous reviewer for this
sality of the benefits of humility and their call for insight.

C 2018 The Authors. International Journal of Management Reviews published by British Academy of Management and John
Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Humility 821

could expand the conceptualization of humility in un- tremendous efforts of humility scholars since 2000 for
expected ways, uniquely highlighting its interdepen- use by organizational scholars. To recap, we provide
dent nature (Frostenson 2016) and leading to ‘practi- an overview of the consistent components of humil-
cal theory’, drawing out that which is ‘actively lived ity. After reviewing various measurement strategies,
and felt’ (Shotter (2010) cited in Cunliffe and Eriksen we suggest that a multi-method approach is preferred
(2011, p. 1428)). for scholars attempting to strengthen findings on this
topic. Our review bolsters the management field by
extensively summarizing outcomes of humility for
Measuring humility individuals, followers, teams and organizations. Cu-
A significant open question for future research mulatively, this research strongly supports humility
involves not the resolution of how best to measure as a positive and productive quality across a vari-
humility, but rather how best to use and combine var- ety of organizational and work team settings, and it
ious measures to obtain the most accurate assessment highlights several important moderating conditions.
possible. We offer two points for future research. We also make several suggestions for future research.
First, we recommend that scholars use multi-method Building on the existing body of work and numerous
approaches when feasible. Drawing from advances in opportunities for future inquiry, scholars are well po-
personality research (Funder 1995), these approaches sitioned to extend humility research significantly over
may include ratings by knowledgeable informants, the next two decades.
direct observations of behaviour, self-ratings and
diary methods, among others. Future scholars may
wish to consider explicitly what components of References
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Supporting Information
Uhl-Bien, M. (2006). Relational leadership theory: exploring
the social processes of leadership and organizing. Leader- Additional Supporting Information may be found in
ship Quarterly, 17, pp. 654–676. the online version of this article at the publisher’s
Van Tongeren, D.R., Stafford, J., Hook, J.N., Green, J.D., website:
Davis, D.E. and Johnson, K.A. (2016). Humility attenuates
negative attitudes and behaviors toward religious out- Appendix S1. Summary of published works in our
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pp. 199–208. research, psychology, and religious studies since 2000


C 2018 The Authors. International Journal of Management Reviews published by British Academy of Management and John
Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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