By virtually all accounts, the late Steve Jobs was an arrogant jerk — but he’s also touted as a management genius. Is this guy the role model you want managers to emulate?
New research answers that question with an emphatic no.
Humility’s the key to success for leaders, according to Bradley Owens, assistant professor of organization and human resources at the University at Buffalo School of Management.
Owens and David Hekman, assistant professor of management at the Lubar School of Business, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, asked 16 CEOs, 20 mid-level leaders and 19 front-line leaders to describe in detail how humble leaders operate in the workplace.
“Leaders of all ranks view admitting mistakes, spotlighting follower strengths and modeling teachability as being at the core of humble leadership,” Owens says in a press release. “And they view these three behaviors as being powerful predictors of their own as well as the organization’s growth.”
Sounds a little different than Job’s approach. According to a recent book by Walter Isaacson, the Apple founder seemed to delight in publicly humiliating employees while taking credit for their ideas.
And he routinely parked his Mercedes in spots reserved for the handicapped.
Jobs may have been a genius, but in the non-Apple world, such behavior just isn’t effective as a management style.
Owens and Hekman’s research showed leaders were from a range of organizations — military, manufacturing, health care, financial services, retailing and religious — all agreed that the key to effective leadership centered on providing a model for employees to grow in their jobs.
“Growing and learning often involves failure and can be embarrassing,” says Owens. “But leaders who can overcome their fears and broadcast their feelings as they work through the messy internal growth process will be viewed more favorably by their followers. They also will legitimize their followers’ own growth journeys and will have higher-performing organizations.”
There is one caveat to the “humility works” tenet, however — some “humble” leaders were more effective than others, according to the study.
Leaders who were young, nonwhite or female were reported as having to constantly prove their competence to followers, making humble behaviors both more expected and less valued.
But experienced white males were reported as reaping large benefits from humbly admitting mistakes, praising followers and trying to learn.
A full report on the research will be published in the Academy of Management Journal.