Why Humble Bosses Are Good for Business

NEW YORK (TheStreet) — Arrogance and a sense of self-importance might impress some people at the office park, but it won’t get you long-term respect from employees. A recent study by Arizona State University shows that humble CEOs who are more self-aware and open to feedback inspire more positive reactions from their staff. If you want to get more out of your employees, it’s time to let your own needs take a back seat.

“Humble people focus on promoting the welfare of others. This translates into commitment and engagement from employees, which translates into more positive work attitudes and higher performance,” says Angelo Kinicki, who performed the study and is a professor of management at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State.

The concept of “servant leadership” is nothing new, but more companies are starting to embrace it for its effectiveness building and maintaining the motivation of a team. Humble leadership creates a trusting work environment where employees thrive, says Janet Flewelling, managing director of service operations at HR firm Insperity.

“Servant leadership demonstrates maturity, level-headedness and fosters an atmosphere of teamwork in the workplace,” she says. “When bosses operate from a position that promotes and uplifts team members while proving they are imperative to the success of the company as a whole, those team members are motivated to deliver.”

Employees want to work hard for an organization that genuinely cares about them and recognizes their efforts, Flewelling says. An effective boss is one who appreciates the hard work of others and gives credit where credit is due.

“When you can appreciate your success without letting that success dictate your character, it goes over well with a room full of CEOs or people who work behind the register every day. People like to relate to real, genuine people,” says Ashley Morris, CEO of Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop, a specialty sandwich company with 100 locations across the U.S.

It’s not always an easy balance, Morris says. Employees want to be inspired and feel like they are part of something bigger and better than themselves, but they also need to see that their leader isn’t afraid to do the dirty work.

“If I see a dirty floor, it’s not below me to sweep that floor. At our company, nothing is ‘beneath’ anyone to do,” he says. “When they see it from the top down, they understand it. If the CEO is willing to take the trash out, then I need to be willing to take the trash out.”

Bosses who are willing to get their hands dirty and work with employees toward a common goal tend to create a workplace culture where everyone has a sense that their work is valued, noticed and appreciated, says Mike Broderick, CEO of instruction services provider Turning Technologies.

”At our company, sometimes my executive team and I pitch in at the warehouse when important shipments are being fulfilled under a tight deadline. People will follow a leader who has taken real action to demonstrate that he believes those people’s work and responsibilities are vital to the organization,” Broderick says.

Sometimes, staying humble just means being willing to learn from others.

“If I am the smartest guy in the room, I stand to learn very little from others. If I am dumbest guy in room I stand to learn the most,” Morris says. “Employees respect me because they see I want to learn, and if I want to learn, they want to learn.”

Morris also makes it clear to employees that he is willing to learn from them. In meetings, he encourages all ideas to be shared.

“If you have an idea for how we can do things better and I say, ‘No, I don’t care about your idea, we’re doing it my way,’ that kills passion and spirit. When you don’t have a passionate employee who cares about your company, you’re either not going to get results, or you’re going to get results a lot slower. When people want to be part of the solution, you have to allow them to be.”

An open-door policy also inspires employees to approach their boss when they have questions.

“If you are more approachable, people will start to emulate you,” Morris says. “We purposefully work in an office that’s open, where people can communicate. I share an office with our CMO and CIO. We all work together, and you can see us physically working together.”

Also, the most effective bosses manage to keep calm under pressure. Humble leaders keep calm in tense situations and avoid losing their tempers – and losing employee respect, Broderick explains.

“This enables them to address problems more effectively,” he says.

Smart leaders recognize that even though they make the final decisions, their success is ultimately in the hands of their employees, says Joe Ungemah, vice president and head of leadership practice at member-based advisory company CEB.

“One of the key lessons that leaders learn as they move up the organization is how the measurement of success changes. As an individual contributor, a person’s performance is a solitary affair, but as soon as they become a leader of a team, their success is dependent on others,” Ungemah says.

With that said, there will be occasions when leaders must talk about themselves, and that’s OK.

“There are times when leaders have to talk about their own talents,” Ungemah says. “For example, using ‘we’ in a job interview makes it difficult for the recruiter to understand the unique contribution of the candidate. Beyond these situations, a humble approach is a better default position.”

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