Is humility in an Asian leader a sign of strength or weakness? Michael Daniels summarises recent research he conducted with co-authors Burak Oc (Bocconi University), Gary Greguras (Singapore Management University), Michael Bashshur (Singapore Management University), and James Diefendorff (Akron University) on the nature of leader humility and its importance in an Asian context.
It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership” – Nelson Mandela
When you think about the great business leaders of our time, larger-than-life, charismatic figures like Steve Jobs or Jack Welch typically come to mind. Adjectives like decisive, visionary and sure-footed are lauded as key differential traits among leaders in the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world of business.
However, there is a growing body of research indicating that leaders who take time to weigh their options, listen to the opinions of others and accept responsibility for their mistakes gain a competitive advantage for their organisations and have better relationships with colleagues. While these two sets of behaviours – roughly defined as being decisive or consultative – are not mutually exclusive, most leaders demonstrate a preference for one or the other. Those who tend to exhibit consultative behaviours are more likely to be humble leaders.