1 Humility in Organizational Leadership Bradley P. Owens A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy University of Washington 2009 Program Authorized to Offer Degree: Business School
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5 University of Washington Abstract Humility in Organizational Leadership Bradley P. Owens Chair of the Supervisory Committee: Professor Terence R. Mitchell Department of Management and Organization School of Business Administration Recent scholarly and practitioner attention toward the role of humility in organizational leadership has spurred calls to understand the how this virtue would play out in a leadership role. Toward this end, I draw on several literatures to define the construct of humility, discuss its roots in implicit theories of the self, and distinguish humility from related constructs. In Section One, the first two studies of this dissertation are reported which (Study 1) develop and validate a self- and other-report measure of humility, and (Study 2) examine the strength of humility predictions of individual performance relative to conscientiousness, global self-efficacy, and general mental ability. This study also revealed that humility may have a compensatory effect on performance for those with lower general mental ability. In Section Two, I report on a study that used a blended methods approach to examine humility within a leadership context (Study 3). Drawing from a sample of leaders from a mortgage firm and using an interpretivist approach, this study assimilates insights from 30 semistructured interviews with leaders from four different hierarchical levels, multiyear firm financial and turnover data, and 360 degree leader evaluation data, into a model representing the antecedents, consequences, and contingencies of humility
6 in leadership. I discuss the enablers of developing and expressing humility in a leadership role. I report on contingencies which appear to determine the efficacy of humility in leadership. Finally, I report some of the individual, team/unit, and organizational consequences of humility in leadership. I conclude with recommendations for future research. Key words: Humility, scale development, personality, construct validation, cognitive ability.
7 HuMi lity in Organizations DISSERTATION: HUMILITY IN ORGANIZATIONAL LEADERSHIP SECTION 1 The Utility of Humility in Organizations: Establishing Construct, Nomological, and Predictive Validity SECTION 2 The Antecedents, Consequences, and Contingencies of Humility in Leadership: A Qualitative Approach Bradley P. Owens
8 Humility in Organizations Abstract Recent scholarly and practitioner attention toward the role of humility in organizational leadership has spurred calls to understand how this virtue would play out in a leadership role. Toward this end, I draw on several literatures to define the construct of humility, discuss its roots in implicit theories of the self, and distinguish humility from related constructs. In Section One, I report the first two studies of this dissertation which (Study 1) develop and validate a self- and other-report measure of humility, and (Study 2) examine the strength of humility predictions of individual performance relative to conscientiousness, global self-efficacy, and general mental ability. This study also revealed that humility may have a compensatory effect on performance for those with lower general mental ability. In Section Two, I report on a study that used a blended methods approach to examine humility within a leadership context (Study 3). Drawing from a sample of leaders from a mortgage firm and using an interpretivist approach, this study assimilates insights from 30 semi-structured interviews with leaders from four different hierarchical levels, multiyear firm financial and turnover data, and 360 degree leader evaluation data, into a model representing the antecedents, consequences, and contingencies of humility in leadership. I discuss the enablers of developing and expressing humility in a leadership role. I report on contingencies which appear to determine the efficacy of humility in leadership. Finally, I report some of the individual, team/unit, and organizational consequences of humility in leadership. I conclude with recommendations for future research.
10 Humility in Organizations 4 Humility has received increasing attention in organizational scholarship in recent years. Humility has been included as one of the "organizational virtues" which are proposed to provide the moral foundation of organizational environments (Cameron, Dutton, & Quinn, 2003). In the wake of recent corporate scandals which have been attributed to the unbridled ego, hubris, sense of entitlement, and selfimportance of the corporate executives involved (Knottnerus, Ulsperger, Cummins, & Osteen, 2006; Boje, Roslie, Durant, & Luhman, 2004), virtues such as humility have been viewed with greater interest and are seen as more essential to the character of those who lead and work within organizations. Theorists have proposed that humility is becoming more critical for leaders who direct their organizations in increasingly dynamic and turbulent environments (Morris, Brotheridge, and Urbanski, 2005; Vera and Rodriguez-Lopez, 2004). Weick (2001: 106) suggested, for instance, that the increasing "unpredictability and unknowability" organizations face will require leaders of the 21st century to have "more humility and less hubris". Some attention has also been given to the impact of humility on firm strategy. From this perspective humility has been argued to be a possible source of competitive advantage fostering strategic adaptability and learning. Strategic scholars have proposed that humility can be a characteristic not only of individuals and leaders, but of organizations as a whole. Specifically, Vera & Rodriguez-Lopez (2004) propose organizational humility to be a function of "(1) the humility of strategic leaders (mainly the CEO), (2) the humility of individual members, and (3) the emphasis the firm's culture, systems, procedures, and structures place on the development of humility as a
11 Humility in Organizations 5 key factor of success" (p. 396). Vera & Rodriguez-Lopez argue organizational humility to be the "cornerstone of organizational learning, high-quality service to customers and employees, and organizational resilience" (393) since it leads to openness to new paradigms, an eagerness to learn from others, an acknowledgement of limitations and mistakes, and a more realistic picture of both the firm and the firm's external environment. Characteristics such as these are arguably core components of effectively establishing and executing firm strategy. Furthermore, though not explicitly stated, humility may also reduce dysfunctional strategic persistence. Hiller and Hambrick (2005) proposed that CEO hubris would be positively related to dysfunctional strategic persistence, especially for strategies championed by the CEO. Since hubris and humility are considered to be negatively related constructs, I would expect CEO humility to be negatively related to dysfunctional strategic persistence particularly for decisions launched by the CEO. Generally speaking, there is also reason to expect that humility will be predictive of citizenship behavior and more effective group functioning within organizations. Preliminary evidence also suggests that humility is associated with cooperation and pro-social behavior (Ex line & Geyer, 2002). Humility may help people to relate better to others, because it has been associated with taking the focus off the self and focusing more on others and acknowledging others' strengths (Tangney, 2002). In support of this idea, clinical psychologists have employed "humility training" to help patients with overcompensating personality disorders (e.g., undue aggression, lack of empathy) to learn to develop more satisfying and lasting interpersonal
12 Humility in Organizations 6 relationships (Means, 1998). Such enhanced ability to relate to others is especially important as organizations continue to transition to more group-based structures where the ability to work well with others becomes increasingly critical to success (Ilgen, Hollenbeck, Johnson, & Jundt, 2005). To be able to further explore these possibilities, however, a valid and reliable measure of humility still needs to be developed Almost all of the recent attention paid to humility in psychology, strategy, and organizational behavior has been theoretical. Consequently, there are many propositions suggesting the importance of humility within organizations (i.e. Collins, 2005; Morris, Brotheridge, & Urbanski, 2005; Vera & Rodriguez-Lopez, 2004), but almost nothing has been confirmed by empirical study. This may be because humility has historically been a problematic construct to measure. Hailing et al. (1994) said it was a "humbling" endeavor to conduct research on humility and that this construct seems particularly difficult to assess. Indeed, researchers have tried to develop a valid and reliable self-report measure of dispositional humility but have not yet been successful (e.g., Emmons, 1998). Thus, in hopes of helping to further the study of humility in organizational contexts, in this paper I (a) provide a definition and theoretical background for the construct of humility, (b) report on efforts to develop and validate a measure of humility (Study 1), and (c) report on a study that shows the relationship between humility and individual performance (Study 2). HUMILITY THEORETICAL BACKGROUND The topic of humility has a rich background in theology and philosophy. Because humility often entails the recognition and appreciation of knowledge and
13 ,Humility in Organizations 7 guidance beyond the self, it is an important principle in many major world religions Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, etc. Humility is also central to many philosophical discussions of morality. Immanuel Kant, for example, viewed humility as a "meta-attitude which constitutes the moral agent's proper perspective on himself' and a virtue foundational to most other virtues (Grenberg, 2005: 133). Humility in general has been categorized as a temperance virtue that guards against excess (Park and Peterson, 2003). Although the virtue of humility has rich historical roots, conceptualizations of humility vary significantly across philosophical, theological and psychological perspectives. These opposing conceptualizations have rendered attempts to derive consensus about the definition of humility difficult. Furthermore, attempts to assimilate different conceptualizations of humility from these fields has led to complex definitions that in some cases contain up to six different subcomponents making humility an unwieldy construct to operationalize (i.e. Tangney, 2002). Previous attempts to define humility can be broadly classified into two categories: lowliness or strength. Some common definitions conceptualize humility as being of little worth or value. For instance, one source defined humility as "that which is abject, ignoble, or of poor condition,...not worth much" (Catholic Encyclopedia, 2005), or "lowly in kind, state, condition, etc.; of little worth; unimportant; common...lowly in feeling; lacking self-esteem; having a sense of insignificance, unworthiness, dependence, or sinfulness; meek; penitent" (Funk & Wagnall's Dictionary: 653). These "lowliness" depictions of humility, however, do not reflect a
14 Humility in Organizations 8 substantial portion of the academic literature which views humility as a positive trait associated with adaptiveness, growth, and prosocial patterns. In Tangney's (2001) extensive literature review of humility, she shows that while lay definitions of humility often emphasize low self-regard and unworthiness, the "experts" in philosophy, theology, and psychology describe humility as a rich, multifaceted virtue or strength. The first step in developing a definition of the humility construct was to conduct an analysis of the current literature. I used three criteria in selecting articles for the literature analysis. Specifically, I included articles written within the last 10 years (first criteria) whose main intent was to define the humility construct (second criteria) from psychological or organizational behavior journals or book chapters (third criteria). I limited my analysis to psychological-based outlets because I was mainly interested in developing a humility construct that could be operationalized and measured in work settings. Myself and two other academic researchers reviewed this literature independently and then met to discuss the components of humility. After some discussion, the proposed four-factor structure was agreed upon. Table 1 presents the results of this literature analysis broken down into the subcomponents of the humility construct. In line with this analysis and drawing from previous definitions of humility (i.e. Morris et al. 2005; Exline et al. 2004; Tangney, 2002; Templeton, 1997; Means, 1990), I define humility as a developmental orientation which is associated with: (a) a willingness to view oneself accurately, (b) an appreciation of others' strengths and contributions, (c) teachability, and (d) a low self-focus. These components form the
15 Humility in Organizations core features of humility and are tightly interrelated. An elaboration of this humility definition and its components is presented below. A Developmental Orientation Humility is an orientation that represents an underlying belief in one's capacity for substantial growth and self-development. This idea derives from the socialcognitive model of implicit theories of the self (Dweck Leggett, 1988). In this framework, implicit theories are underlying beliefs that orient individuals to specific goals which impact their cognitions, affect, motivations, and behaviors. Learning goal orientations (LGO), for example, are based on an implicit theory that ability is malleable or increasable. This belief has been shown to foster, among other things, task persistence, challenge seeking, a favorable view toward effort, and task mastery (Dweck, 1999). While LGO is based on an implicit incremental theory of ability or intelligence, humility is based on an implicit incremental theory of the entire self, and thus is not limited to what one can do as determined by ability, skills, and intelligencebut also includes beliefs about the malleability of who one isone's personal characteristics, sense of worth, and morality. Humble people believe they can be better people than they currently are. As an orientation, humility also shares similarities with LGO in that it is proposed to have both trait and state qualities. Individuals will likely have baseline levels of humility due to heredity, socialization, and accrued life experience. However, because humility is a social-cognitive construct like learning goal orientations, its degree of expression will likely vary according to situational cues.
16 Humility in Organizations 10 Ultimately, the connection between humility and implicit theories of the self is an empirical question that should be directly tested. However, research supports the theoretical connection between incremental implicit theories and the subcomponents of humility. Past studies have shown, for example, that incremental implicit theories foster a more tempered and accurate self view (accounting for previous successes and failures in self-evaluations; Dweck, 1999), a willingness to acknowledge the improvements of others (Heslin, Latham, & VandeWalle, 2005), and receptiveness to negative feedback in achievement (Dweck & Leggett, 1988) and social situations (Goetz & Dweck, 1980). Willingness to See the Self Accurately The first component of the definition of humility captures a desire to engage in an on-going process of achieving accurate self-awareness. The virtue of humility fosters a more objective appraisal of personal strengths, as well as limitations such as ignorance, incompetence, and fallibility. Put another way, humility fosters a more balanced assessment of intrapersonal resources, including skills, intelligence, knowledge, and experience. In agreement with Exline and colleagues (2004), I suggest that the willingness to see the self accurately is approximate and can improve over time and with experience.' This nondefensive willingness to consider positive or negative information about the self is associated with Kernis' (2003: 14) concept of balanced processing, which involves "not denying, distorting, exaggerating, or ignoring private knowledge, internal experiences, and externally based evaluative information. Instead, I note, however, that Exline and colleagues (2004) insist that such a willingness to objectively view the self will usually lead to actual attainment of accuracy over time.
17 Humility in Organizations 11 [balanced processing] involves objectivity and acceptance of one's positive and negative aspects, attributes, and qualities."2 In an organizational context, these outcomes imply that this component of the humility construct may have implications for ethical behavior, the quality of interpersonal work relationships, and performance. Employees with a more accurate awareness of their own intrapersonal resources will be less prone to overconfidence, which is the root of a myriad of organizational problems and poor decisions (McIntyre and Salas, 1995). A balanced awareness will help organizational members to more accurately know when to take action and when they need to learn more about an issue, and which ventures the individual is capable of handling competently and which endeavors should not be attempted due to incompetence or inexperience. Appreciation of Others' Strengths and Contribution. According to Means et al. (1990: 214), "Humility is an increase in the valuation of others and not a decrease in the valuation of self" Humility fosters attitudes and behaviors that are other-enhancing rather than self-enhancing (Morris et al., 2004) and leads one to acknowledge and value others' strengths (Tangney, 2002). Humility allows one to acknowledge and admire the strengths and contributions of others without feeling threatened by them (Ex line et al., 2004). Based on an incremental theory of the self, humility allows individuals to view their present limitations as 2 From a general psychological standpoint, longitudinal research has shown that individuals who maintain more realistic self-views tend to be more psychologically healthy and have a higher general well-being (Vaillant, 1992)- In-contrast, individuals with self- enhancing and inaccurately positive self-perceptions are more likely to be maladjusted over the long-term (Ungerer, Waters, Barnett, and Dolby, 1997), be more deceitful, have a more brittle ego-defense system, have less social poise and presence, and be less productive (Colvin, Block, & Funder, 1995).
18 Humility in Organizations 12 improvable, and the positive modeling of others is seen as valuable to them for learning to strengthen their own weaknesses. From an organizational perspective, studies have found that when individuals are given power they tend to devalue the worth and contributions of others (Kipnis, 1972). In contrast, I propose that individuals who possess the virtue of humility will transcend this tendency and will instead maintain a genuine appreciation and high valuation of the efforts, strengths, and abilities of their co-workers. This is not to say that individuals with humility will be oblivious to their co-workers'/subordinates' weaknesses and incompetencies, but rather will be able to more readily identify and value the unique abilities and strengths of those with whom they work. Humble employees will not devalue others in order to boost their own confidence or bolster their own self-images. This facet of humility is related to the concept of leader inclusiveness, or the degree to which team leaders invite input and show appreciation for the contributions of group members (Nembhard & Emondson, 2006). Teachability The third essential component of humility is teachabilityopenness to learning, feedback, and new ideas. As humility is proposed to be rooted in a developmental orientation toward the self, this suggests an implicit belief in the utility of learning and the potential for growth, and self-expansion. Tangney (2000: 72) argued that "humility carries with it an open-mindedness, a willingness to...seek advice, and a desire to learn." Similarly, Templeton (1997: 162) noted, "Inherent in
19 Humility in Organizations 13 humility resides an open and receptive mind... it leaves us more open to learn from others." The ability for employees to learn effectively is critical for organizations competing in this "knowledge economy" (Dane & Pratt, 2007). The rapid advance of technology and increasing specialization of work suggest that organizations are in greater need of employees who are teachable and have a desire and willingness to acquire new skills, absorb new information, and learn from others. Teachability may be a particularly important component of humility in leadership contexts. Alexander and Wilson (in Church, 1998) argued that a thirst for learning is one of the most critical capacities of effective leaders. Tichy (1997) also insisted on the importance of leaders having a "teachable point of view." Lastly, Weick (2001: 110) stated that when a leader is able to humbly admit, "I don't know," "that admission forces the leader to drop pretense, drop omniscience, drop expert authority, drop a macho posture, and drop monologues... listening and exploring is the consequence." Low Self-focus Finally, humility connotes a relatively low self-focus. Park and Peterson (2003: 36) categorize humility as a "temperance virtue", meaning "strengths that protect against excess." In the case of humility, this has particular reference to protecting against excessive ego, excessive self-importance, and excessive self-focus. While narcissism reflects an intoxication with and fixation on the self, humility involves a "'forgetting of the self, while recognizing that one is but one part of the larger universe" (Tangney, 2002: 74).
20 Humility in Organizations 14 In organizational research, a significant amount of effort has been expended to understand what causes individuals to transcend self-interest to perform extra-role behaviors that benefit coworkers and the organization (George and Brief, 1992; Podsakoff et al., 1993; Organ and Ryan, 1995), and in general seeking the good of the collective above self-interest. Humility may be an important quality that fosters more cooperative and prosocial behaviors in the workplace (Exline and Geyer, 2004). Humility in the Nomological Network When seeking to validate a new construct it is important to explain where it fits within the nomologicial network and what unique conceptual space the new construct fills (Schwab, 1980, Hinkin, 1998). Humility is related to but distinct from many existing constructs. From reviewing the literature, it seems most important to differentiate humility from the existing constructs of modesty, narcissism, openness to experience, and learning-goal orientation. Modesty. Modesty connotes a restrained or "played down" estimation of one's accomplishments or qualities, whereas humility seeks an accurate understanding of one's strengths and weaknesses. Modesty focuses less on how one views one's weaknesses and more on how one should view and portray one's strengths. Modesty also has implications for rules of social etiquette, connoting propriety and moderation in behavior and dress. Modesty has been operationalized behaviorally as a tendency to withhold positive information about the self (Baumeister & Jones, 1978) and as deferring credit for success (Hareli & Weiner, 2000). However, modesty differs from humility in several important ways. First, modesty has less to do with the motivation
21 Humility in Organizations 15 for personal learning and personal development, like humility, and more to do with having the social savvy not to draw too much attention, talk too much about, or boast about one's self. Unlike humility, modesty also does not address how one views others. In general, modesty is a public stance toward self-evaluative information, while humility is a "private stance toward self-evaluative information" (Ex line et al., 2004: 463). Narcissism. Narcissism describes excessive self-love and has been viewed as a "personality trait encompassing grandiosity, arrogance, self-absorption, entitlement, fragile self-esteem, and hostility" (Rosenthal & Pittinsky, 2006: 617). It has been argued that a moderate degree of narcissism is good in adults, enabling individuals to maintain a balance between seeking the needs of ourselves and the needs of others (Morrison, 1997). Narcissism is likely to be negatively related to humility, but humility is not merely an absence of narcissism. While narcissism has been associated with extremes in self-concept (i.e., frequent oscillations between grandiose and worthless self-views), humility represents a more tempered, stable view of the self. Openness to experience. Openness to experience, as part of the Big Five personality model, describes the extent to which someone is imaginative and insightful, has a broad range of interests, and appreciates art, emotion, novelty, unusual ideas, and adventure (Barrick and Mount, 1991; McCrae and Costa, 1987). Given its obvious relation to the teachability component of humility, the two constructs are likely to be positively related. Humility, however, focuses on one's approach to self-evaluative information rather than an openness to information and experience in general. Critics
22 Humility in Organizations 16 of the Big Five model claim that this model neglects other important personality dimensions such as self-concept, identity, motivation, religiosity, and snobbishness (see Paunonen,& Jackson, 1996). Humility, with its focus on self-evaluation, selfdevelopment, and self-transcendence, may capture some of the important domain space neglected by the Big Five. Learning goal orientation. As noted above, learning goal orientation represents an adaptive approach to task situations associated with the motivation to understand and master the task rather than to display competence. Theoretically, learning goal orientation and humility share common roots, both stemming from an incremental implicit theory and are therefore likely to be positively related. Learning goal orientation, however, stems from an implicit theory of ability, while humility is an implicit view of the entire selfincluding ability and extending to all other selfcharacteristics. Learning goal orientation was designed to describe cognitive and behavioral response patterns in achievement situations while humility describes response patterns in all self-evaluative situations, including social, moral, and achievement situations. While a learning goal orientation views effort toward task accomplishment as inherently rewarding, humility views efforts expended in selfdevelopment as intrinsically fulfilling. Measuring Humility As mentioned above, most of the work discussing,humility in organizations has been theoretical, and thus, in order to test these theories, a reliable and valid measure of humility must be developed. Attempts to circumvent the problems associated with
23 Humility in Organizations 17 measuring humility have used a variety of proxies aimed at indirectly representing the humility construct. For instance, some have tried to avoid the problems inherent in measuring humility via self-report by simply operationalizing humility as low selfesteem (Knight & Nadel, 1986; Weiss & Knight, 1980). Others have discussed the possibility of measuring humility by comparing the difference between self-report and other-report performance evaluations. According to dictionary definitions of humility given above which suggest humility connotes lowliness or inferior self-concept, those who rate themselves lower than others rate them would be considered to possess humility. However, viewing the self lower than others has often been used as a measure of modesty, which as noted above, is distinct from humility (Farh, Dobbins, & Cheng, 1991; Yu & Murphy, 1993). In addition to using existing scales as proxies for humility, others have tried to develop a valid and reliable self-report measure of dispositional humility. Attempting to circumvent the social desirability bias of measuring humility via self-report, Emmons (as reported in Tangney, 2002) created a scale using a forced choice format. However, results from the initial scale development analysis showed prohibitively low internal consistency. Part of the reason for this is that serious problems exist conceptually with assessing humility via self-report. For someone to consider themselves exceptionally humble seems paradoxical to the construct. Due to problems inherent in measuring humility via self-report, therefore, several scholars have suggested that assessing humility through close observers may be the ideal approach (Exline et al. 2004). For instance, Richards (1992) argued that while those who actually
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