Humble leaders get more commitment

Sut I Wong

Those leaders who are more critical of their own leadership style than their employees are, have greatest success, according to new research.

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The research study shows that leaders with a good self-insight, who are humble and act as credible role models, are rewarded with committed and service-minded employees.

This is the conclusion in a study conducted among 1500 leaders and their employees.

The leaders were asked to assess their own leadership style, while their employees were asked to assess the same style. The eye of the beholder is in fact important for a leader’s ability to create job commitment and a good service climate.

The organisation researchers compared the employees’ assessments and the leader’s assessments of his or her leadership style, and found that the responses were by no means identical – rather the opposite.

The employees decide

Leaders can think whatever they like about their own leadership style. The study shows that leaders’ assessments of themselves have little direct impact on the employees’ commitment to work.

“It is only when we compare the employees’ and the leader’s assessments of the same leadership style that we see how leadership affects commitment and service climate,” says organisation researcher Karoline Hofslett Kopperud, who conducted the study with Professor Øyvind Martinsen and Associate Professor Sut I. Wong Humborstad at BI Norwegian Business School.

This is what researchers call transformational leadership.

When employees feel a leader conducts this type of leadership, it has a positive effect on the perceived service climate in the organisation. It is particularly true when the leader is humble and has a lower opinion of his leadership than his employees have.

“The extent of agreement between the leader and the employees concerning his/her leadership style can both enhance and negate the positive effects of leadership,” says Hofslett Kopperud.

Training in self-insight

The extent of agreement between a leader’s assessment of herself and the employees’ assessment of the same leadership is an expression of the leader’s self-insight. Leaders with a strong self-insight demonstrate a good understanding of their own needs, emotions, abilities and behaviour. On top of that, they are proactive in the face of challenges.

The researchers recommend that leadership development programmes should also contribute to greater correlation between a leader’s own assessment of leadership and the employees’ assessment. This can be achieved by including training in self-reflection and role clarification with one’s nearest staff in the development programme.

“It will give the leader a better understanding of how his or her behaviour is perceived and interpreted by the employees,” says Hofslett Kopperud.


Kopperud,  Karoline Hofslett, m.fl. (2014): Engaging Leaders in the Eyes of the Beholder On the Relationship Between Transformational Leadership, Work Engagement, Service Climate, and Self–Other Agreement. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies February 2014   vol. 21  no. 1  29-42.

This article is published in the online news service ScienceNordic on August 26, 2014.


Text: Audun Farbrot, Head of Science Communication, BI Norwegian Business School.

Published 26. August 2014

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