Humility Gets its Due

Submitted By:
Michael Arjona, The Walker School, GA

We Like Leaders Who Underrate Themselves by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman
Harvard Business Review, November 10, 2015

Confidence is an oft-cited core trait of leadership, and the key to Daniel Goleman's work on emotional intelligence is self-awareness. Therefore, one would expect effective leaders to have a very accurate view of their strengths and weaknesses and to err on the side of overconfidence to enable them to make tough decisions and lead in the midst of uncertainty. However, a study of 360-degree feedback data on 79,000 managers by Harvard Business Review found that the most effective leaders underrate their own abilities; in fact, the more they underrate themselves, the higher is their perceived effectiveness as a leader. The implication is important: in the judgment of constituent groups, the combination of "humility, high personal standards, and a continual striving to be better" that drives a leader to underrate himself or herself outweighs the benefits of true self-awareness or overconfidence. The authors do warn that there are downsides to underrating yourself - the emotional toll of continually proving yourself or the possibility of taking on less challenging projects - but it is helpful to remind current and potential leaders in our institutions of the importance of humility when taking on the complicated tasks of school leadership.

Leadership Practice