Why the Best Leaders Are Humble
A study finds that leaders who underrate their own performance are ranked higher by their employees.
As a leader, you need to be self-aware. Unfortunately, recent studies have found that’s a trait too many leaders painfully lack.
Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman of leadership development consultancy Zenger/Folkman write in Harvard Business Review about their studies that compared how employees rank leaders with how leaders rank themselves.
Zenger and Folkman studied 360-degree feedback reports on 69,000 different managers from 100 different companies. After crunching the data, they write, they found this telling nugget: “Leaders’ views of themselves generally don’t fit with how other people perceive them.”
The duo compared a manager’s self-assessment with an average of all the feedback from the manager’s co-workers, to see how self-aware the managers were in regard to their performance. The answer? Not very.
Next they looked into whether the managers’ inaccurate self-assessments were overrating or underrating their abilities. It turns out they were doing both. Then Zenger and Folkman plotted the leaders’ effectiveness, based on the feedback of their superiors and subordinates, along with their own self-assessments.
“Surprisingly, the most effective leaders did not have the highest level of self-awareness. Indeed, the more they underrated themselves, the more highly they were perceived as leaders,” Zenger and Folkman write. “We assume this is caused by a combination of humility, high personal standards, and a continual striving to be better.”
Instead of projecting an air of infallibility, you want to be humble in the eyes of your employees. Why would people want to take orders from someone who believes they are better than they really are? Zenger and Folkman say leaders who overrate and underrate themselves both have blind spots, but truly effective leaders know they must strive to better themselves and continue to learn.