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Should You Hire Humble or Ethical Leaders?

September 11, 2014

What type of leader would you want to work for?

If a leader is humble or ethical in their demeanor, they will be perceived more positively by those they supervise. In turn, their leadership will be more effective and accepted. Having solid leadership within organizations is crucial for success. Therefore, leadership styles that are received positively by employees will have positive results for the leader and organization.

Research is demonstrating that the humble approach is especially beneficial for the increasingly dynamic and complex organizations that we see today. 

What makes a leader humble? 

  • Actively seeking feedback

  • Admitting when they do not know how to do something

  • Acknowledging when others have more knowledge than them

  • Taking notice of others’ strengths and complimenting them on those strengths

  • Appreciating contributions of others

  • Willingness to learn

  • Openness to new ideas and advice from others

People who express these characteristics tend to be sincere, fair, and modest. They are not likely to manipulate others for personal gain, feel temptation to break rules, or to have a sense of entitlement over others. These are the type of individuals that people feel they can trust and respect. Such humility has been linked to higher scores on integrity tests, fewer counterproductive work behaviors, and better values in general.

What makes a leader ethical?

  • Listening to what employees have to say

  • Disciplining employees who violate ethical standards

  • Conducting personal life in an ethical manner

  • Having the best interest of employees in mind

  • Making fair decisions

  • Ability to be trusted

  • Discussing business ethics and values with employees

  • Setting a good example

  • Defining success not just by results, but also by the way that they are achieved

  • Asking, “What is the right thing to do?” when making decisions

Ethical leaders demonstrate appropriate conduct through their actions and relationships as well as promote this sort of conduct to employees via communication, reinforcement, and decision making. 

An excellent pair

Combined, humble and ethical leaders possess numerous traits that could result in excellent leadership. One of the most important of which is good communication. Having effective communication with employees will result in a high level of trust between employees and leadership. Having trust in one’s leader and organization can result in the employee wanting to be successful, not only for themselves, but for others and the organization as a whole. Employees may be more committed to their organization and engaged in their work. Having these types of engaged and committed employees has numerous potential benefits for the organization, some of which include:

  • Higher performance

  • Going above and beyond the job description

  • High morale among employees

  • A sense of pride for the organization

  • Employees who enjoy their job

Overall, it seems as if the tides may be turning and there is a shift toward more collaborative leadership. Employees desire leaders who include them in important conversations and decisions. They want leaders who are open to ideas and are willing to learn. They hope to be able to follow someone that they respect and trust. Establishing this foundation is crucial for successful leadership and starting with humility and ethics may be the key to that success.

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Contributing to this article is: Justin Weinhardt, PhD. Justin is an assistant professor in the human resources and organizational dynamics area at the Haskayne School of Business. His research focuses on understanding how motivation and decision-making change over time using dynamic models with the goal of offering a simple, formal model of human behavior applied to work. Justin’s other research interests include computational modeling, motivation, decision-making, entrepreneurship, overconfidence, ethical judgments, emotions, training and psychometrics. Find him on Twitter: @orgpsychologist

Alli Besl, Ph.D. Alli Besl, Ph.D. was a Research Consultant based in the Pittsburgh office of PSI. Her areas of expertise include: employee turnover, selection and recruitment.