Humble CEOs

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A new study shows that humble CEOs are better for a company than a leader who insists everything be done their way. Professor Angelo Kinicki, the Weatherup/Overby Chair in Leadership at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, will talk about his new report.

Ted Simons: A new study shows that humble CEOs are better for a company than a leader who insists that everything be done their way. We will talk about the new report. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon."

Angelo Kinicki: Thank you.

Ted Simons: What exactly did you look at with this study?

Angelo Kinicki: We were interested to see if humble leaders could have an effect leading to greater productivity in their organization. That was a real question.

Ted Simons: As opposed to?

Angelo Kinicki: A narcissistic leader or an autocratic or browbeater leader. We wanted to see if someone who had the characteristics of humility could have results.

Ted Simons: You're talking blow hard here?

Angelo Kinicki: We are.

Ted Simons: Define a humble CEO.

Angelo Kinicki: Okay. You know this was a hard question because there's not one clear definition but let me tell you what makes it up. The first thing is if the foundation of the belief that there's something greater in life than me. I'm not the most important thing. Humble CEOs have that belief. They have a few other characteristics. Number one, high self-awareness. They are people who tend to like to get feedback and they use it to understand their strengths and weaknesses. Now, that leads to an interesting thing. Because they understand their strengths and weaknesses, they tend to appreciate that all of us have strengths and weaknesses. Therefore when things go wrong, they're more caring and they handle it in a much better way and the last component of a humble leader is the belief in a greater good, that we should do things that help others besides just me and what we find is when we do things to help others, that it will come back and help you as well because people like to reciprocate when good things happening.

Ted Simons: Are you basically saying a trickle down of good things and empathy?

Angelo Kinicki: Exactly right. We call it contagion. What happens is when people behave in a certain way, where I'm the narcissist or the humble person, other employees look at it and when they're humble what we find is that people tend to like the leader. They want to work harder for the leader. That's that contagion, positivity spreads positivity.

Ted Simons: Define a blowhard.

Angelo Kinicki: There's one kind that's just a blowhard because they like to talk. There's another kind of blowhard that they want to get ahead so they self-promote all the time. Make themselves look better, take credit for other people's work. A humble leader would never do that.

Ted Simons: And yet I think I don't know if it's because of the culture, because of the movies, I don't know what it is, but the thought is you've got to be strong, you've got to be tough, you can't let them get away with anything.

Angelo Kinicki: That's a really good comment. I think there's a stereotype that humility is self-effacing and weak. It is not. Humble people like let's take Gandhi or John Mackey of Whole Foods, these are not soft, weak people. They're strong, disciplined, productive people. It's just that they have an emphasis on helping others rather than doing things for their own self-interest.

Ted Simons: So again, that is not considered like a lack of confidence because we're talking about the corporate structure as seen by the culture, you want the leader out there leading the troops.

Angelo Kinicki: That's an important message. It can be viewed, some people think if I'm humble I don't have the confidence, I'm not a good performer and what I would say to say is the opposite. By demonstrating that what we do at work is often a function of multiple people, by acknowledging people, by showing people that you care about them, you get power through the relationships and the positivity you create and how you interact with people.

Ted Simons: How did you conduct this study?

Angelo Kinicki: We did it in China. We had --

Ted Simons: Why China?

Angelo Kinicki: We did it in China for two reasons. One, we did not think we would find enough variance in humiliate with CEOs in the United States and we did think so in China. One, China is culturally and historically steeped in Confucianism and Taoism and they're going through great economic development, taking on a lot of the western economic policies so what we thought is we would have a nice mix of CEOs who have sort of this competitive economic approach with more traditional Chinese and we found that. We had a nice variance.

Ted Simons: And so you chose China and you got these results, but because it's China and because it is different, you couldn't find that much variance in America, do the results apply in America?

Angelo Kinicki: I would say yes because the critical result we found was how does humility cascade in an organization? It's a process. That process would work in the U.S. as well as it does in China because here's what happens. CEOs empower people. Whether it's China or the U.S. Have you ever been empowered?

Ted Simons: Maybe. [ Laughter ]

Angelo Kinicki: It feels good, right? So when we empower other people, then what we found is people start to collaborate and talk to each other. As they started to do that, then other people in the organization went hey, look, this place cares about me, we're empowered and then they performed higher. I think the same thing would happen in the U.S.

Ted Simons: Can that happen in the U.S. though? Can it happen in a public company in which there are shareholders, results have to be found and if I've got to go find a blowhard to get the results, I'm going to go find a blowhard.

Angelo Kinicki: The answer is yes. Let's take Costco and Whole Foods. Whole Foods, very successful. John Mackey believes in conscious capitalism, that business should be in business to do something other than to make a profit. That is a characteristic of humility. Whole Foods, he was all about paying those people a good wage and we know from the news that that's a hot issue at McDonald's. Costco believes if you treat people well and pay them well, they will have higher productivity. That's the same thing we found.

Ted Simons: It's encouraging for anyone in some sort of power. Good stuff, thanks for joining us.

Angelo Kinicki: Thank you for having me.

Ted Simons: And Friday on "Arizona Horizon," it's the journalists' round table. Another poll shows the governor's race is a tossup and not long after the poll was released, Doug Ducey finally got the endorsement of the GOP primary rivals. Those stories and more Friday right here on the journalists' round table. That is it for now, I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Angelo Kinicki:Professor and Weatherup/Overby Chair in Leadership, W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University;

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