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The humble and the humbled: A grounded theory of humility in organizational leadership

J Austin 2013

Despite the clarion call over the past decade for greater humility in organizational leaders, little is known about the construct as a leadership trait. And, while scholars have engaged an energetic debate over how to define humility in an organizational context, there is scant evidence for how humble leaders enact humility, what enables it, and what outcomes humility promotes. The present study draws on various literatures to define the construct of humility, compare humility with related and contrasting constructs, and examine its characteristics in organizational leaders. The study examines findings from a sample of 14 leaders representing multiple levels of leadership across a broad spectrum of private and public sector organizations in the United State and Canada, as well as a sample of 17 employees reporting to a leader who participated in the study. Specifically, the research study assimilates findings and insights from a series of 14 in-depth interviews into a model representing the attributes, actions, antecedents (enablers), and outcomes of humility in leaders and organizations. The study proposes a grounded theory that explains how leaders enact humility in their leadership roles. Further, the study provides insights that validate and elaborate on the findings of other humility research scholars. The richness of the lived experience of leaders as revealed through in-depth interviews tells a story about how humility is expressed in leaders. The study includes discussion of limitations as well as recommendations for future research and practice.

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