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What Is Power Without Humility?

March 8, 2018

Humble Leaders Build Powerful Teams

Written by Jennifer Moss Breen, EdD

When a leader has the combination of power and humility, it creates a dynamic person who not only knows how to assert power, but who can create a healthy team the process. Although it seems counter-intuitive as a leadership quality, humility creates a work culture that is not only effective – it is more productive too. We view the self-absorbed, directive, demanding type of leader as the opposite of humble. We know that the self-absorbed, directive and demanding leader is not typically considered effective. So how do we create leaders who are humble and who know how to drive organizational change? 

An aerial view of people walking across a street

Power, as described briefly by French and Raven (1959) includes the following: 

  • Referent Power – being viewed favorably by others, having good rapport, and having the respect and trust of employees
  • Expert Power – having vast knowledge in an area that is necessary for and desired by those within the organization
  • Reward Power – leaders who can give employees something of value, such as greater income or workplace perks
  • Coercive Power – leaders who can punish follower by withholding things of value such as job mobility, income, or workplace perks
  • Legitimate Power – leaders who hold formal positions of authority -- direct supervisors        

Employees who work under the guidance of a humble leader develop a process of becoming stronger through learning because humble leaders understand that we can learn through mistakes. Humble leaders admit when they have made a mistake, empowering others to do the same. Humble leaders also acknowledge the efforts of others, seek input from their team, and admit that they don't have all the answers. Through humble leader behavior, employees become more and do more because they are equipped by the humble leader to do so, creating organizational outcomes such as follower engagement, psychological freedom, continuous learning and greater adaptability.  

You can see that humility, when combined with power, is a very strong characteristic. We can all learn to be humble while embracing our power. Power alone is not enough. Humility builds power among the team. Humility itself is powerful, not weak. 

Learn about Creighton's Doctorate of Education in Interdisciplinary Leadership program.

Jennifer Moss-Breen

Jennifer A. Moss Breen, PhD

Program Director, Ed.D.
Graduate School