Service of a Humble Boss

November 26th, 2018

Categories: Arrogance, Boss, Humility, Office



“I made a tremendous difference in the country. This country is so much stronger now than it was when I took office that you won’t believe it. And I mean, you see it, but so much stronger that people can’t even believe it.”–DJ Trump on Thanksgiving 2018

In contrast to the quote above, my best bosses were humble and I was lucky to have had a few.

A standout was president of a major PR firm–he was my boss’s boss. He never stood on ceremony. If a phone rang on a secretary’s desk as he walked by and nobody else was around, he’d answer it. If a team was working into the night preparing a major presentation or award entry, he’d be editing, proofing, stapling and collating with the rest. Many of us would walk a plank for him.


Elizabeth Shellenbarger’s article, “The Best Bosses Are Humble Bosses,” backed up my experience. She wrote in The Wall Street Journal that while charm and charisma are sought by some corporations for their leaders, humility trumps those characteristics. [The best boss I describe above had these traits too.] Shellenbarger wrote: “In an era when hubris is rewarded on social media and in business and politics, researchers and employment experts say turning the limelight on humble people might yield better results.”

She reported: “Humble leaders can also be highly competitive and ambitious. But they tend to avoid the spotlight and give credit to their teams, Dr. Sherman says. They also ask for help and listen to feedback from others, setting an example that causes subordinates to do the same.” Ryne Sherman is chief science officer of Hogan Assessments that makes workplace personality tests.


At Patagonia, a manager will ask the receptionists how a potential recruit treated them. Arrogance and/or self-absorption are usually deal killers.

“If you think you know which of your colleagues are humble, you could easily be wrong. Humble people don’t flaunt it. And many workers, including arrogant ones, try to be seen as humble and helpful to make a good impression, says Kibeom Lee, a psychology professor at the University of Calgary in Alberta.”

Humility and honesty are considered stable personality traits. The H factor, as it’s known, usually comes with other traits which Shellenbarger lists as sincerity, modesty, fairness, truthfulness and unpretentiousness. “The same people tend to avoid manipulating others, bending the rules or behaving in greedy or hypocritical ways.”


There are exceptions. Shellenbarger wrote: “Some challenges may call for a different leadership style. For example, employees facing extreme threats or intense time pressure might perform better when a leader takes a more authoritative, top-down approach, Dr. Owens says.” Bradley P. Owens is an associate professor of business ethics at Brigham Young University.

I’ve observed that some workers need to be nudged to perform and in certain industries, others might misinterpret humility for weakness.

Do you agree that the best bosses are humble? Have you had any who were or some who were arrogant and manipulative? Did either have any impact on your performance?


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8 Responses to “Service of a Humble Boss”

  1. JBS Said:

    I have worked for both humble and arrogant bosses and I can promise that I was far more eager to go to work and worked harder when I worked for a relatively humble boss.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    JBS–Once I worked for PR agencies, I felt loyalties to my clients and the media so kept on my toes for them though energy lost on the arrogant, self-centered variety must have had an impact on my performance.

  3. Edward Baecher Said:

    Edward wrote on Facebook: It’s a middle ground, negotiating with a client is the same as negotiating with an employee, an employer needs both.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    The fact that you equate your employees with your clients illustrates why you are such a business success: You respect both. It shows in the exemplary work done at NTC Auto—your employees are proud to work for you. That’s how I felt about my best bosses and feel about my best clients.

  5. Protius Said:

    Yes, humility counts for a lot, but trust and honesty – they come together–count for more. There is little worse than a leader who lies to you, or more inspiring than one you can trust. I despise arrogance, but there is nothing worse than working for someone you don’t trust.

  6. jmbyington Said:


    You are right! I’d ignore (moderate) arrogance anyday if I trusted the boss or client. Trust is paramount.

  7. Martha Takayama Said:

    I unequivocally agree that the best bosses are humble. I am suffering constantly from the never ending self-promotion, bragadoccio exaggerations, and lies that surround us daily on personal, professional and political levels. All of this nonsense is enervating and depressing. I am not quite sure who believes any of it. Bragging will never take the place of real work. Being supportive and encouraging your employees should only be productive. And it is unbearable to be assaulted visually and verbally by the presidential lack of humility. Additionally nothing seems to be going very well for him!

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Unfortunately many people believe the blah, blah bragging coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. They ignore that the person puts in little if any effort and just spills out whatever comes to mind. And DJT is so busy blowing his own horn he can’t take time to praise others unless he wants something from them. As soon as they have the tiniest disagreement, they are on his black list and he’ll tear them to shreds in the public square. Remarkable that he keeps the staff he does. Psychological studies of these folks would make for interesting reading.

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