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There has been a lot written about the concepts of servant leadership and similar approaches to management – the idea that humility is a powerful attribute for leaders to embrace.

But this recent Inc.com article has collects some interesting findings and writings that suggest otherwise.

Per the article:

In his new book Open Source Leadership: Reinventing Management When There Is No More Business As Usual, leadership guru Rajeev Peshawaria argues that “history shows that people love working for autocratic top-down leaders.” He cites such examples as Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Henry Ford, and Nelson Mandela.

The article goes deeper into research that may support Peshawaria’s book:

A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests that in some instances a more authoritarian hand works better, depending on the leader’s status relative to his or her team. Specifically, low-level employees would rather cede control to the leader while higher-level ones prefer power sharing.

What does all this mean? The article pulls some insight from Jasmine Hu, an associate professor of management at Ohio State University who worked with fellow researchers to associate numbers with this thinking. Per the article:

They found that teams with humble leaders tend to share knowledge freely and be creative–so long as the leaders don’t far outstrip followers in terms of power. On teams with yawning power gaps, however, humble leadership resulted in significantly lower creativity. Although the researchers did not look at things like productivity or morale, Hu expects those outcomes would be roughly the same.

On teams where leaders are much higher status, the propensity to consider others’ opinions “could make team members nervous or uncomfortable because they think that should be under the scope of the leader, not their own responsibility,” Hu says. Under those circumstances, “leader humility actually can do harm to their teams’ creativity.”

This is a fascinating consideration. By no means does it mean that “humility in leadership” is dead. But it does mean that we shouldn’t be close-minded to different leadership styles in different contexts.