Bosses who yell, threaten and micromanage their way to the top, often at the expense of miserable underlings are all too common in today's workplaces.
But the Tony Sopranos and Darth Vaders of popular culture are not the most effective CEOs in the real world, according to a new study from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.
The best bosses are humble bosses, those who empower and appreciate their employees, are open to feedback and care about the greater good, according to the research published in Administrative Science Quarterly.
"Humility is not weakness," Angelo Kinicki, a professor of W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, said Tuesday during a phone interview.
"Humility has its effects across levels of an organization in an empowered, uplifting way. You can't browbeat people into performance."
The research comes from Kinicki, Anne Tsui and David Waldman of the W.P Carey School, Amy Ou of the National University of Singapore, Zhixing Xiao of George Washington University, and Lynda Jiwen Song of the Renmin University of China.
They interviewed the CEOs of 63 private companies in China and about 1,000 of the managers who work with them.
What they found is that humble bosses are strong bosses.
Traditionally, bombastic, self-assured, egocentric people are often thought to be the best leaders, Kinicki said.
"There's a stereotype that humble people are weak people, and I've never agreed with that," Kinicki said.
"Humble people are quieter, more in the background, but they lead in a different way, by empowering their employees, which trickles down," Kinicki said.
He said the qualities of a humble boss include:
• Self awareness.
•.Openness to feedback.
• Appreciation of others.
• Low self-focus.
• Appreciation of the greater good.
The qualities of CEOs with less humility include:
• More self-focus.
• Concern over their self gain, as opposed to helping the team.
• More controlling.
• Unilateral decision making.
Opposition to feedback.
The study found that the more humble CEOs acknowledged their weaknesses as well as their strengths, and are more willing to learn.
As one CEO said in the study, "I regard my job as a happy learning experience with pay."
Humble bosses are also grateful to their employees. "I appreciate my team members' passion and identification with this company," one CEO told a researcher.
Kinicki pointed out examples of humble CEOs making the news:
Tony Hsieh of Zappos is a Harvard graduate, who helped boost his company to more than $1 billion in gross merchandise sales annually. He also helped drive Zappos onto Fortune's "100 Best Companies to Work For" list, with innovative customer- and employee-pleasing policies, such as "The Offer," where new employees are offered one-month's salary to leave the company if they're not dedicated and happy.
John Mackey of Whole Foods has shown concern for the greater good through his advocacy of organic food and spearheading his company's move to become the first grocery-store chain to set standards for humane animal treatment. He also announced in 2006 that he was chopping his salary to $1, putting caps on executive pay, and setting up a $100,000 emergency fund for staff facing personal problems.
Mary Barra of General Motors has faced severe criticism for problems created at the company before she took the helm in January. However, she has been quick to apologize and maintain that she's moving from a "cost culture" to a "customer culture" at GM. She has promised to do "the right thing" for those affected by recent recalls and the problems that led to them.
Kinicki knows some people may be surprised by the study results, but he summarizes, "It's time we understood that humility isn't a sign of weakness or lacking confidence, but rather, a good thing that can benefit us all."