Why Humility is Important: The 7 Signs of Arrogance

December 4, 2023

Examples of Humility

Why is humility important for leaders? This pivotal question underpins our two decades of research into how leadership traits, specifically humility and arrogance, affect leadership effectiveness. This exploration challenges traditional perceptions and reveals surprising insights about humility in leadership.


  • Humble leaders typically exhibit higher effectiveness compared to their arrogant counterparts. This study employed a 360-degree assessment to evaluate these traits, analyzing feedback from various organizational levels. Notably, leaders who undervalued themselves were considered humble, while those overestimating their abilities were deemed arrogant. Among 708 leaders analyzed, humble leaders rated significantly higher in overall effectiveness (66th percentile) compared to arrogant leaders (34th percentile). Further, the research delved into how even a hint of arrogance can negatively impact a leader’s perceived effectiveness. Humility in leadership, far from being a weakness, is a vital driver of success and should be actively cultivated for more effective and inclusive leadership.

Studying Humble and Arrogant Leaders

When most people meet or interact with an arrogant leader, they might find the personality trait annoying or frustrating but may not believe it negatively impacts leadership effectiveness. In fact, some even believe that a little arrogance may be a positive trait for a leader.

Several years ago, a client wanted us to measure arrogance and humility using a 360-degree assessment. Our study utilized a comprehensive 360-degree assessment to gauge leadership traits. This method, involving feedback from various levels within an organization, offers a holistic view of a leader’s impact. We specifically measured arrogance and examples of humility through an item: “Avoids acting arrogantly, and constantly tries to listen and learn from others.”

In-Depth Data Analysis of Arrogant Vs. Humble leadership

We compared these assessments against norms. Leaders who rated themselves lower than others’ ratings were deemed humble, while those who overestimated themselves compared to others’ ratings were categorized as arrogant. Among 708 leaders analyzed, 20% were arrogant, and 14% were humble. Surprisingly, humble leaders were rated at the 66th percentile in overall effectiveness, significantly higher than the 34th percentile for arrogant leaders.

Addressing Counterarguments and Limitations

Once we discovered the effectiveness of measuring arrogance and humility in leadership, we speculated that by using the same process of comparing self-report results to ratings from others, we could determine arrogance or humility examples on larger datasets. We correlated all the other behaviors measured with the original arrogance item and discovered the five items that were the most predictive. Using this five-item index,we were able to accurately determine both a small level (e.g., one item) of arrogance and humility to a large level (e.g., all five items). The dataset used in our second study was much larger, assessing 118,247 leaders.

Why is Humility Important? Zenger Folkman Leadership Study
Examples of Humility- Zenger Folkman Leadership Study

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Impact of arrogance or humility in leadership on perceived overall effectiveness:

We wanted to find out if being a bit arrogant affects how effective a leader is seen to be. So, we checked how leaders rated themselves and how others rated them using a new five-item scale. The graph shows something interesting: a small hint of arrogance (1 item marked arrogant) dropped a leader’s effectiveness from average (49th percentile, marked as 0) to below average (34th percentile, marked as -1). This drop is a big deal!

Also, if leaders were a bit more humble, their effectiveness went up from average to above average (62nd percentile). That’s also a big deal.

Take a look at the extremes in the graph: very arrogant leaders (-5 on the scale) were seen as less effective, landing at the 20th percentile. But the most humble leaders (+5) scored high, reaching the 78th percentile in effectiveness. The percentages along the bottom of the graph show how many leaders fall into each category. The numbers might seem small at the very high and low ends, but they actually represent a lot of leaders – 1,802 at the -5 level and 2,710 at the +5 level.

It’s surprising, but true: thinking you’re better than others think you are can really hold you back. Imagine everyone else rates your skills lower than you do. This overconfidence can actually have a big downside. On the flip side, just considering that you might not be as great as you hope puts you in the ‘humble’ zone. When we compared arrogant people (those rated from -5 to -1) to humble ones (rated from 1 to 5), we found seven key skills where the two groups really differed. It’s like a secret key to success: knowing you’re not perfect makes you better!

Why is humility important? The 7 Signs of Arrogance

  1. Relationships: Arrogant leaders often harm workplace relationships due to their inability to value others’ opinions or contributions. For example, a CEO who consistently interrupts or belittles employees during meetings can create a toxic work environment, leading to decreased morale and increased turnover.
  2. Honesty and Integrity: Arrogant leaders may be seen as untrustworthy because they prioritize their own interests over the truth. An example is a leader who manipulates data to make their performance look better, eroding trust among colleagues and direct reports.
  3. Being a Team Player: Arrogant leaders often prioritize their own ideas and dismiss others, creating conflict within teams. An example is a project leader who disregards team input, insisting on their approach, which can result in failed projects and demotivated team members.
  4. Less Coachable: Their resistance to feedback can hinder their growth and affect the organization. For instance, a senior executive might dismiss market research that contradicts their vision, leading the company in a less profitable direction. (Learn more about the leadership superpower- COACHABILITY.)
  5. Fails to Keep Others Informed: Arrogant leaders’ poor communication can lead to strategic misalignments. For example, a department head who doesn’t clearly communicate changes in project priorities can cause confusion and inefficiency among team members.
  6. Less Inclusive: Their lack of appreciation for diversity can create a hostile work environment. An example is a leader who consistently promotes and favors individuals who share their background or perspectives, ignoring the value of diverse viewpoints and experiences.
  7. Insufficient Focus on Developing Others: They often fail to mentor or develop their team. An example of this is a manager who focuses solely on short-term goals and neglects the long-term professional growth of their team members, resulting in a lack of skill development and career progression opportunities within the team.

Humility in leadership, contrary to being perceived as a weakness, often leads to higher effectiveness. However, it’s crucial to note that humility does not equate to being overly passive or indecisive. It involves genuine self-awareness and a commitment to organizational goals and team development.

Conclusion with Practical Recommendations

Humble leaders are often the most effective, and it’s clear why when you look at these seven areas. Arrogance can wreak havoc, especially in building relationships and maintaining honesty and integrity. An arrogant leader first ruins relationships and then loses people’s trust. The biggest takeaway from this research?

Humility isn’t just a nice trait; it’s a key driver of a leader’s success.

But remember, being humble doesn’t mean being weak or self-deprecating. It’s about being fully committed and authentic, not faking it. A humble leader is deeply devoted to their organization’s goals and genuinely values their team members.

Leaders can cultivate humility by actively seeking feedback, acknowledging their limitations, and showing genuine interest in team development. By understanding the profound impact of humility and arrogance in leadership, we can foster more effective and inclusive leadership styles that benefit individuals and organizations alike.

Joe Folkman, President of Zenger Folkman

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