Over the past 30 years, the Upper Echelons perspective of strategic management has sought to explain a given organization’s strategies and effectiveness as a reflection of the differences in personality, background, and other characteristics of the senior executives that guides each organization. An important stream of research within this field has linked a firm’s strategy to the grandiose way that executives are often thought to view themselves – namely through examining the narcissism, core self-evaluations (CSE), and hubris of Chief Executive Officers (CEOs).
In this dissertation, I focus on understanding the strategic impact of CEO humility – a trait that has often been erroneously thought of to represent a poor view of oneself. Consistent with ancient writings and recent research, humility is defined herein as a multi-faceted trait that is the common core of four dimensions: self-awareness, developmental orientation/teachability, appreciation of others' strengths and contributions, and low self-focus.
In the first essay, I explore the conceptual relevance and various potential implications of executive humility. Drawing on existing empirical research about the humility construct and general behavioral implications of humility, I argue that executive humility is a critical avenue toward a more rich and nuanced understanding of the delicate interplay and implications of executive self-concept.
In essay two, I develop and validate an unobtrusive measure of CEO humility. Ten indicators of humility are suggested and then validated using a self-reported survey administered to a sample of 30 U.S. and Canadian CEOs. Two behaviors were found to be significantly positively related to self-reported humility: CEOs who volunteered some of their time for non-profit organizations and CEO’s who reported that part of their own firm’s success was due to the help of the board of directors.
In essay three, I examine the relationship between the level of CEO humility and four firm-level outcomes. Employing a sample of 163 CEOs appointed to S&P 500 firms between 2005-2008, I show that firms led by humble CEOs (measured by the unobtrusive indicators) tend to outperform others in regards to corporate social performance, while at the same time showing that their financial performance is generally no better or worse.