ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2018, Vol. 50 ›› Issue (10): 1159-1168.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2018.01159

• Reports of Empirical Studies • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Modesty brings gains: The effect of humble leader behavior on team creativity from a team communication perspective

Shengming LIU1,Lifan CHEN1(),Simai WANG2   

  1. 1 Guanghua School of Management, Peking University, Peking 100871, China
    2 Gabelli School of Business, Fordham University, New York 10023, USA
  • Received:2017-05-07 Published:2018-10-25 Online:2018-08-23


The development of a dynamic but uncertain environment has recently prompted leadership scholars to shift their attention from relying on leaders to resolve all problems to that of a considerably humble approach that focuses on stimulating the followers’ intention to serve. The current study follows this stream of research and empirically explores the construct of humble leader behavior, which is defined as spotlighting others’ advantage, acknowledging self-limitations, and modeling teachability. However, the existing understanding on humble leader behavior is incomplete because only a few studies have explored this behavior’s influence on team creativity. The present study discusses the influence mechanism and boundary condition of humble leader behavior on team creativity from a communication perspective. We propose that horizontal communication (e.g., reflective communication among team members) and vertical communication (e.g., feedback communication between team members and team leaders) could mediate the relationship between humble leader behavior and team creativity. We also consider team composition as a boundary condition and suggest that the effect of humble leader humble is moderated by team cognitive diversity.

The research sample included 342 employees and 76 team leaders from 4 large technology companies in China, thereby enabling us to collect multi-source and time-lagged data. At Time 1, the employees evaluated their leaders’ humble behavior and cognitive diversity of their team. After one month, at Time 2, the employees evaluated their reflective communication in teams and feedback communication with team leaders, while the team leader rated the team creativity. We conducted path analysis using Mplus 7.0 to test the theoretical model.

Results showed that humble leader behavior was positively related to team creativity. Such influence was mediated by team reflective communication among team members and feedback communication between team leaders and team members. In addition, team cognitive diversity moderated the positive indirect effect of the humble leader behavior on team creativity via communication processes. That is, when the team cognitive diversity was high, the positive indirect effect was stronger than the condition when the team cognitive diversity was low.

Moreover, results enrich the research on the field of humble behavior by advancing a new influence mechanism and exploring a significant boundary condition of the humble leader behavior. The present study also contributes to the creativity literature by determining the important role of the “bottom-up” leader behavior. This process is realized by the team communication processes, which include reflective communication among team members and feedback communication between team members and team leaders. Furthermore, we extend the understanding of team communication processes by integrating horizontal and vertical communication and providing evidence on its influence on team creativity. We also respond to the appeal to obtain a solution to the increasingly prevalent management issue of diversity management. Our study suggests that humble leader behavior is effective in the management of team cognitive diversity through utilizing the positive effect of team cognitive diversity on team creativity. Overall, the current study has immense theoretical and practical implications.

Key words: leader humble behavior, reflective communication, feedback communication, team cognitive diversity, team creativity

CLC Number: