Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 160, Issue 3, pp 729–743 | Cite as

Is Leader Humility a Friend or Foe, or Both? An Attachment Theory Lens on Leader Humility and Its Contradictory Outcomes

  • K. BharanitharanEmail author
  • Zhen Xiong Chen
  • Somayeh Bahmannia
  • Kevin B. Lowe
Original Paper


As studies continue to accumulate on leader humility, it has become clear that humility (one of the moral virtues) in a leader is largely beneficial to his or her followers. While the majority of the empirical research on this topic has demonstrated the positive effects of leader humility, this study challenges that consensus by arguing that a leader’s humble behavior can have contradictory outcomes in followers’ voice behavior. Drawing on attachment theory, we develop a model which takes into account the ways in which leader humility influences the seemingly contradictory voice behavior of followers, i.e., inducing challenging voice (promoting the flexibility toward changes), and defensive voice (showing the persistence toward changes) depending on the followers’ sense of security as reflected by feeling trusted (sensing the leaders’ confidence in them) and self-efficacy for voice (sense of self-confidence). The results of this empirical study confirm that leader humility influences followers’ voice in a contradictory way through their sense of security.


Attachment theory Ethics Humility Moral self-sufficiency Voice 



This study is not funded.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

In this study, we collected data from employees (human) in an IT organization. Before collecting data, we have got an ethical approval from the Australian National University’s (ANU) human ethics committee. Therefore, all procedures performed in study involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the ANU’s human ethics committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the research.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Research School of ManagementThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.Research School of ManagementThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  3. 3.Department of ManagementUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand
  4. 4.The University of Sydney Business SchoolUniversity of SydneyDarlingtonAustralia

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