2.1. Leader Humility, OCB, and Withdrawal Behavior
The word humility derives from the Latin term humus, meaning “earth”, and humi, meaning “on the ground” [4
]. Humility as a concept has been called “the fertile soil from which all other virtues grow” [14
]. Accordingly, Owens and Hekman [4
] defined leader humility behavior as “leading from the ground”. Different from “top-down” leadership (i.e., authoritarian leadership, paternalistic leadership, or transformational leadership), leader humility is a “bottom-up” leadership style [13
] that is distinctly characterized in the following three aspects: (1) a willingness to see the self accurately—humble leaders have the courage to admit their own shortcomings and mistakes in front of their subordinates, pursue a more objective appraisal of strengths and limitations, and not feel ashamed to ask for help and learn from their subordinates; (2) a genuine appreciation of subordinates’ strengths and contributions—humble leaders often publicly express recognition and praise for their subordinates for their efforts, strengths, and excellent working abilities, without feeling threatened by them; and (3) modeling teachability—humble leaders show openness to new ideas and information, prefer to listen to and think carefully about subordinates’ opinions before speaking, and are very receptive to others’ feedback on their current course of action [3
]. Although previous studies have confirmed the positive impact of leader humility on employees [3
], there is little empirical understanding of how leader humility influences subordinates’ development of OCB and reduction of withdrawal behavior.
Organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) refers to a series of constructive and voluntary behaviors in employees that are not explicitly stipulated by the job description and not included in the formal reward system in the organization, but can promote the effective functioning of the organization [20
]. OCB is a typical extra-role behavior that is not included in the scope of reward and punishment standards of the organization. OCB can not only “serve as an effective means of coordinating activities between team members and across work groups”, but also “enhance the organization’s ability to attract and retain the best people by making it a more attractive place to work” and “enhance an organization’s ability to adapt to environmental changes” [22
]. Previous research indicates that OCB is negatively related to employee turnover intention and plays a positive role in organizational performance [22
]. Therefore, it is of great importance for the organization to understand how to effectively motivate employees to engage in more OCB. Prior studies have demonstrated that leaders’ ethical behavior and supportive leadership lead to more frequent OCB in employees [24
]; yet, discussions of the effect of leader humility on OCB is rare [26
]. This is the research gap our study tries to fill.
Withdrawal behaviors were defined by Hanisch and Hulin [27
] as a set of negative behaviors that employees enact to avoid work tasks under dissatisfying organizational situations. Examples of employee withdrawal behaviors include withholding efforts at work, lateness, absenteeism, social loafing, and turnover [28
]. Relevant studies show that such behaviors are widespread in organizations and have strong destructive effect on an enterprise’s healthy development. For example, Sagie et al. [28
] used data from a middle-sized high-tech company in Israel to calculate that the economic loss due to employee withdrawal behavior was as high as USD 2.8 million (accounting for 16.5% of the company’s pre-tax income). Other recent empirical studies also showed the negative effect of employees’ withdrawal behaviors on their job performance [31
]. Given that employee’s withdrawal behavior has such a negative impact on the organization, the way in which to effectively curb employee’s withdrawal behavior is exactly what we try to explore in this article.
According to social information processing theory, individuals tend to judge and understand their work environments by processing social information and then construct and interpret events in the workplace. Such interpretations will, in turn, shape their work attitudes and behaviors [14
]. Previous studies suggest that leaders are crucial sources of social information because of their high status and direct interactions with their subordinates [33
]. Subordinates tend to gather useful information from their leaders’ statements and behaviors to shape the perception of the work environment [13
]. As such, when humble leaders express appreciation and respect toward their subordinates and encourage them to give full play to their own light, it will arouse strong gratitude and trust in subordinates [3
]. In turn, this increases subordinates’ OCB. Moreover, as leader humility is a bottom-up leading approach, one of its features is that the leader pays more attention to employees’ welfare and satisfying their needs [19
]. Such leaders’ behaviors can enhance employees’ willingness to exhibit more OCB by arousing a strong sense of reciprocity and social exchange [6
Similar to the above mechanism, we propose that leader humility may attenuate subordinates’ withdrawal behaviors. Previous studies have revealed that employees tend to exhibit withdrawal behaviors when they experience less organizational support, feel unimportant, are not challenged in their job or are dissatisfied with the work conditions, or experience a lack of trust [27
]. By contrast, leader humility can attenuate employees’ withdrawal behavior by creating a safe work environment [13
]. Specifically, humble leaders admit their own shortcomings and mistakes in front of their subordinates, express appreciation toward their subordinates, and encourage subordinates to try new methods to fulfill tasks [3
], which makes employees feel that their work is valued and important. Furthermore, humble leaders respect and trust their subordinates and show openness to new ideas and information [3
], which makes employees feel psychologically safe when engaging in challenging work tasks [13
]. In particular, humble leaders provide support and help when employees encounter difficulties [7
], which will make subordinates less likely to exhibit withdrawal behaviors “because the perception of a safe climate allows them to overcome the anxiety and fear of failure” [13
]. Therefore, leader humility may curb subordinates’ withdrawal behaviors.
On the basis of the above analysis, we proposed the following hypotheses:
Leader humility is positively related to subordinates’ OCB.
Leader humility is negatively related to subordinates’ withdrawal behavior.
2.2. Leader Humility and Subordinates’ PsyCap
PsyCap refers to “the general core psychological element of an individual’s positive psychological state of development (p.2)” [37
]. It consists of the four dimensions of self-efficacy (having the confidence to take on and put in the necessary effort to succeed at challenging tasks), optimism (making a positive attribution about succeeding now and in the future), hope (persevering toward goals and, when necessary, redirecting paths to goals in order to succeed), and resilience (when beset by problems and adversity, sustaining and bouncing back and even beyond to attain success), emphasizing the strength and positive psychological power of the person [38
]. Very simply, PsyCap can be viewed as “who you are” and “what you can become in terms of positive development” [39
] and is differentiated from human capital (“what you know”), social capital (“who you know”), and financial capital (“what you have”) [1
]. Some studies have confirmed that individual PsyCap has positive effects on individuals’ job attitudes [40
], work behaviors [42
], and performance [1
]. In addition, PsyCap has been shown to predict satisfaction with work, health, relationships, and life in general [43
]. As a role model in an organization or team, the leader plays an effective role in guiding their subordinates to develop their self-confidence, hope, optimism, and resilience [45
We propose that leader humility encourages and promotes subordinates’ PsyCap. A humble leader can “provide positive feedback on team performance; encourage new ways of accomplishing the work; create a sense of validation of strengths; and foster a positive, growth-based, developmental paradigm about organizational life” [14
], which contributes to the development of subordinates’ positive PsyCap. Specifically, humble leaders show several characteristics and behaviors that contribute to developing subordinates’ PsyCap: (1) humble leaders attach importance to the value and appeal of employees and are more willing to provide subordinates with work support and help, which can motivate employees to work hard and perform at their best [3
]. Subordinates therefore have more confidence to put in the necessary effort to succeed at challenging tasks (self-efficacy) [1
]; (2) humble leaders believe that individuals’ abilities can be shaped, and therefore they encourage subordinates to actively embrace challenges, explore new ways to solve problems, and persevere in their goals, and, when necessary, redirect paths to goals to succeed (hope); (3) humble leaders can sincerely appreciate others’ efforts, strengths, and contributions, and thus they are keen to give praise and rewards timeously when their subordinates perform well, which can help subordinates to develop a positive attribution (optimism) for succeeding now and in the future; (4) humble leaders not only tolerate their subordinates’ failures and mistakes, but also consider mistakes as a normal and even a beneficial part of learning [4
], and therefore, when subordinates are beset by problems and adversity, the humble leader tends to share responsibility and encourage them to continue to try. Accordingly, subordinates can sustain their effort, bounce back, and reach success (resilience). In summary, leader humility has a significant impact on the four components of subordinates’ PsyCap: self-efficacy, optimism, hope, and resilience. Rego et al.’s [14
] research has found that leader humility has a positive influence on team’s PsyCap. Therefore, we propose the following hypothesis:
Leader humility is positively related to subordinates’ PsyCap.
2.3. The Mediating Role of Subordinates’ PsyCap
We also propose that subordinates’ positive PsyCap has an important driving effect on their OCB and a significant attenuating effect on withdrawal behavior. This means that subordinates’ PsyCap may play a mediating role in the relationship between leader humility and subordinates’ OCB/withdrawal behavior. First, several previous studies support the promoting effect of positive PsyCap on employees’ extra-role behaviors [10
]. For example, Qian et al. [46
] found that employees with higher self-efficacy are less reluctant to speak up; Norman et al.’s [10
] research demonstrated that positive PsyCap can promote employees to engage in more OCB and fewer deviance behaviors; and Avey et al.’s [48
] meta-analysis supported the idea that PsyCap is positively related to desirable OCB behaviors, and negatively related to undesirable behaviors (turnover and deviance). Consistent with these arguments, we propose the idea that subordinates’ perceptions of leader humility may create positive work conditions necessary for subordinates’ PsyCap to flourish, which, in turn, will promote subordinates to engage in more OCB [10
] and fewer withdrawal behaviors [48
In summary, by providing support and help to their subordinates, trusting and appreciating their abilities and efforts, and tolerating their failures and mistakes, leader humility will be conducive to promoting and developing subordinates’ PsyCap, thereby causing subordinates to show more OCB and reduce withdrawal behavior. We therefore propose the following hypotheses:
PsyCap mediates the relationship between leader humility and subordinates’ OCB.
PsyCap mediates the relationship between leader humility and subordinates’ withdrawal behavior.
demonstrates our theoretical model, which includes hypotheses 1–4.