Discovering Humility, Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness

Identifying truly effective leaders through personality assessments

By Adina Sapp

“There are two key things successful businesses do,” says Ryne Sherman, chief science officer at Hogan Assessments. “They make good decisions about money and they make good decisions about people. Wisdom about money can be taught in formal business classes, but wisdom about hiring decisions is harder.”

This is where the personality experts can help. Sherman is one of the world’s leading personality psychologists, and he stands behind the insight that Hogan’s assessments and other well-validated assessments can provide, especially when it comes to leadership selection. “What makes Hogan’s assessments exceptional is the underlying science,” Sherman says. “Many assessment firms out there are run by computer scientists rather than psychologists. The assessment industry is currently the Wild West with a lack of regulations. In response, Hogan adheres to higher standards. Hogan was founded by a psychologist, and we perform continual research to improve the validity of our products.”

Traditional promotion methods have flaws that need to be weighed against other methods. Hogan’s assessments measure people’s strengths, weaknesses, values and problem-solving approaches. Most importantly, its assessments support decision-making by identifying the qualities of a truly effective leader, rather than just an emergent leader. “Most organizations have leaders who fly under the radar, who are quietly getting the work done and being loved by their team,” Sherman says. “They are the organization’s truly effective leaders, but they often go unnoticed and un-promoted.”

Leadership emergence versus leadership effectiveness isn’t a new concept (psychologists have understood it for decades), but those who make decisions about leader promotion aren’t necessarily aware of the research around humility and organizational effectiveness. “The academic literature on leadership focuses on people who are in leadership roles,” Sherman says. “The problem is that the people in leadership roles are often there for the wrong reasons.”

All too often, it’s the charismatic people who tend to rise quickly in organizations. “They’re good at playing politics, they’re good at seeming to have good ideas, and they rise quickly,” Sherman says. “But research shows charisma isn’t related to performance. Charisma is associated with narcissism, which leads to all sorts of problems. Despite the stereotype that you want a charismatic CEO out doing dramatic things, the data doesn’t reflect that. Humble CEOs do better.”

Well-validated assessments can help decision-makers identify the emotional intelligence that is both a key attribute of a humble, effective leader and among the top targeted skills for executive leadership, according to Chief Learning Officer research.¹ “Humble leaders are good at picking up on how others are feeling because they’re paying attention,” Sherman says.

On the other hand, charismatic leaders are more likely to dismiss negative feedback as lies or ignorance. “Humble leaders come across as more emotionally intelligent because they listen to reporting,” Sherman says. “They listen to feedback and criticism from others, and they see it as a learning opportunity. They’re more coachable. They learn from mistakes and try to get better, whereas leaders without humility tend to blame others or deny that mistakes ever occurred.”

Humility isn’t self-defeating; it isn’t low self-esteem. In fact, humble leaders can be fiercely competitive. Their strength isn’t showy, but it is effective. “The leaders who are best at identifying and retaining talent care more about the organization than themselves; the charismatic or narcissistic leaders care about self-advancement and promotion,” Sherman says.

Chief Learning Officer research shows that for most organizations, growing the succession pipeline is the most important goal for leadership development. This makes an investment in personality assessments a top priority as well. On the other hand, C-suite hiring mistakes can cost companies millions of dollars, create downstream problems and have a host of other consequences.² “The danger of not using assessments is financial ruin for the business,” Sherman says.

Another great danger in not using assessments is the potential of legal dangers due to discriminatory hiring practices. “Even if you’re not aware of them, you’re at risk,” Sherman points out.

Personality assessments contribute to effectively leveraging diversity in the workplace by identifying culturally sensitive leaders. “The beauty of personality tests is that everyone gets the same questions; it levels the playing field,” Sherman says.

There is, however, the possibility of over-relying on assessments. “I would never recommend that someone make a hiring decision based solely on a personality assessment,” Sherman says. “The personality assessment is a data point that should be evaluated along with the other data points, such as job history and relevant job tests. Structured job interviews are also more effective than unstructured job interviews.”

To learn more about how Hogan Assessments can contribute to organizational effectiveness, visit

1 CLO 2018 State of the Industry survey.
2 Jones, Don. The Million Dollar Hire.

The international authority in personality assessment, Hogan Assessments has three decades of experience reducing turnover and increasing productivity by helping businesses hire the right people, develop key talent, and evaluate leadership potential.

Grounded in a more than a century of science, the Hogan assessments predict job performance by assessing normal personality, derailment characteristics, and core values.

Hogan’s portfolio of employee selection, development and leadership tools allow companies to better manage their most valuable assets – their people.