In recent years, organizations have increasingly focused on employees’ innovative work behaviors, recognizing that these behaviors have a greater influence on organizational performance and can achieve better results [1
]. However, insufficient focus has been given as to how employees can perform well [2
] and achieve better performance [3
] under the supervision of humble leadership (HL). This is particularly important given the potential for workforce diversity in organizations and differences in personalities and opinions [4
]. Such differences among team members can lead to conflict [5
], result in decreased productivity and performance, as well as waste organizational resources [6
]. This is because employee conflict can lead to negative emotions, such as dissatisfaction, frustration, and irritation among team members, ultimately resulting in team dissolution [7
] and poor organizational performance. Therefore, it is crucial for organizations to actively manage and resolve conflict among teams, while promoting diversity and inclusivity within the organization [8
In the literature, various factors have been found to be essential in reducing employee conflict and enhancing creative performance (CP) [9
]. One of the factors that is essential in resolving employee conflict and enhancing creative performance is humble leadership [10
]. Humble leadership is defined as a leadership style that emphasizes sharing power, admitting mistakes, valuing input from others, and seeking to serve subordinates rather than being served by them [11
]. This “bottom-up” leadership style is most successful in dynamic, uncertain, and unexpected contexts, where leaders face increasing challenges at the upper levels [6
]. Research suggests that leaders who display humility may successfully minimize task conflict by honestly assessing themselves [8
], treating others with appreciation, and welcoming new ideas with an open mind [12
]. Scholars have also provided evidence of the impact of leadership on organizational performance [13
]; however, limited attention has been given to the effects of humble leadership on creative performance [8
]. Hence, this study’s first objective is to examine the impact of HL on employee conflict (EC) and creative performance.
Prior studies have suggested that HL’s effect on performance is not only direct; instead, other variables mediate it [14
]. For instance, research has demonstrated that humble leadership enhances creative performance by fostering psychological safety [15
], increasing knowledge sharing [16
], and improving decision-making processes and collaboration among organizational members [17
]. HL also promotes employees’ engagement and resilience, which can lead to increased job satisfaction and creative performance [18
]. In addition, leaders who exhibit humility are more likely to create a positive work environment, which can reduce team conflict [6
] and interpersonal conflicts within an organization [19
]. This reduced conflict between the employees facilitated by HL, in turn, results in improved creative performance. However, empirical evidence of the impact of HL on CP via EC is limited [14
]. Thus, this study’s second objective is to examine the mediating role of EC between HL and CP.
Furthermore, the resource-based (RBV) theory suggests that a firm’s performance depends on its resources [20
]. These resources can take various forms, including material resources, such as financial and capital [21
]; social resources, such as prestige and recognition and personal resources, such as skills and expertise [22
]. This theory further suggests that a firm’s competitive advantage comes from its unique combination of resources and capabilities that are valuable, rare, inimitable, and non-substitutable [22
]. Leaders’ emotional intelligence is one of the unique resources that is valuable to the company and can enhance the value of leader humility [23
]. For instance, leaders with high emotional intelligence are more likely to display humility [24
], which can enhance their perceived humility in the eyes of their subordinates. The increased humility of the leader is likely to increase the effect of humble leadership on EC [25
]. In other words, this study suggests that EI is likely to moderate the indirect impact of HL on CP through EC. Figure 1
represents the hypothesized model of our study.
In sum, this study developed and tested a moderated mediation model, contributing to the literature in several ways. Firstly, it extends previous studies on humility by investigating how HL affects CP and EC. Secondly, this study delves deeper into the relationship between HL and CP by examining the role of conflict as a mediator. Finally, this study applies a resource-based view to explore the impact of the leader’s emotional intelligence (EI) as a contextual factor that may moderate the indirect effect of HL on CP through EC.
3.1. Sample and Data Collection Process
This study’s sample was selected through a convenient sampling method, targeting employees who were employed in the telecom sector in Pakistan. We selected the telecom sector because of the rapid technological changes in this sector. Due to these changes, employees are on their toes to incorporate these changes to meet the customer’s demands. This ever-changing working environment requires creativity and doing things in an innovative and creative way. Moreover, another reason for the selection of this sector is the lack of research in Pakistani, as well as in an international context. The data was collected from two provincial capitals of Pakistan, Quetta and Karachi. We collected data from these cities to increase the generalizability of our study, because the cities are different in culture, language, and working environment. To collect data, one of the researchers made several visits to the selected locations and obtained formal authorization from the CEOs and managers of the sites in order to enlist various employees and their direct supervisors. All the subjects gave their informed consent for inclusion before they participated in this study.
To ensure that the survey received the best and most accurate responses, researchers visited ten (10) offices in the telecom sector before formal data collection began to gather information on the education level, age, and working hours of the employees. Since we used convenient sampling, specific steps were taken to improve the representativeness of the sample. To minimize selection bias, we made efforts to select participants from various accessible locations and sources so that a diverse range of perspectives could be provided. It was ensured that a wide range of opinions and experiences were provided that represented the population as a whole. Moreover, we ensured the heterogeneity of the sample by rigorously seeking participants who had various demographic characteristics, such as age, gender, tenure, socio-economic status, etc. Finally, we applied rigorous data analysis techniques and carefully interpreted the results to reduce any biases due to convenient sampling. The data was collected in a 6-month time frame, from October 2021 to March 2022.
The initial survey revealed that the majority of the workforce had completed their bachelor’s degrees, but we found that the employees working in the lower grades were not highly qualified. Therefore, the researchers involved academicians from the linguistics department of the University of Balochistan, Quetta, Pakistan, for the translation of the survey questions into Urdu (the national language), using the traditional back-translation technique from English to ensure accuracy [72
]. Thirty employees from three different telecommunications firms pre-tested the translated version, and feedback was collected on items that were unclear or challenging to comprehend. No major changes were made after this preliminary observation.
Initially, 500 surveys were distributed, including 53 to immediate supervisors or team leaders in the concerned sector. These companies (Ufon, Jaz, and Zong) include the three major shareholders of the market in telecommunication services to the public. Out of the 500 surveys, 344 were collected, which accounts for 69% of the total. However, 12 surveys were discarded due to missing responses or the marking of repetitive responses to different questions. Thus, 322 useful surveys remained for further analysis, which represents 64.4% of the total [73
]. Required standards set criteria for the minimum sample size. According to this criteria, there should be five or less variables in a study, and there should be at least three measurement items. If a study meets the above-mentioned threshold, then the minimum sample size should be 100. Moreover, according to this criteria, the communalities should be greater than or equal to 0.6. Our sample size, number of variables, and communalities fulfills the required standards to justify our sample size.
All the respondents were categorized into six groups based on age. The majority of the respondents were between the ages of 20 and 40 years, with 87.6% of the total workforce being male and 12.4% being female. Additionally, 6.2% of the respondents had an intermediate schooling level, 20.4% had a higher secondary school certification, and 73.4% held a bachelor’s or master’s degree. The demographic data showed that only 3 workers were divorced or widowed, while 80.4% were married and 18.6% were unmarried.
3.2.1. Leader’s Humility
The construct of humility was measured with a nine-item scale adopted from [30
]. “This person actively seeks feedback, even if it is critical,” is one of the sample items from the adopted scale. The responses were marked on a five-point Likert scale ranging from (1) strongly disagree to (5) strongly agree. Cronbach’s alpha for the scale was 0.96.
3.2.2. Creative Performance
We adopted the nine-item scale from Janssen [74
] for measuring creative performance (CP). As an example, one item from the scale is “I create new ideas for difficult issues”. Managers were asked to evaluate the performance of their subordinates for each item. Cronbach’s alpha for the scale was found to be 0.97.
3.2.3. Employee Conflict
A scale developed by Wright, Nixon [47
] was adopted to measure workplace conflict among the workers. The scale includes items such as “Have you ever felt that you were treated unfairly by others at work?”, with response options ranging from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (5). Cronbach’s alpha coefficient for the scale was calculated to be 0.95, indicating high internal consistency and reliability.
3.2.4. Emotional Intelligence
The EI of the leader was assessed using a 16-item scale developed by Wong and Law [75
]. One of the items from the scale is “I really understand how I feel.” The EI scale used a 5-point Likert scale with response options ranging from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (5). The scale demonstrated high internal consistency and reliability with a Cronbach’s alpha coefficient of 0.98.
All the items from the measurement scales are mentioned in Appendix A
3.3. Control Variables
Demographic factors were controlled for in this study, as past research has shown that they can have an impact on both leadership and team members [76
]. Specifically, we controlled for firm size, industry type, experience, age, and gender to minimize their potential effects on this study [27
5. Discussion and Conclusions
Drawing on resource-based view theory, this study investigated the impact of humble leadership and emotional intelligence on employee conflict and creative performance in the telecom sector. The findings of the collected data from two cities in Pakistan indicated that a humble leader is positively associated with creative performance and negatively associated with employee conflict. Furthermore, employee conflict negatively predicted employee creative performance. To summarize our findings, we can say that HL can help employees to perform better and in innovative ways and can reduce conflict among employees. Moreover, we also found that emotional intelligence moderates the relationship between humble leadership and employee conflict. Additionally, we examined emotional intelligence as a potential moderator of the indirect relationship between humble leadership and creative performance through employee conflict; our findings and results show that emotional intelligence does influence this relationship. In conclusion, our study highlights that emotional intelligence plays an important role in the relationship between humble leadership, employee conflict, and creative performance, and that leaders with higher emotional intelligence can enhance the impact of humble leadership on creative performance through their effective management of employee conflict.
5.1. Theoretical Implications
This study highlights the positive impact of humble leadership (HL) on creative performance (CP), specifically in the telecom sector where rapid technological changes have increased the challenges many fold. The chances of the survival of an organization will be higher if it adopts changes and develops innovative solutions for existing problems. Previous studies on HL have mainly focused on its effectiveness at the project or team level [82
], with very few exploring its impact at the organizational level, and even less in the telecom sector. Although Ou, Tsui [30
] analyzed the impact of HL on corporate performance in the information technology industry, no prior studies have investigated the impact of HL on CP in the telecommunications sector, specifically in a Pakistani context. Therefore, this empirical study examines the role of HL on employee conflict (EC) and CP, contributing to the effectiveness of HL from the individual to the organizational level.
Furthermore, our study opens a new arena for investigating the transmission mechanism of the effectiveness of HL on CP, and discussing humble leadership’s impact on employee innovative behavior in organizations through employee conflict. Owens and Hekman [6
] found that humble leadership can positively affect performance and promote a harmonious culture at the collective level, and that employee engagement is advantageous for both humble leaders and top management to incorporate as strategies, as both the team and its leader are integral parts of the organization’s internal environment. However, the relational role of humble leadership in effecting creative performance has largely been neglected.
Our study also explores employee conflict as a potential mediator of the relationship between humble leadership and creative performance. It highlights the importance of synergy through the use of HL on the organizational level. Good relationships between organizational members promote synergy, giving creative performance an edge over the old-fashioned routine work. However, if internal conflicts among employees are not handled properly and in a timely manner, they may escalate and result in turnover and decreased performance [83
]. Therefore, this study reveals not only the team’s rational thinking process, but also the importance of managing employee conflict to enhance the effectiveness of HL on CP.
5.2. Practical Implications
In most organizations, from top to bottom, the typical authoritative style of leadership is followed. This is especially true in countries such as Pakistan, where people associate a leader with a high level of power and authority. However, in today’s dynamic conditions of business and technology, the typical and old-fashioned leadership style should be avoided, or at least be least preferred.
The uncertainty in every sector of industry and business has increased many fold since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has changed the dynamics of the working environment, making it quite difficult for top management to make policies and dictate them to the workers. Therefore, organizations should avoid stereotyping and emphasize the promotion of the bottom-up approach, in the form of humble leadership, to promote teamwork and creative performance. Organizations should focus on creating synergy by promoting new ideas and innovative behaviors and, in response, listen and accept subordinates’ advice for the improvement of the working environment and the coordination of work.
As our study shows, humble leaders accepts their mistakes and are ready to receive advice from team members to improve themselves. This kind of leadership in an organization also acknowledges the limitations of employees, which further promotes a conducive working environment. This leadership style can improve the chances of survival in a competitive market.
All leaders should focus on their strengths and minimize their weaknesses to strengthen their leadership. Leaders should capitalize on their strengths and deal with their weaknesses in parallel to obtain the maximum out of their leadership qualities. One of the root causes of conflict is the communication gap between employees and their immediate boss. To avoid any misunderstandings, this gap should be filled, as it ultimately decreases the performance and productivity of an organization, which may also affect the use of resources in the organization.
Finally, leaders should be proactive in their approach and be able to sense negative vibes. This will further help leaders to overcome conflict before it really happens. Leaders should develop problem-solving skills so that relationship conflict can be avoided, and utilize these skills to prevent every opportunity for misunderstanding among the employees in an organization.
5.3. Limitations and Future Study
Like any research, this study also has a few limitations. Firstly, the analysis of the data provides insufficient evidence for assessing causation. To address this, future studies could be conducted on the topic of employee conflict over time by analyzing the time lag and longitudinal data. Secondly, the measures of creative performance used in this study are not entirely objective. While both objective and subjective measures of creative performance have been found to be related, adding objective measures of creative performance would provide more comprehensive and concrete results. Future studies could consider using corporate performance measures to avoid subjectivity.
Data were collected and analyzed from only two cities in Pakistan, and specifically from the telecom sector only. To address this limitation, future studies could expand the scope of this study by including more regions and also the manufacturing sector. This would help to enhance the generalizability of the findings. Lastly, the lack of participation by female workers and their not having a leadership role is another noted limitation of this study. Future studies could aim for gender balance and assess whether there are any differences in creative performance and employee conflict when the leadership role is interchanged.