It depends on employee expectations, concludes an Ohio State University study.

No one likes an egomaniac, but sometimes a little arrogance may be just what the C-suite needs.

“To team members who expect leaders … to take charge and give orders, humble leaders may be met with doubt,” says Ohio State's Jasmine Hu, the lead author of a recent study that explored humility in the workplace. “They may make team members think this should not be the case and they [then] won't feel safe to work with [the leader].”

Hu joined with colleagues at Portland State University and China's Renmin University to look at the leader-team relationship in 11 information technology companies in China, with the initial thought that the more humble the leader is, the more creative the team will be. Hu, an associate professor of management and human resources at OSU's Fisher College of Business, defines a humble leader as someone who is forthcoming about personal mistakes and shortcomings, sees and praises the contributions of others and is willing to learn.

The study's findings did show a correlation between leadership humility and a creative team. But Hu and her colleagues were surprised when their study—published online in the Journal of Applied Psychology—showed that if employees value leaders who exhibit high levels of power and dominance over subordinates, it is unwise to display humility, and possibly even harmful.

The takeaway from the study, which Hu says is easily applied to US businessalthough it was conducted in China, is that “it's very important for leaders and managers to understand what their team members expect them to do,” says Hu.

“Leaders should be aware that leadership is about relationships,” Hu adds. “It's not just one party but also the other party.”

Chloe Teasley is staff writer.