When leaders ask questions: can humility premiums buffer the effects of competence penalties?

Irina Cojuharenco, Natalia Karelaia*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


We advance a questions-as-information approach to the study of the consequences of asking questions for leader effectiveness. We contend that questions go beyond their instrumental purpose to convey information about the asker's lack of competence and high humility, and thus inform possible doubts about the leader, producing competence penalties and humility premiums. In Study 1, we find that most practitioners do not ask questions at every opportunity and many do not endorse questions as a way of looking competent, especially if competence is in doubt. In Studies 2–5, we shed light on both the competence and humility repercussions of questioning. We find that competence penalties occur when leader competence is in doubt ex ante, but humility premiums are pervasive. Humility premiums affect leader helping and trust positively and buffer the negative effects of competence penalties. We discuss the implications of our findings for leadership, communication, and decision making in organizations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-134
Number of pages22
JournalOrganizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Asking questions
  • Communication
  • Leader competence
  • Leader humility
  • Practitioners’ beliefs
  • Questions as information
  • Social perception


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