Psychologist Says This Key Skill Can Make People Highly Effective Leaders

TechCrunch/FlickrAirbnb CEO Brian Chesky.

By Rachel Gillett

Airbnb employees seem to love CEO Brian Chesky.

One possible reason? The startup founder's ability to inspire awe in his people.

Take for example the company's headquarters, which allows people to transcend San Francisco and enter another world by simply picking a conference room; the company's core mission to entirely reimagine the way we travel today; or the endless Airbnb listings that show us homes we never would have known existed.

It's hard to imagine an employee that hasn't at one time or another experienced large-scale wonder at work there.

People who possess the ability to elicit these feelings of awe in others could be highly effective leaders says Paul Piff, an assistant professor of psychology and social behavior at University of California, Berkeley — that is if they use their powers for good.

During a series of studies recently published by the American Psychological Association in the "Journal of Personality and Social Psychology," Piff and his team of researchers found that inducing a sense of awe in people could promote generous, helpful, and positive social behavior.

"We find that awe makes people more ethical, less entitled, more cooperative — all of which often play key roles in organizational and workplace success," Piff explained to Business Insider.

During one study, for example, researchers had a group of volunteers stand in a grove of towering trees and look up at them for one minute while another group looked instead at a tall building. Then experimenters spilled a handful of pens, seemingly by accident, and volunteers in awe of the vast trees were deemed to be the most helpful in picking them up.

Piff says awe also has the potential to promote curiosity and openness to novelty, both of which are central to creativity. It could make people more cooperative and team-oriented, more attuned to collective interests, and identify more strongly with their organizations.

The researchers wrote that they believe awe induces a feeling of being diminished in the presence of something greater than oneself. This diminished sense of self shifts focus away from an individual's need and toward the greater good.