Guilty tendencies produce better business leaders

May 3, 2012, 2:00 a.m.

According to Stanford researchers, people inclined to feel guilt make better business leaders, as they retain a stronger sense of responsibility to colleagues and subordinates that in turn elicits trust in their leadership.


In the researchers’ study, groups of up to five strangers underwent personality tests assessing traits such as guilt proneness, shame proneness and extraversion. Without any designated leader, the groups were then assigned two collective tasks, such as devising a marketing campaign.


A strong correlation between guilt proneness and the individuals most likely to be judged by others as the group’s leaders was consistent throughout all groups tested. The correlation between guilt proneness and leadership was also stronger than extraversion, a previously well-established indicator of leadership.


Similar results were obtained in a study of incoming MBA students, in which surveys of former colleagues and clients established further connections between guilt proneness and others’ perception of their leadership.


Researchers supported the correlation by arguing that greater guilt proneness led to increased willingness to accommodate outside viewpoints and a greater accountability to the group’s interests as a whole. In practical terms, that may translate into behavior such as supporting layoffs to keep a firm profitable.


“If people feel guilty towards their organizations, they’ll behave in ways that make sure they live up to the organization’s expectations,” said Becky Schaumberg Ph.D. ‘14, the study’s lead researcher, according to the Huffington Post.

— Marshall Watkins

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