Mind and Body

Plagued by guilt? You may be management material



Feeling guilty about something? That could very well make you an effective leader, according to new research from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.

People prone to guilt tend to feel a strong sense of responsibility to others–a valuable trait in a leader, the researchers say. The study, which involved three experiments with roughly 520 subjects, was conducted by Rebecca Schaumberg, a doctoral candidate at the school and Francis Flynn, a professor of organizational behavior, the Wall Street Journal reported.

In one experiment, the researchers gave subjects an online personality test measuring, among other things, whether participants were prone to guilt or shame.  Guilty people typically feel remorse about their actions and try to rectify the situation. Shame-prone people, on the other hand, typically feel bad about themselves and tend to hide from the error.  The test also measured extroversion, often considered to be a marker of leadership.

The subjects, who were all strangers, were then divided into small groups, performing team tasks.  Participants then rated each other on leadership qualities.

The researchers found that those who were considered to be the strongest leaders were the most guilt-prone.  The guilty-feeling subjects tended to make sure others were heard, for instance. Those traits correlated more closely with leadership than extroversion did, the researchers found.

The same results held when the researchers studied real workplace situations in another experiment, asking the former managers, colleagues and clients of current M.B.A. students evaluate them on leadership effectiveness. The students also took the personality test measuring guilt, shame and extroversion; again, those who ranked highest for leadership also scored highest on guilt.

Click for more from The Wall Street Journal.