Stanford Professor Francis Flynn and doctoral student Becky Schaumberg have conducted an interesting new study about leadership. They administered a personality test to groups of 4-5 people. The test examined guilt proneness, shame proneness, extraversion, and other traits. They were particularly interested in the distinction between guilt and shame. Feeling guilty means that someone "feels bad about a specific mistake and wants to make amends." Feeling shame means that someone "feels bad about himself or herself and shrinks away from the error."
In this experiment, the groups had to perform two tasks after completing the personality inventory. The subjects evaluated each others' leadership qualities after completing these tasks. It turns out that the people who scored highest on the "guilt proneness" measure tended to be identified as the strongest leaders. In fact, guilt proneness "predicted emerging leadership even more than extraversion." According to Schaumberg, "Guilt-prone people tend to carry a strong sense of responsibility to
others, and that responsibility makes other people see them as leaders."
Well... I guess I may have some leadership potential... after all, I'm Catholic, and we are experts at feeling guilty! Seriously, though, I think the study points to something very important. Feeling a responsibility to others is the mark of a good leader. Moreover, wanting to atone for your mistakes, rather than simply trying to cover them up, makes for an effective leader. I wonder how we might look for those characteristics as we interview young people for leadership positions early in their careers. Thoughts?