Should you want guilt-prone leaders for that jury?
We’ll grant that this is not generally a trait we look for when pondering who in that group of twelve is going to be the presiding juror. You know the stereotypes: tall and extroverted men. We look for people (men and women) who have demonstrated leadership in the community or at work, who are social and who have either education or a gift with verbal persuasion.
But maybe we’ve been all wrong. Maybe we should be looking for those who are guilt-prone. We even blogged about a measure called the GASP scale last year. GASP stands for “guilt and shame proneness”. Or maybe we need to discern the freaks with the Depravity Scale we blogged about almost two years ago. While we can imagine some of our clients would benefit from particularly neurotic or depraved jurors, courts aren’t wild about using the scale items on Supplemental Juror Questionnaires, and I can promise you, you would not want to stand in front of the venire and ask them aloud. But track along anyway–it’s interesting research.
Researchers examine whether a negative emotion (such as feeling guilty) could make you more suitable for leadership. They were especially interested in the differences between guilt and shame (and they used the GASP scale!). They remind us that feeling guilt can cause us to review our behavior and learn from it by apologizing/amending past wrongs and making choices to behave differently in the future. Guilt-prone people also have more of a sense of responsibility for others than the less guilt-prone. Shame, conversely, can result in our shrinking from problems and hoping they will simply go away.
This is a complex paper and the authors performed three separate studies. While the first two studies used a combination of community members and the ubiquitous “undergraduate volunteer”, the final study accessed 360 degree evaluations of MBA students who’d been rated for leadership capacity by supervisors, colleagues and clients. We’ll let the researchers summarize their findings in this quote from the article itself:
“Across three studies and three different measures of leadership, we found that individuals who are prone to experience guilt are more likely to be perceived as good leaders, to emerge as leaders, and to be judged as more effective in their leadership roles by their colleagues, clients and supervisors. Further, we found that a sense of responsibility for others underlies the link between guilt proneness and leader effectiveness.”
Guilt is good. Shame? Not so much. The researchers suggest that how one handles their own mistakes and transgressions influences how we perceive them and the status we confer upon them. They go even further in suggesting that “the behaviors that people undertake to reduce or prevent feelings of guilt (e.g., apologizing for their past mistakes, helping people they have harmed) may be the marks of great leadership”. And we think their concluding sentence is sheer poetry:
“In particular, good leaders are characterized not simply by their ability to do the right thing but by their ability to respond well when they do something wrong.”
Wow. And yes! It’s a terrific lesson for all of us in leadership roles and all of us who aspire to leadership. Guilt as a catalyzing emotion can propel us forward and onto improved relationships if we choose to amend past errors and modify future behaviors.
Great leaders are not always smiling and glad-handing. They mull and ponder the ramifications of their decisions and sometimes they feel guilty. What they do with that guilt is what makes all the difference.
Schaumberg, RL, & Flynn, FJ (2012). Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown: The link between guilt proneness and leadership. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. DOI: 10.1037/a0028127