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Why Guilt-Ridden People Make Better Leaders

April 8, 2011

Hey, guess what? You don’t have to feel so guilty any more for feeling guilty! 

A research study by Francis Flynn from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business revealed that those who are more prone to guilt received higher performance ratings from their bosses. Related studies showed that these guilt-ridden people were seen as stronger leaders by their peers.

Well. That explains a lot.

I know this feeling all too well. Whenever I try to relax and take it easy, there’s always that abusive little voice in my head telling me what a slacker I am.

You can’t leave work already! It’s only been 10 hours today!

Don’t even think about taking a nap! Do you honestly think Jack Welsh ever took a nap? Now there was a real leader!”

“Put down that book! You could be working on your next blog post!”

I’m not at all sure where this comes from. Perhaps it’s just the wet towel-snap of the good old Protestant work ethic. Or possibly it came from that ill-tempered swim coach I had when I was ten years old:

“I have a cramp, coach! Can I take a breather for a few minutes? Pl- ea-hea-hease?”

“Get back in the water and swim it off, you pantywaist! And give me another 500 yards, right now! I better see your scrawny butt in here again tomorrow morning at 6 am for double workout sessions, or else you’ll never make it to the Regionals!”

Or, maybe it’s a backlash of guilt from actually slacking off and avoiding all labor whatsover from the time I was 15 until I was 23.

Flynn’s take is that the guiltier people have a keener sense of responsibility for their actions. You know, like, maybe they actually care about following the rules and ethics and morality and all that.

Another upside to guilty personalities: Flynn found they are more satisfied in their jobs, more committed to their organizations, and less stressed than others.  And – here’s the clincher – they are more selfless. Specifically, the guilty are prone to be more willing to make charitable contributions and help other colleagues in need.

Sounds like the model leader.

So there you go.  I think we should replace the “Greed is good” motto with, “Guilt is Good!”  Perhaps some inspirational posters to that effect, plastered around your office walls would not be a bad idea, either.

Go ahead and get your guilt on. Embrace it, nurture it, let it be your guide. And don’t forget to thank your parents or the nuns or the rabbi or that stinking swim coach next time you see them, because all of that tyranny has helped you succeed.

Now, what are you doing reading this pathetic post?! Get back to work, you pantywaist!

16 Comments leave one →
  1. April 8, 2011 7:09 am

    And all this time I thought I’d done irreparable damage to my kids.

    • April 9, 2011 7:42 am

      They’ll thank you for it later, my dear…
      Or, you could just send them this post, which will reinforce your righteousness.

  2. April 8, 2011 8:25 am

    I love this! I have texted my boss during a ballet to ask him to change something I missed in editing. He called me a worry wart, but I couldn’t live with the guilt of having knowingly crossed the AP Stylebook.

  3. April 8, 2011 8:49 am

    Guilt is healthy. It keeps us honest. It keeps us on the edge. Those who have no guilt usually roll right over people, regardless of the circumstances

    • April 9, 2011 7:43 am

      Yes, David, I think that is part of it. Guilt-ridden people tend to have a greater degree of inner conscientiousness, I think. Trying to do the right thing, and all.

  4. April 8, 2011 12:44 pm

    Guilt-Ridden People Make Better Leaders – People Without Guilt Make Millions (or end up in jail). Guilt is an interesting concept. I would like to place an order for 4 posters.

    • April 9, 2011 7:44 am

      Maybe I could fly down with the posters and inflict more guilt upon your office staff?

      • April 9, 2011 11:03 am

        I would love that. It would be a guilt trip.

  5. Phil permalink
    April 8, 2011 4:32 pm

    I felt guilty hitting the button “click here to read more of this post”, but I’m glad I did! Very funny…and enlightening.

    • April 9, 2011 7:46 am

      But wait a minute – Phil, you are your OWN boss! Which means you are supposed to be the one making others feel guilty, while you do whatever you please! Isn’t that how it works?

  6. April 8, 2011 6:01 pm

    I’m surprised the guilty people were less stressed than others. It seems that worrying about doing the wrong thing would add a tremendous amount of stress every time he or she thinks of something she should or shouldn’t be doing.

    • April 9, 2011 7:48 am

      Yes, that doesn’t seem to compute. I would agree that feeling guilty all the time should ADD stress, since you probably never feel you have done enough. Or, that could be another sickness, “Perfectionism.” So maybe the guilt-ridden actually feel a sense of satisfaction or accomplishment because they know their conscious is clear, and they know they have completed a task to their best ability.

  7. April 12, 2011 8:18 am

    If guilt is conscience, then it is easy for me to see and say that better leaders have more conscience. Now about translating that to bigger pay raises? That part seems odd. I am happy to go in today and confess to guilt to see if it works.

  8. April 13, 2011 8:53 pm

    I have resisted guilt at all cost. I pride myself on being a grace junkie. I have watched guilt destroy people close to me. “Me, guilty? Never!” But when I read this, I had second thoughts. I can relate to your inner struggles all too well. I think I am actually driven by guilt. Ouch! Maybe that isn’t all bad. Maybe it’s how we respond to guilt.

    BTW – I had the same experience from age 14 to 23. Those were good times.

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