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What makes a good business leader?

What makes a good business leader?
Scientists claim to have finally found the clues to what makes a good business leader - the feeling of guilt.

Researchers at Stanford University found that people who feel guilty tend to carry a strong sense of responsibility to others, which in turn makes others see them as leaders.

Becky Schaumberg, who led the study, said: 'If people feel guilty toward their organisations, they'll behave in ways that make sure they live up to the firm's expectations.'

'These behaviours might not look like what we usually think of as guilt,' she said.

As part of the study, the researchers took personality tests of groups of strangers, measuring traits, including guilt proneness, shame proneness and extraversion.

Then the researchers put each group in a lab and, without designating a leader, had them perform two group tasks, such as outlining a marketing campaign for a new product.

In all of the groups, those who were most likely to be judged by others as the group's leaders also scored highest in guilt proneness on the personality test.

In addition, the researchers found that guilt proneness predicted emerging leadership more so than extraversion, a well-known marker of leadership.

Schaumberg said in group discussions, guilt-prone members seemed to the rest of the group to be making more of an effort than others to ensure everyone's voice was being heard to lead the discussion and to generally take charge.

The researchers also studied incoming MBA students by asking their former managers, clients and co-workers to evaluate their traits of leadership effectiveness, such as communication skills and the ability to motivate others.

In this real-world setting, the study also found a strong link between a participant's guilt proneness and the extent to which others saw the person as a leader.

The key seems to be that though guilt feels unpleasant to the individual, it can be quite beneficial for the group, causing people to do what's good for the group at personal cost, Schaumberg said.

The study showed that those who harbour the most guilt also do what's good for the organisation at the expense of other employees, said the researchers.

It also revealed that guilt-prone managers were more likely to support layoffs to keep a company profitable.

It's not that guilt-prone managers don't feel bad having to lay people off, it's that guilt seems to create a greater sense of responsibility to the organisation, Schaumberg said.

While there are many ways of responding to mistakes or problems, including blaming others or yourself, Schaumberg said the most constructive response, and the one people seem to recognise as a sign of leadership, is to feel guilty enough to want to fix the problem.

'When thinking about what traits are important for leaders to possess, there tends to be a focus on what people do well,' she said.

'But we know that people make mistakes and mess up, and it's important to look at how people respond to those mistakes because that's a clue to who they are.'
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