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Does how you experience guilt dictate how well you lead?

Is feeling guilty natural for great leaders, or is it a sign of weakness? And how does shame play into leadership? Let’s discuss some top qualities of leadership.

guilt and anxiety

guilt and anxiety

Quality professional leadership

There are many attributes that make someone a great leader in a professional setting. These can range from being an extrovert to being personable to knowing how to communicate tough information to employees and coworkers. But one attribute, if you will, that many don’t naturally associate with professional leadership is the ability to feel the right type of guilt.

So, what does guilt have to do with leading others? A lot, actually, according to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and analyzed by Psychology Today1. Guilt is often a result of failing. This could be failing to secure a new client, failing to reach your target profit, or even getting some negative feedback from a number-one client. The second part of feeling guilt as a leader is the knowledge that you have some form of responsibility for others on your team.

How these feelings manifest into guilt

This feeling of responsibility for others can easily lead to guilt for not only letting yourself down but for letting down those who work for you. While guilt is usually seen as negative, it doesn’t have to be, necessarily. Guilt can be a great motivator. No one enjoys feeling guilty for failure. Experiencing it even once can be enough to make you double your efforts and work even harder to succeed. And when you’re a leader, others’ guilt can compound and weigh you down. Instead of letting it define you, think of it as an essential influencer for improvement instead.

Guilt vs. shame

Guilt can, however, take control and expand into something damaging – shame. Shame is related to feeling guilt for a failure, but there is a key difference. Guilt is when an expectation is not met and it’s disappointing. Shame, on the other hand, is when you internalize that temporary failure and guilt and you start to believe that you’re a failure. While guilt can be ultimately helpful, shame rarely is.

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Guilt is just one more tool to keep you moving forward, to encourage you to find innovative ways to improve, and to recognize that you are not a failure until you allow yourself to be. Be a better leader by embracing natural guilt and using it to fuel your professional fire.

1 Psychology Today

Written By

The American Genius Staff Writer: Charlene Jimenez earned her Master's Degree in Arts and Culture with a Creative Writing concentration from the University of Denver after earning her Bachelor's Degree in English from Brigham Young University in Idaho. Jimenez's column is dedicated to business and technology tips, trends and best practices for entrepreneurs and small business professionals.

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