Six Griefs of Good Leadership – (2) GUILT

In the second part of this series looking at the importance for leaders of working effectively with your emotions we will examine GUILT. How does your response to feelings of remorse determine your ability to develop as a leader?

  • By not acting in time I’ve just made more work for my team!
  • I should have made sure she knew what was at stake before giving her the project!
  • How could I have been so stupid as to miss that?!
  • I really don’t want to hear that feedback!

Only psychopaths do not experience guilt or remorse. For fully functioning humans, guilt is one of the most important learning emotions. It draws our attention to our failings and alerts us to situations when our performance falls below expected standards set by ourselves or by others.

Embracing guilt is uncomfortable because it forces us to face up to the fact that we are not as good or as competent as we would like to believe that we are. That’s why we often go to great lengths to avoid feelings of guilt – we rationalise it away, we blame others or we just avoid thinking abguiltout it. But the constructive outcomes of guilt should be a true and honest reflection on our deficiencies and a determination to do things better.

Guilt is intimately linked to a sense of responsibility. You cannot feel guilty about something if you do not take responsibility for it. That’s why, if someone gives you critical feedback, your first reaction shouldn’t be to try and defend yourself but to ask yourself ‘What if they’re right?’ Choosing to take responsibility is the only way to improve and to accelerate your leadership development.

But leadership is not just about taking responsibility for your own actions. Being in a position of leadership means that you are also responsible for the actions of the people you are leading. That’s why a good leader takes guilt to a whole new level. When one of your team screws up, the first reaction of a good leader is to ask ‘What did I do wrong that allowed this to happen?’ Obviously, part of your role is to help your team member to face up to their own guilt in order to learn for the future, but don’t do this at the expense of your own learning.


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