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The Guilty Style of Management?

November 7th, 2012

This week, I heard on the radio about research that says guilty managers are the best managers. Sounds intriguing doesn’t it? What have these managers been up to that they should feel guilty? How could it possibly make them better managers? Well it certainly got my interest. Looking behind the attention-grabbing headline, the research from Stanford Graduate School of Business (ref. 1) finds that people who are prone to guilt tend to work harder and perform better than people who are not guilt-prone. They also carry a strong sense of responsibility for their own actions and are perceived to be more capable leaders.

In group tasks, the more guilt-prone people 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 generally to take charge.

I would imagine that a manager who feels responsibility towards others would be more inclined to take on board the ideas and views of staff. This might lead to higher morale and job satisfaction for employees. It would also have a positive economic impact on the business with higher productivity, increased opportunities for creative development, a lower turnover of staff and therefore fewer resources spent on recruitment.

This research seemed like a breath of fresh air to me. I have often thought that the stereo-typical view of a good manager being hard and ruthless is a bit limiting. I’m sure there are countless people out there doing a great job of running businesses that don’t fit into the traditional autocratic styles of leadership.

There are many different styles of management but it’s generally accepted that they fall into the following 3 broad categories:

The Autocratic Manager retains strict control by making decisions without regard to the views or contributions of employees.

The Paternalistic Manager is still making the decisions and firmly in charge but as its name suggests behaves more as a “father-figure” giving consideration to what is in the best interests of the employees.

The Democratic Manager gives employees a greater input and responsibility for decision making and including how tasks are carried out.

I’m a big fan of the Management by Walking Around (MBWA) technique where you regularly talk to your staff about what’s happening from their point of view. I like its informality and it can give an indication of levels of morale and an opportunity to respond to any ideas and concerns early on. I’m wondering though how many managers actually sit down and plan what their management style will be? Do you consider the tasks at hand and which style would be most appropriate? I know I’ve never “planned” my own management style, it has just happened as an extension of my personality. And styles can be changed and adapted according to the situation or the personality of the person you are having the dialogue with. I’m guessing that for most of us, our management style will be a fluid combination of many different styles.

How would you describe your style?

Ref 1. Schaumberg, R., & Flynn, F. In press.  Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown: The link between guilt-proneness and leadership. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology