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Lead Your Team Leadership

Need a Leader? Pick a People-Pleaser

Need a Leader? Pick a People-Pleaser
Credit: Alpha Spirit/Shutterstock

When you're putting together a team of employees, you'd be best-served by having someone who hates disappointing others as its leader, new research suggests.

Workers who are highly prone to feeling guilty for disappointing their colleagues are among the most ethical and hard-working partners, according to a study recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The problem, however, is actually getting these types of people to work in teams.

The study's authors discovered that highly guilt-prone employees make valuable work partners because a concern about letting others down drives them to at least complete their fair share of the work.

"Because of this concern for the impact of their actions on others' welfare, highly guilt-prone people often outwork their less guilt-prone colleagues, demonstrate more effective leadership and contribute more to the success of the teams and partnerships in which they are involved," Scott Wiltermuth, an assistant professor of management and organization at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business and one of the study's authors, said in a statement.

However, these same behavioral tendencies also lead these employees to shy away from entering into certain partnerships at work, according to the research. [Why Employees Hate Teamwork ]

In five studies, the authors demonstrated that highly guilt-prone workers may avoid forming interdependent partnerships with co-workers they perceive to be more competent than themselves, because not being able to provide as much value to the team as their partner could trigger feelings of guilt in them.

In addition, the researchers found that in the studies where they gave participants information about their potential partners' areas of expertise and then asked them with whom they'd like to work, they were less likely to choose the most competent partner. Wiltermuth said the participants were afraid to contribute less to the task than their partner and, thus, let them down.

"It may come as a surprise, but our findings demonstrate that people who lack competence may not always seek out competence in others when choosing work partners," Wiltermuth said.

The study's authors believe those in supervisory roles can use this research to create the most effective dynamics in the workplace and increase productivity.

"Managers could try to ensure that highly guilt-prone people are creating the partnerships and perhaps even assuming leadership roles on teams, despite highly guilt-prone people's fear that by accepting these leadership positions they might be putting themselves into [a] position to let their teammates down," Wiltermuth said.

The study was co-authored by Taya Cohen, an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

Chad  Brooks
Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.

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