The importance of guilt in selecting the right people

Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not. – Oprah Winfrey

It’s a tricky old business trying to find the right people for a job. The chances are that by the time you are interviewing people there really shouldn’t be too much difference in their #technical capability for the role at hand.

So what else do you look for and how can you measure whose got more of what you are looking for?

There is a whole industry grown up around proving answers to this problem, some are science based and some people liken it more to an art form. #Psychometric tools can be useful in providing insight and awareness giving interviewers the chance to explore aspects of someone’s personality. But how do you know what to look for?

Evidence from recent psychological studies has shown the people perform better when they score highly on the three key measures of character: honesty-humility, conscientiousness and guilt proneness.

Guilt proneness measures the extent to which somebody would feel bad about doing something even if they knew they would not be find out. Similar to how Oprah describes integrity. This sense of integrity and responsibility to others has been proven by research to be an excellent predictor of job performance and leadership skills.

Guilt as a leadership quality

Guilt is also a good indicator of leadership effectiveness.

Research at Stanford University surveyed the peers, supervisors and direct reports of 139 MBA students about multiple facets of leadership. The students were also surveyed about their #guilt proneness. Those students that scored higher on guilt proneness were rated as more effective leaders by their former supervisors, direct reports, peers and clients. There was no relationship between leadership effectiveness and intelligence for which they were also tested.

While insensitive and unethical behaviour may be good for some positions and scenarios, and even bring about short term business success, in the long run there is a real risk for organisational damage. Think Enron and RBS to name just two.

It’s therefore critical for organisations compliment their #selection process with behaviour-based interview questions alongside personality testing.

One such question might be:

“Tell me about a time when you made a mistake at work. How did you feel when this happened, what did you do about it and what, if anything, did you learn from it?”

Asking questions like this will give interviewers the opportunity to assess a candidate’s guilt-proneness and bias toward ethical or unethical behaviour.

When evaluating somebody for a job role or leadership position consider asking yourself questions like:

“Would this person feel bad about making a transgression or mistake even if no-one knew about it? How likely would they be to ow up to such a mistake, cover it up or blame others? Would they feel bad about letting others down. Are they humble or have arrogance about them?”

If the answer to these questions is no, then be wary as the candidate is unlikely to be an ethical colleague and an ineffective and questionable leader. If the answer is yes, then the chances are higher that the will be the performer and leader you want them to be.

How do you rate for guilt? To find out, visit to find out. If you want to know how ethical you are then you can also visit: to find out.

If you’d like to read more on this then check out #Scientific American MIND Issue 19.

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