As researchers probe into the secrets of our brains, we learn more about the characteristics of leadership. Surprisingly, being smart isn’t high on the list Good character tends to produce better workers and better leaders. Does a person feel bad about a transgression, for example, even if others know nothing about it? If so, that is a desirable trait. Does an individual exhibit a strong sense of responsibility to others? Is the person truthful? Humble? Fair? If so, author Taya Cohen’s advice is to hire that person. (“The Morality Factor,” by Taya R. Cohen, Scientific American Mind, Jan/Feb. 2017, pgs. 34-83.)
Older psychological models placed emphasis on experience and intelligence for leadership, but character, researchers have found, has a greater impact on good decision-making than first realized. The simple decision to cooperate with fellow workers has a positive impact on the work environment. Cooperation promotes an atmosphere where the job gets done. (Ibid pg. 35.) That a person feels a strong responsibility to others is a key indicator of leadership. Guilt-proneness, how a person feels after he or she has done something wrong also denotes a strong character. Guilt, as opposed to shame,(Blog 4/25/16) indicates a strong sense of honesty and the ability to take responsibility for one’s actions. Shame has negative value as it reflects how a people feel about themselves rather than the mistakes they have made. (Ibid pg. 35.)
As researchers point out, not all jobs require honesty and humility. Certain tasks, like cost cutting, downsizing personnel and taking away employee benefits require a cold, self-focused approach. “A Machiavellian narcissist would likely do just fine…” (Ibid pg. 37.) Fortunately, the need for people in such roles isn’t mainstream. Insensitive and unethical behavior may bring positive results in the short-term but can lead to long-term damage for the organization or society (Ibid pg. 38.)
As we look forward to the upcoming inauguration of a new president, it may be too late to change outcomes. But given what researchers have told us about what leadership qualities to prize, we might want to strap on our seat belts.