Guilt, Responsibility, and Leadership

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The world is a troubling place. Since Old Testament, we have heard the prophecies of corruption, spiritually, bodily, and/or societal. And since then, social technologies have been developed to form boarders for human behavior have been made. According to Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud, one of the most powerful social technologies have been “guilt.” Through the labelling of “guilt” as a mutual binding between two or more persons, we try to enforce responsibility and duty on and for each other, still knowing in the back of our heads, that this might actually not happen. Failed responsibility leads to guilt, or at least the surrounding’s expectation of some kind of expression of guilt. This chapter looks into the three different ways of understanding guilt and responsibility in relation to leadership. First, the paper dives into contemporary understanding of leadership, it is puzzling that none of the contemporary literature in this field deals with the possibility of leaders being guilty. In contemporary society, we reject on the one side guilt when individuals in organizations openly blame themselves for wrongdoing, since we claim that any act of an organization is too complex to be reduced to one person. On the other side we call for guilt, when responsible individuals overtly fail to express regret of their doing, though they were in fact accountable, both in position and in act. In conclusion, we are in contemporary times uncertain of how to understand guilt. But what does that do to responsibility?
Secondly, the chapter shows how the only research field that deals with the leader as guilty is in the field of psychopathy. Here, we find that a leader with psychopathic traits fall short of any sense of guilt. However, this does not inform us how ordinary leaders may actually experience guilt if not psychopaths? Thirdly, the chapter presents how the historical Protestant understanding of “guilt” as part of human nature, and how this worldview has been left all together, leaving us on the one hand with leaders as possible psychopathic when lacking guilt and on the other side ordinary leaders as incapable of expressing guilt in a contemporary Post-Christian culture that has no common understanding what guilt would possibly mean.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of Business Legitimacy : Responsibility, Ethics and Society
EditorsJacob Dahl Rendtorff
Number of pages17
Place of PublicationCham
Publication date2020
ISBN (Print)9783030146238
ISBN (Electronic)9783319688459, 9783030146214
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Published online: 10 April 2020


  • Guilt
  • Responsibility
  • Psychopathy
  • Theology

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