Leaders are born

Leadership may be a skill, but genetics plays a significant role too

Leadership may be inherited genetically

Genetics plays a strong role in people taking on managerial responsibilities, according to new research from UCL [University College London].

The study, published online in Leadership Quarterly, is the first to identify a specific DNA sequence linked to the tendency of individuals to occupy a leadership position. Using a large twin sample, the international research team of academics from Harvard, NYU, and the University of California observed that a quarter of the variation in leadership behaviour between individuals can be explained by genes passed down from their parents.

“We have identified a genotype, called rs4950, which appears to be associated with the passing of leadership ability down through generations,” said lead author Dr Jan-Emmanuel De Neve [UCL School of Public Policy)] “The conventional wisdom – that leadership is a skill – remains largely true, but we show it is also, in part, a genetic trait.”

To locate the genotype, Dr De Neve and his colleagues analysed data from two large-scale samples in the United States, available through the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) and the Framingham Heart Study.

They studied genetic samples of approximately 4,000 individuals along with information about jobs and relationships. They discovered a significant association between rs4950 and leadership i.e. whether or not the person occupies supervisory roles in the workplace.

Although acquiring a leadership position does involve developing skills, inheriting the leadership trait can also play an important role.

Dr De Neve said: “As recent as August 2012, Professor John Antonakis, who is known for his work on leadership, had questioned: ‘is there a specific leadership gene?’

“This study allows us to answer yes —to an extent. Although leadership should still be thought of predominantly as a skill to be developed, genetics—in particular the rs4950 genotype—can also play a significant role in predicting the more likely candidate to occupy leadership roles.”

He added that more research was needed to understand how rs4950 interacted with other factors, such as a child’s learning environment, in the emergence of leadership.



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