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You are here: Science & Tech » Science » Is There a Leadership Gene? New Study Says Some are Born Leaders



Is There a Leadership Gene? New Study Says Some are Born Leaders

Published 20th Jan 2013


Researchers now believe that some individuals may, quite literally, be born leaders. That's according to the results of a new study that led to the discovery of a correlation between a specific genetic traits and leadership qualities.


The study's findings, published in the online publication The Leadership Quarterly, were revealed in a paper titled "Born to lead? A twin design and genetic association study of leadership role occupancy," by researchers Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, James H. Fowler, Nicholas A. Christakis, Slava Mikhaylov and Christopher T. Dawes.


Researchers at University College London, in collaboration with academics from NYU, Harvard University and the University of California, have concluded that a new genotype named rs4950 is linked with a strong predisposition toward strong leadership qualities. In other words, leadership abilities can, in fact, be passed along to one's offspring. The study revealed that this “leadership gene” is expressed in approximately 25 percent of individuals.


Dr. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, of the University College London School of Public Policy, led the team of researchers who compared and analyzed genetic samples and personal data from approximately 4,000 twins in the United States.


Researchers used the individual's career choice as the primary indicator of a predisposition toward exhibiting leadership qualities. The leaders were identified as those who held a manager-type position in the workplace.


So are some individuals born leaders?


"This study allows us to answer yes, to an extent,” explained Dr. De Neve. He added, “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 who is more likely to occupy leadership roles.” 


It's important to note that scientists maintain the belief that these genetic traits do not guarantee that an individual will exhibit leadership traits. Modern conventional wisdom holds that a combination of nature (genetics) and nurture (upbringing and opportunity) account for an individual's leadership qualities.


So while a parent who exhibits exemplary leadership skills may pass along the rs4950 gene to his or her offspring, thereby predisposing the child to developing strong leadership abilities, environment and other external factors have a significant impact on whether a person will ultimately display an inclination to seek out leadership roles.


In short, it's no longer a matter of nature versus nurture; it's widely believed that both nature and nurture determine whether an individual exhibits a particular trait or characteristic.


It's believed that parents who are strong leaders will model leadership-type behaviours for their children. These parents are also more likely to encourage and promote qualities that will ultimately cause the child to seek out leadership roles. This, combined with the rs4950 genotype, is believed to be present in “natural born leaders.”


Notably, the discovery of this genetic link to behaviour does spur some ethical questions concerning how this genetic information may ultimately be utilized in the future. Biomedical advances have spurred dialogue among ethicists and philosophers, who speculate that genetics could become the basis of discrimination. Individuals could be screened for a gene that's linked to criminal behaviour, mental illness, leadership qualities or another trait.


“We should seriously consider expanding current protections against genetic discrimination in the labour market,” De Neve concluded.


Ultimately, only time will tell how these genetics findings will impact society and medicine alike.


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