Published January 17, 2013
Natural-born leaders do exist, a new study finds.
The research from the University College London has identified a specific DNA sequence associated with the tendency for individuals to occupy leadership positions. Specifically, the researchers estimate that a quarter of the variation in leadership behavior 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 Jan-Emmanuel De Neve from University College London's 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 find the genotype, De Neve and his colleagues from Harvard University, New York University and the University of California, analyzed data from two large-scale samples in the United States, available through the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and the Framingham Heart Study.
The researchers compared genetic samples of approximately 4,000 individuals with information about jobs and relationships, finding that in both surveys there was a significant association between rs4950 and leadership, which was measured on whether individuals held a supervisory role in the workplace.
"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," De Neve said.
The researchers believe their work draws attention to the ethical issues surrounding the use of genetic tests for leadership selection and assessment, and that serious consideration should be given to expanding current protections against genetic discrimination in the labor market.
"Our main suggestion for practice is that this research may help in the identification of specific environmental factors that can help in the development of leadership skills," De Neve said. "If we really want to understand leadership and its effect on organizational, institutional, economic and political outcomes, we must study both nature and nurture."
The study was published online in the journal Leadership Quarterly.