In a finding that gives new meaning to the phrase “born leader,” scientists have identified genetic differences in individuals who are significantly more likely to take on leadership and managerial responsibilities.
The finding, detailed in new research led by the University College London, is the first to identify a specific DNA sequence associated with the tendency for individuals to work in supervisory jobs. By studying the DNA of a large number of twins, researchers estimate up to a quarter of behavioral traits associated with leadership can be traced to 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 Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, M.D., who helped lead the study, published online in the journal Leadership Quarterly. "The conventional wisdom — that leadership is a skill — remains largely true, but we show it is also, in part, a genetic trait."
For the study, Dr. De Neve and colleagues from Harvard University, New York University, and the University of California analyzed information from 4,000 patients participating in two large long-running research projects — the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and the Framingham Heart Study.
They compared genetic samples of the patients and information about jobs and relationships, and found a significant association between rs4950 and leadership among participants in both studies. Leadership behavior was based on whether individuals occupied supervisory roles 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," said Dr. De Neve.
He added that more research is needed to understand the ways in which rs4950 interact with other factors, such as education and job training, in the shaping of leaders.