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Those of us who are parents may wonder what innate talents we passed along with our gene pool. Being a fast runner, recognizing perfect pitch or having an affinity for math can be passed along as surely as red hair and freckles. What happens next is still a matter of debate. Does nature or nurture contribute more to success – and to the creation of great leaders? Are leaders born, or does leadership training matter?

A recent study looked at whether or not there was a genetic component to leadership. University College London looked at the genetic makeup of 4,000 individuals and determined that there was a relationship between a specific genetic marker, and a tendency toward leadership. Specifically, “leadership role occupancy is associated with rs4950, a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) residing on a neuronal acetylcholine receptor gene (CHRNB3).” The study gave the gene a heritability of leadership role occupancy at 24%. We take this to mean it is a factor, but not a controlling one.

A second study looked at 103 cadets and officers at West Point and came to a similar conclusion. Apparently, those who performed better on complex hypothetical military exercises were also those with neuroimaging results showing the frontal and prefrontal lobes were more complex and differentiated. These areas of the brain are associated with self-regulation, decision-making and memory.

Another interesting tidbit regarding leadership is worth noting. Walter H. Groth, of 42 Lead, was working as a Volkswagen manager when he visited more than 100 car dealerships to study the characteristics of successful sales teams and sales managers. A common sales manager’s approach was, “Sales aren’t what they should be. I’m going to have to kick some butts here…” This did not foster an atmosphere of teamwork and instead the team members were all trying to beat their fellow teammates.

The three best sales teams did not have in-house fighting, and so the focus of the team could be on customer satisfaction. Groth notes that on each of the thriving teams, there was a woman on the leadership team whereas the low-performing teams were all led by men.

Our conclusion from these disparate sources is that while there may be a genetic component (or an x chromosome) which can be a contributing factor, that a leader is first born with inherent attributes, and then is created.

Source: Forbes, “Are Leaders Born Or Made? (And How To Be One),” David Amerland, Jan. 9, 2014

Source: American Psychology Association, “Adaptable Leaders May Have Best Brains for the Job, Study Finds,” April 10, 2013

Source: The Leadership Quarterly 24, “Born to lead? A twin design and genetic association study of leadership role occupancy,” Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, Slava Mikhaylov, Christopher T. Dawes, Nicholas A. Christakis, James H. Fowler, Sept. 10, 2012