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Is There a Leadership Gene?
Social scientists will soon change the entire conversation of what is now debatable in the social world. Geneticists are making incredible progress in identifying what parts of the DNA code are associated with stable traits, such as intelligence, mental illness, and susceptibility to disease, among many others. Thanks to what is known as polygenic testing, we will soon know precisely how much familial and parenting differences contribute to intelligence scores (IQ) and learning aptitude. This is game-changing stuff.
Whenever scientists make progress related to understanding how our DNA shapes us as humans, some pundit invariably suggests it is only a matter of time until we discover the leadership gene. They predict, often with high conviction, that at some point scientists will discover exactly which genes cause some people to be leaders and others... not so much.
Unfortunately, the attempt to predict who has the leadership gene will end in frustration, as leadership has very little to do with inheritable traits. Anyone who believes otherwise has never seen leadership in action, where those without authority or sanctioned leadership roles engage others to change what they think and how they act.
The idea that even multiple genes can predict leadership misses an important insight. As much as we would like leadership to reside in people, the locus of leadership always takes the form of action. It is through actions (behaviors, decisions, choices, messages) that we come to understand who leads and when.
Anyone can lead at any time, with or without a title. History abounds with everyday people making the decision to lead by engaging in choices that others follow. We don’t have to lean on history to see this. Just open your eyes to everyday life and you will see demonstrations of leadership in every direction. You will also see where leadership is lacking.
While it may give us comfort to think of leaders forged through DNA, leadership is never permanent. It takes new actions every day to sustain results and create followership.