05 Oct 2010 Back

Leaders ARE Born

leadership dnaARTICLE REVIEW: The Economist has published an extensive article that reports that biologists have turned their laboratory research on the role genes play in shaping people's management and leadership abilities. This could lead into morally tricky waters where companies start to select executives on their genetic make-up rather than more traditional leadership characteristics. However, the question is posed, is it any less ethical to make a decision on empirical, quantitative, scientific measurements than the outcomes of psychological testing, which is now widespread?


The bulk of the work cited by The Economist comes from Asia, principally National University of Singapore but also Japan and Australia - and Case Western Reserve in Ohio. Richard Arvey head of NUS's management and organization department is investigating "how genes interact with different types of environment to create such things as entrepreneurial zeal and the ability to lead others". He is supported in this research by Dr Michael Zyphur formerly of NUS who is "look[ing] for biological markers , in the form of hormones, that might either cause or reflect patterns of behaviour that are relevant to business".


The research is logical as we know that certain behaviours are controlled by chemicals that carry messages around the nerves. Dr Song Zhaoli at NUS has done further research around two key such chemicals: dopamine that controls pleasure and reward; and serotonin that affects mood. It is not a huge jump from understanding this to realising that if people produce these chemicals at different rates and quantities they will react differently to each other in similar situations.


Hormones also play their part: oxytocin plays a role in whether people trust others or not - a critical part of today's leadership debate; and cortisol, the stress hormone "affects the assessment of the time value of money" rather bizarrely, we are told. Testosterone clearly affects people's attitude to risk inclination, both male and females - as well as the concepts of dominance and hierarchy, status and co-operation.


A whole new department of management could be opening up - as well as the HR debate on "ethical determinism" that will no doubt ensue too.

Read the full article on The Economist's website

See National University of Singapore's profile on IEDP

See IEDP Developing Leader's Magazine article on: Leadership Is It In The Genes?

Leadership Is It In The Genes?

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