In the age-old debate of nature versus nurture, and are leaders born great or can they be made, I was fascinated recently to find some research by UCL (University College London) which reports on the discovery of a genotype called rs4950. This DNA sequence, they say, appears to be associated with the tendency for people to occupy a leadership position, and the passing of leadership ability down through generations.
In short, leaders may be born, and not made.
But what does this mean for those of us whose ancestors didn’t hold a leadership position or skills, or are doubtful of inheriting the leadership trait? Should we be fearful that we may never reach the top?
And what might this discovery mean for some people who misconceive that they’re in their position because of their natural genetic code? An image of arrogant, over-assured and unnaturally confident managers springs oh too easily to mind.
Well, rest assured. There are people out there who still hold firm to the view that you do need training and experience to become a good leader. The UCL research, in fact, states that the traditional view of leadership being a skill is still largely true.
But is the idea of a natural leader unrealistic? What part does an understanding of the organisation or sector you’re working in play in ensuring good, strong management and leadership? And shouldn’t this be combined with good training, support and experience?
In my book, yes, understanding context, and getting the right level of practice as a leader is the perfect combination.
For leadership success, the message seems clear:
- your personality may be truly wonderful, some people’s personalities may lend themselves better to leadership roles than others, and your natural qualities are fundamental to good leadership – a solid foundation for you to build on, but . . .
- personality can’t be taught, and only in very rare circumstances (and you may know of some truly inspirational, charismatic leaders) is it sufficient to get you there without a good background in learning, development, knowledge, understanding and skills for leadership
- whether it’s more traditional learning – books, training courses – or 1:1 helping activities like coaching and mentoring, being able to enhance your leadership skillset will complement any natural tendencies that you hold
- you don’t have to be the loudest person in the room; you don’t have to be the most confident orator to be a great leader . . . sometimes, leadership that is less about a person’s individual, natural leadership story is the leadership that has most impact: that which is based on a vast experience of both leadership and management, which people have learnt along the way.