Is there a leadership gene?

‘Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them’ said none other than the great bard and master of human insights, William Shakespeare.

Rajiv Gandhi famously reminded me of a person who had greatness thrust upon him. An ordinary airline pilot leading an ordinary life with his wife of Italian origin, he was practically forced to take over the mantle of the Prime Minister of India, with little experience of politics and no innate desire to be involved in running a country. But sometime great tragedy has a way to catapulting us into things that we might never have thought of.

Top-of-mind for every Indian currently is of course the dynastical politics of the only national opposition party the Congress. The discussion has once again come to the fore in view of the poor showing of the Congress in the UP elections. The current discourse always focusses on the leadership qualities of the current family that rules the Congress almost like monarchy, that feels that it is their privilege to rule over people. But does that really work in real life?

The argument on whether there is a leadership gene or not seems to be divided. Scientist provided some data that a leadership gene did exist. Known as rs4950, is an inherited DNA sequence associated with people taking charge. Scientists accept that leadership skills are also learned. But the gene may provide the vital push needed to make someone into a manager rather than a minion. That was the conclusion after analysing more than 4500 samples.

However here is the catch! The study showed that a quarter of the observed variation in leadership traits between individuals could be explained by genetics. Which raises the question about what about the remaining three quarters?

Which leads us to the conclusion that leadership as a skill remains largely true. Take a look at the great leaders in history : Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, John F Kennedy, Fidel Castro and Sir Winston Churchill. Not all of them, had an ancestry of leadership. For that matter neither does our Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Which leads me to believe that leaders can be made and need not necessarily be born. After all Leadership is a set of skills that can be learned by training, perception, practice and experience over time.

But if we look at Behavioural Science for an answer then probably leaders are mostly made. To expect that a person would be born with all of the tools needed to lead just doesn’t make sense.

So you may try to thrust greatness on someone, but whether it will work or not is quite another matter. So we have reason then to believe Vince Lombardi who said “Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.”

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