20 May Do Our Genes Influence Our Work Ethic and Leadership Ability?
Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Dr. Wen-Dong Li: There has been a “nature versus nurture” debate in leadership: Are leaders born or made? In academia, research on trait theories of leadership has shown that important individual characteristics such as personality traits are predictive of whether one is a leader or not (leadership role occupancy or emergence). One author of this paper, Dr. Arvey conducted twin studies showing that about 30% of the individual differences in leadership is attributable to individual differences in their genetic makeup. But so far, little research has examined whether specific genes are involved and no research has examined the pathways linking genes to leadership.
This is where this research came in. We found that a dopamine transporter gene, DAT1 was involved in genetic influences on leadership role occupancy, but through two opposing pathways. One pathway is through proactive personality: DAT1 10-repeat allele was negatively related to proactive personality, which in turn was positively associated with leadership role occupancy. The negative indirect effect was significant. On the other hand, DAT1 was positively related to (moderate) rule breaking, which was positively associated with leadership role occupancy. The overall relationship between DAT1 and leadership was not significant. Thus we call it a mixed blessing because the two opposing mechanisms offset each other.
Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?
Dr. Wen-Dong Li: This research was conducted using samples from the general population, NOT clinical samples. It is important to individuals if they are interested in seeking out the most compatible work and life environments to achieve optimal self actualization and well-being, based on their individual characteristics. For organizations, it is important to use more individualized or customized practice to enhance the positive effects of individual characteristics and inhibit the possible negative effects. This can also promote organizational effectiveness in the long run.
Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Dr. Wen-Dong Li: First, we need more studies linking specific genes to leadership, job performance, and other work attitude and behavior. This is a fascinating area. Such investigations shed lights on the biological pathways through which our genetic make up, as well as environmental factors and their interactions of course, shape work attitude and behavior through multiple mechanisms. These mechanisms include protein construction, brain functions, and individual characteristics, to name a few. In the era of big data, these investigations also contribute to organizational research in terms of understanding the interplay between nature and nurture.
We also encourage future research on more individualized practices (based on individual differences) to maximize human development and well-being, as personalized medicine suggests.
MedicalResearch.com Interview with: Wendong Li, Ph.D., Assistant professor of psychological sciences, Department of Psychological Sciences, Kansas State University, & Manhattan, KS (2015). Do Our Genes Influence Our Work Ethic and Leadership Ability?