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Natural born leaders

- 3rd April 2009

The behaviours that drive leadership style are linked to our genes, this is the finding of a study presented at the British Psychological Society Annual Conference in Brighton, last week.

The research, carried out by Dr Carl Senior and an international research team based at Aston University in Birmingham, Institute of Psychiatry in London and the University of Pittsburgh, USA, looked at one of the most powerful leadership styles and the possible genes linked to it.

The style, called transformational leadership, is a social-based style of leadership, in which leaders motivate their team members to reach their maximum potential through charisma, individual consideration and support, and intellectual stimulation.

The team were interested in genes involved in synthesising dopamine - the brain chemical linked to empathy, and serotonin - the brain chemical linked to emotion. They looked at two genes - catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) and the serotonin transporter gene (5-HTTLPR). Both of which can occur in three different forms.

Some 115 students completed a leadership questionnaire and had their cheeks swabbed to test their genes. Those with the dopamine-based gene in its most common form had higher scores on scales measuring key transformational leadership characteristics - the social-based style of leadership. Those who did not have this gene did not show this style of leadership.

In a follow-up, the team found that a specific version of the dopamine gene, the inefficient version, was linked to low scores on two core leadership behaviours: intellectual stimulation and charisma. People who are carriers of this gene are unable to show efficient charisma.

"This research is exciting," says Dr Senior, "because it shows we may have at least some genetic propensity for one or another kind of leadership style. We can use the knowledge of the genes behind leadership styles to improve how we train effective leaders."

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