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Scientists Find DNA Sequence Associated With Leadership Qualities

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A gene has been uncovered that may help to create born leaders.

The leadership gene, 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.

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British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill led the country to victory World War Two

Researchers found the gene after analysing DNA samples from around 4,000 individuals and matching them to information about jobs and relationships.

Workplace supervisory roles were used as a measurement of leadership behaviour.

The study showed that a quarter of the observed variation in leadership traits between individuals could be explained by genetics.

Lead scientist Dr Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, from University College London, said: "We have identified a genotype, called rs4950, which appears to be associated with the passing of leadership ability down through generations.

"The conventional wisdom - that leadership is a skill - remains largely true, but we show it is also, in part, a genetic trait."

The findings appear online today in the journal Leadership Quarterly.

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Some of the greatest leaders in recent history include Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Sir Winston Churchill.

But leaders do not necessarily have to be heroic or good. Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Genghis Khan were also great leaders in their own way.

The new research suggests at least the possibility that some of these historic figures were blessed with the leadership gene.

Despite the importance of the gene, acquiring a leadership position still mostly depends on developing the necessary skills, say the researchers.

"As recent as last August, Professor John Antonakis, who is known for his work on leadership, posed the question: 'is there a specific leadership gene?'

"This study allows us to answer yes - to an extent. Although leadership should still be thought of predominantly as a skill to be developed, genetics - in particular the rs4950 genotype - can also play a significant role in predicting who is more likely to occupy leadership roles."

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More research was needed to understand the ways in which rs4950 interacted with other factors, such as a child learning environment, he added.

The research involved analysing genetic data from two large American health studies, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and the Framingham Heart Study.

Scientists made comparisons between pairs of identical and non-identical twins to untangle inherited and learned traits.

Identical twins share all of the same genes, and should therefore stand an equal chance of displaying a genetic trait.

Non-identical twins only share half their genes, but normally grow up in the same family environment.

A trait that appears in both pairs of identical twins, but not in non-identical pairs, probably has a genetic origin.

The scientists wrote: "Our study takes a first step towards providing new insights into the fundamental origins of leadership emergence by studying genetic variation as a possible source of leadership role occupancy.. We estimated that about a quarter of the variation in leadership role occupancy is heritable."

They warned of a potential ethical issue raised by the research, with companies genetically testing job applicants to assess their leadership potential.

"It is unlikely that individuals will want to be screened in this way, and the potential for violation of privacy means that we should seriously consider extending current protections against genetic discrimination from health care to employment," said the researchers.

"Given that genetic factors do not explain most of the variance in leadership emergence, our main suggestion for practice is that this research may help in the identification of specific environmental factors that can help in the development of leadership skills."