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The Leadership Gene

Layne McDonald. Ph.D.

"The very essence of leadership is that you must have a vision. You cannot blow an uncertain trumpet." - Theodore Hesburgh.

Leadership and genetics have been discussed and researched for as long as the concept of leadership was created. Research efforts have been poured into exploring the link between the two. Are leaders born or made? This is going to sound cliché, but until now, genetics is still considered a critical factor in deciding the formation of leaders. But not everyone thinks the same way. There could be correct, but factors such as experiences and social dynamics are also important in leadership.

No single factor will decide a person's ability to lead.

Each factor is essential to a certain extent.

Some scientists feel strongly about genetic and biological factors and link them with leadership. The interest in the link between genetics and leadership is sparked by people from the same family that assume leadership positions in society. The Kennedys and the Bush family are two examples. More than genetics, science is also looking at leaders' biological and physical traits. Some studies show how genetics contribute to a person's physiological and psychological functions. Hormones and chemical changes in the body affect a person's cognitive functioning, an essential aspect of leadership. These will eventually affect the person's mental and behavioral characteristics, which decide if the person is fit for leadership.

When it comes to leadership, it is always a question of nature vs. nature. However, both are intertwined with each other and cannot be separated. Leadership cannot be discussed without considering both at the same time. A case in point would be chemical and hormonal changes in the body that will affect the person's disposition. Nature will affect attitude and behavior, which are essential factors in leadership.

An example would be a person that is suffering from bipolar disorder.

People with bipolar disorder tend to show very drastic mood swings, quickly switching from euphoria to depression. There are several causes of bipolar disorder, including neurotransmitters that are hereditary. Their bipolar tendencies will affect their personality, affecting their leadership style. This is not to say that bipolar people are not capable leaders. The most outstanding leaders in the world were bipolar (e.g., Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, and Napoleon Bonaparte). However, their drastic mood swings may adversely affect the leadership and building trust with their followers.

As said earlier, you cannot rule out leadership's external factors (nurture). The Kennedys may be a family of leaders but note that the members are exposed to the same environment and values. They are exposed to the same group of people and circumstances. Even if genetics played a big part in their leadership streak, you could not ignore that they thrive in a familiar environment. They were exposed to the same kind of experiences and brought up by people who also share the same values. They are also bound to develop similar opinions on critical issues and the same leadership style.

There are specific environments that are conducive to molding leaders. The environment plays a massive role in shaping people's ideas, opinions, and values. If young children are brought up by parents that promote pro-social behavior, the children will grow up overcoming unreasonable aggression and forming healthy relationships with their peers. Role models account a lot for the formation of leadership traits in a person. When people with vital leadership attributes surround a child, the child will also imbibe these attributes. Likewise, children surrounded by aggressive role models will be bold. Aggression and social skills are significant in leadership because to be an effective leader; the individual must be adept at dealing with people. Leaders must set up a rapport with their colleagues and subordinates.

In general, leadership attributes are shaped by external factors. Even if there are claims that leadership qualities are inherent in a person, the fact stays that a person will continue to develop for as long as they are alive. Some traits will be more developed by others. The people will influence the attitude and personality of the person around them. Other environmental factors that affect the person (e.g., political atmosphere, economic conditions, life-changing events) will also decide their leadership traits. Such are the formative experiences that can produce a leader.

Related to the formative experiences are the social dynamics the person is subject to. For instance, a particular female may have good social skills and firm conviction. Still, her leadership qualities may not shine to their full potential if she is in a society where males are always considered the alpha figure. She may have leadership potential, but if she thinks that males are always the rightful leader, she will not be able to show her leadership qualities to their fullest. The position in the family is also an example of the impact of social dynamics on leadership. Many firstborns are usually molded to become leaders, although not all are good leaders.

Social dynamics are essential factors to a certain extent, like genetics and formative experiences. All three contribute to the development of a leader. People may or may not have inherent leadership qualities, but affairs and relationships in life will affect the person's attitude. Leadership qualities may be enhanced along the way. One's growth and development are crucial in deciding if the person is fit to be a good leader.

Leadership styles vary, but surely, there should be common qualities among great leaders. The attributes will gauge whether the leader is excelling in serving their purpose.

Good leaders make a good first impression not because of their skills and achievements. Although these are important, they are not the first things their people notice. People are drawn to leaders that are oozing with charisma. Charisma is a desirable and inspiring trait that many great leaders have. Finding charisma is not easy because it cannot be articulated instantly. Charisma is a combination of things – how a person stands, moves speaks, etc. Charismatic leaders have a vision (which will be discussed later) and the ability to articulate this vision. They should also communicate with as many people as possible on an emotional level. Charismatic leaders make other people feel they can relate to their plight, which is not extremely easy to do. People think that charisma is something that cannot be learned. For them, it is an inherent trait in every person. You either have it, or you do not. But modern thinkers beg to disagree with this mindset. They think that people can eventually learn to be charismatic, starting with being courteous, polite, and respectful. The point is to be "likable" and "relatable" to others.

Charismatic leaders make others feel they can understand and relate to their situation. Not all have this ability, but some can build charisma through age and time.

The administration would not exist if there were no people to lead. Leadership needs good people skills and sensitivity to others' needs, also building blocks of charisma. People's skills are built on trivial things that people do not forget. For example, they appreciate it when new acquaintances remember their names, even if they have only met a few times. Charisma can eventually be developed if the person remembers to make others feel comfortable and meaningful.

Leadership starts with a focus and vision. It is only by having a guide that a solid commitment and responsibility can be formed. Leaders do not have to be all-knowing individuals, but they should thoroughly know the organization's purpose and image. Also, a leader must have the competence needed in their field. Again, they need not be all-knowing, but sufficient knowledge in the area must make tough judgment calls.

No leader can withstand leadership challenges without courage and character strength. Of all the members in the organization, individuals holding leadership responsibilities cannot be swayed by just anything and anyone. The leader must remember the purpose and vision of the leadership in any decision-making process. The leader must have enough courage to stand up to anything threatening to undermine that vision. Good leaders are assertive in getting the job done and upholding the organization's vision. They must be strong enough to get people to fulfill their duties.

Good leaders should always arm themselves with creativity and resourcefulness because some situations require them to think freely. Textbook formulas and tried-and-tested solutions can solve not all problems. They must have enough courage to veer from the conventional to find better ways of doing things.

Finally, a good leader should have loads of passion and a sense of servitude. Leadership is no easy feat; if leaders try to fulfill their duties devoid of love, they might not endure the challenges. Leadership is a rollercoaster experience; without power, the leader might find it difficult to accept the difficulties. As for the sense of servitude, leaders cannot lead if they do not know what it is like to serve. Besides, the leader's purpose is to help the organization and not just to order people around.

The following sections will delve into what makes a great leader and how one can achieve the status, despite the challenges. They will also help the reader improve their leadership skills and give them a peek at what is in store for them as leaders.

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