Scientific research currently under way suggests that business management skills may be attributable as much to genetics as to training and experience. That is one of the main takeaways from "Homo administrans," a fascinating article in the September 25, 2010, issue of The Economist that summarizes the preliminary findings of investigations into whether business leaders are born or made.
Recent research indicates that business leadership is probably in one's DNA—at least to some extent. One of the leading researchers in this area is Dr. Scott Shane, a professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, USA, who authored the book Born Entrepreneurs, Born Leaders: How Your Genes Affect Your Work Life. Shane reviewed studies of identical twins (who have identical DNA) and non-identical, or fraternal, twins (who only share half of their DNA). His research suggests that genetic makeup influences career choices, job satisfaction, work performance, and salary.
Another researcher in this emerging field, Richard Arvey of the National University of Singapore, is also studying twins for clues about which individuals are likely to succeed in the business world. Arvey's research indicates that genes matter when it comes to extroversion (a key business trait) in women, but not necessarily in men. He has also found that the influence of genetics on leadership potential is weakest in men who were brought up in wealthy, supportive families and strongest in those who were raised in tough circumstances.
Although research into the role of genes in determining management skills and business success is still in its early stages, it raises some intriguing questions. At some point in the future, could a DNA test tell whether a certain individual would be a perfect fit in a business environment—or perhaps even a born supply chain leader? Would society benefit by identifying those individuals who possess innate traits for success early on? Could we, for example, steer individuals toward a career path in which they are likely to be successful in order to avoid wasting educational resources? Business educators could then focus on molding rather than creating leaders.
As intriguing as all that may sound, selecting future captains of industry on the basis of a genetic test would seem to run contrary to some of the fundamental principles of 21st century societies, such as respecting diversity in the workplace and promoting equal opportunity for all. Would an approach based on biological determinism undermine social progress, or even hinder innovative capitalism?
I don't profess to have any answers. But the research described in "Homo administrans" should make us ponder the potential benefits and drawbacks of testing for a genetic predisposition toward business leadership, and it should compel us to ask tough questions about the role and value of business education.