Arvey Leadership Paper

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The Determinants of Leadership: The Role of Genetic, Personality, and Cognitive


Richard D. Arvey Maria Rotundo

University of Minnesota University of Toronto

Matt McGue Wendy Johnson

University of Minnesota

Under review with the Journal of Applied Psychology. Not to be cited or quoted without permission

A sample of 646 male twins (331 monozygotic or identical, 315 dizygotic or fraternal twins) completed a survey indicating their leadership role occupancy in work settings. Data on these individuals were also available for personality and cognitive variables. As predicted, two personality variables (Social Potency and Achievement) and a cognitive variable (a vocabulary test) were significantly correlated with the leadership variable. Subsequently, univariate and multivariate genetic analyses showed that a substantial portion of this leadership variance was accounted for by genetic factors (39 percent) while non-shared (or non-common) environmental factors accounted for the remaining variance in this leadership variable. Genetic influences were shown for the personality and cognitive factors as well. Finally, results indicated that the genetic influences for the leadership factor were substantially associated with or common with the genetic factors influencing the personality factors but not with the cognitive variable.

The Determinants of Leadership: The Role of Genetics, Personality, and Cognitive Variables

What are the determinants of leadership in work and organizational settings? This question has been pursued for decades. Throughout the years, a variety of constructs and predictors have been posited as determinants of leadership including general intelligence, personality, values, and even genetic factors. Though the proposition that individual differences or “traits” can predict and/or explain differences in emergent or effective leadership has sometimes been viewed with skepticism, current research has more firmly established the robustness of these types of variables in predicting leadership criteria. For example, Judge, Bono, Illies, and Gehrardt (2002) present the results of their meta-analysis showing that personality variables are consistently and reliably correlated with leadership variables, Chan and Drasgow (2001) demonstrate that a number of cognitive, personality, and motivational constructs are related to leadership across samples from different international environments, and Schneider, Paul, White, and Holcome (1999) show that a variety of constructs drawn from personality, interests, and motivation domains predicts leadership among high school students.
Because of the firm foundation regarding the relationships between the constructs of individual differences and leadership, it is not far-fetched to ask whether leadership is genetically influenced. Indeed, the notion that leadership has genetic influences has been articulated in practitioner and scholarly articles over the years. For example, in a recent Harvard Business Review article, Sorcher and Brant (2002) say: “Our experience has led us to believe that much of leadership talent is hardwired in people before they reach their early or mid-twenties” (p. 81). In contrast, Kellaway (2002) reports the efforts of a major US Bank to develop all of its employees (95,000 of them) into leaders, reflecting the belief that leadership is entirely under developmental influences. It is interesting to note that almost no research exists that examines this “nature-nurture” issue using a contemporary behavior genetics research design, even though Bass (1990, p. 911) and Arvey and Bouchard (1994, p. 70) suggest that such analyses would be quite appropriate. In addition, Arvey and Bouchard (1994) indicate that while there may be evidence for genetic influences on variables like leadership, such relationships are most likely mediated through