A gene has recently been identified by researchers that is suggested to be at least partially correlated with leadership in humans. Specifically there is a genotype, called rs4950, which is a single nucleotide polymorphism that occurs in the DNA of a fraction of the human population. Research has suggested that this gene accounts at least partially for the ability of people to become leaders. The research was based on a cross-comparison of peoples’ DNA sequences with an assessment of their leadership roles (i.e. – leader vs. follower), with a search for correlations between specific DNA sequences and the occurrence of leadership. The result of the study was the finding of a positive correlation between the probability of being a leader and a gene called rs4950.
While it is quite obvious that leadership skills are attainedprimarily through practice, environment, and conditioning, it has been proposed that this gene functions as a gate, whereby only people who possess the gene will be able to break through a certain “ceiling” that determines whether or not they will ultimately have the ability to become a leader, irrespective of much leadership training they have received. It is highly improbable that this gene actually functions as a strict determinant of whether an individual can pass through a certain ceiling to become a leader. While many news headlines tend to simplify the results of the study, saying that “the rs4950 gene is responsible for leadership”, the reality is much more complex. Nonetheless, the idea of a leadership gene is attractive to many and brings up the possibility that, in the future, people could be preselected for leadership roles based solely on genetic traits, making the selection process far more predictable.
This concept touches upon a deep ethical issue. If enough people become convinced that a specific gene is responsible for a complex behavioral trait such as leadership, the world could start to see more prospective employers demanding to sequence their applicants’ DNA, in order to see if the applicant has the potential to become a leader (despite other qualifications). While this pursuit itself would likely be a waste of time, the possibility for such a shift in paradigm, where employers could require DNA sequencing of employees, is alarming. There is a slippery slope down the road from employers checking employees for leadership genes to health insurance companies checking insurance applicants for cancer-causing genes, so that they may preemptively deny health insurance to people with genes making them more likely to get cancer (thereby saving the insurance company money). Where do we draw the line? Do we want to live in a world where genetics are the primary determinant of success, or do we want a world filled with compassion where true learned skills are more important than genetics?
As with any genetic study, it is important that researchers and society alike proceed with caution and a careful consideration of the surrounding ethical issues. It is likely inevitable that information such as individual peoples’ DNA sequences will be exploited for greedy purposes in the future. However, if enough people are aware of such potential for exploitation, then there is a better chance for the greater good to steer our society as a whole toward a better future.