Do You Have The Genes Of A Girl Boss?

Photographed by Eva K Salvi.
Trying to break into a bigger role at work can feel intimidating. But, new research suggests you have something unexpected on your side: People who end up in leadership positions may have genetics in common.

The study, to be published in an upcoming issue of The Leadership Quarterly, used a series of two experiments to look at the role of the genes that encode the dopamine transporter (DAT1). In the first experiment, 309 participants were collected from a larger Chinese study on myopia. Participants were each asked if they had ever held any of seven leadership positions and whether they had a "proactive personality." Also, participants' DNA was analyzed to see if they had a specific type of DAT1.

In the second experiment, the researchers looked at a larger sample of 13,172 people (taken from a nationally representative U.S. study). Participants were asked about their job roles and were given questionnaires about whether they had "proactive" or "rule-breaking" personalities. Their DNA was also analyzed.

Results revealed that the DAT1 gene was associated with having a proactive personality (including traits such as being future-oriented and striving for goals). But, that personality was actually negatively associated with leadership roles, so those people were less likely to find themselves in a managerial position. On the other hand, mild rule-breaking, such as skipping class, was positively correlated with leadership and the DAT1 gene.

This suggests that having the DAT1 gene — which may lead to higher levels of impulsivity and risk-taking — can both hurt and help in leadership. Which makes sense: That kind of personality could make it easier for us to get into leadership roles by taking risks, but could also make it harder to actually stay there (or move up at all) due to that same risk-taking. The researchers rightfully call this a "mixed blessing."

Still, it's important to remember that your genes are not your destiny. Previous research suggests that your genetic makeup only accounts for about 30% of the factors hurling you towards (or away from) a managerial position. Maybe for you, the secret to success is in your smile.

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