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Are CEOs Built Or Born?

Lewis Humphries

The debate of "nature versus nurture" is one of the longest-standing psychological conflicts, though it has gradually evolved through generations of research and advanced theory. While this debate once posed the question of whether a child's development was influenced predominantly by his or her biological makeup or environment, it is now more concerned with determining exactly how the two interact in order to cultivate human behavior.

With this in mind, it is logical to assume that the relationship between our genetics and upbringing varies based on each individual action or exercise that we undertake. More specifically, it is likely that while an ability to perform natural and instinctive actions well is influenced by an individual's genes, the capacity to complete unnatural tasks effectively is dictated by a person's upbringing and commitment to learning. Leadership serves as an interesting bridge between the two, because while it is widely considered a natural skill, it also requires a mindset that often defies human instinct.

The Issues of Education, Gender and Opportunity
Recent studies certainly seem to confirm that while there are several clearly defined leadership traits, it is environment and upbringing that influences how effectively these attributes are used by individuals. Richard Avery is the head of business management and organization at the National University of Singapore, and he has studied the interaction between genes and environment while determining how this cultivates the ability to lead, innovate and develop entrepreneurial skills.

In terms of business leadership and the ability to become a CEO, Avery's findings reveal several interesting points. The first finding is that the influence of genetics is altered based on how each individual was nurtured, as those who have been raised in supportive and wealthy families benefit primarily from a culture of empowerment and access to high-quality education. Conversely, leaders who emerge from restricted upbringings are more likely to rely on natural leadership qualities, which are subsequently developed through life experience.

Even more interestingly, it appears as though the interaction between nature and an individual's environment also changes according to gender. According to Mr. Avery's studies, genetics and biological composition only explains extroversion among females, which means that while male CEOs are typically self-made, female business leaders often rely on their natural assets. Some may argue that this in itself is a result of the prevailing environment and existing social barriers, but women must strive to make the most of their natural traits in a world where they have less opportunity to emerge as leaders and board executives than men do.

The Evolution of Leadership Styles
The development of new and innovative leadership styles in recent times also offers an insight into whether CEOs are predominantly influenced by genetics or their environments. After all, it is widely accepted that in order to be a successful business leader you must say and do things that contradict your natural human instincts. Anthropological studies have proven that most people want to be liked, which determines the way in which we act when uninhibited and in our natural state.

In contrast, CEOs must often make decisions that solicit dislike and resentment, and to do this effectively they must engage in adequate training and seek to redefine their mindset and behavior. This is often a time-consuming evolution, during which leaders will continue to interact with people and learn more about how to effectively motivate and inspire those around them. Subsequently, experienced CEOs are able to adapt their leadership styles according to the individual personalities that they manage, which suggests that environment and training gradually become more influential than any inborn characteristics.

The Bottom Line
It should also be remembered that there is a fundamental difference between leadership and management, as while leaders must be able to create a vision and have a forward-thinking strategy, managers are charged with operational tasks and optimizing the efficiency of staff on a daily basis. This differentiation is decidedly important, as it is clear that the most fundamental leadership skills are more likely to be inborn than learned.

Conversely, the skills required for day-to-day management can be acquired through education and personal development, which means that the typical CEO requires a fusion of innate and learned skills in order to succeed. That said, it is an ability to continually evolve and learn that allows business leaders to take advantage of their natural gifts, especially in a world where the nature of industry and the application of technology changes so rapidly.

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