Can leadership be inherited? Can leadership be learned? 

In a study published in 2013 by Science Direct, the answer to both those questions is ‘yes’ - but learning how to lead significantly outweighs the likelihood of the former working without some input. The researchers of the paper entitled, Born to lead? A twin design and genetic association study of leadership role occupancy, believe that inheritance contributes little to leadership qualities:

“Employing twin design methods on data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, we estimate the heritability of leadership role occupancy at 24%”

The study would go down as the only study to ever use genotypes to determine whether or not humans could inherently be born with a leadership gene. The result was that leadership is more easily taught than inherited.

In engineering the likelihood of being thrust into a position that involves having to manage a team is high. So those new to leadership may find solace in the fact that it can be taught.

This is indeed heartening when one considers that engineering projects do fail when the teams involved are not managed ably.

A prominent clinical psychologist from the University of Toronto, Jordan Peterson, has been delivering presentations based on his new book, 12 Rules for Life. Talking to SpeakerSpotlights about management and leadership, Peterson suggests that those in charge must encourage their team members to take control of their lives and strive towards achieving their goals. He explained:

“If you have a vision for the direction of your life, and your job is serving that purpose, then instantly your job becomes motivating. People are motivated when they are undertaking an act that is associated with a goal that they desire.”

He also emphasizes the need for a positive atmosphere within a team as it will result in a unified group who work actively to achieving the same goal or project outcomes.

Become a leader

Elizabeth Powitzky, a writer for the Forbes Financial Council, has penned her responses to the study by Science Direct; she has come up with six strategies that could turn a manager into a leader:

1. Identify gaps and strengths. To be a truly effective leader, figure out what’s hindering or helping you, and then take action.

2. Surround yourself with diverse thinkers. Leaders constantly confront difficult problems and no one person typically has the answer. It is important to seek out people who think differently from you -- and from one another.

3. Understand that words matter. People often dissect a leader’s words, looking for nuance and hidden meaning. Think carefully about what you’re saying and how it’s being perceived.

4. Question and test decisions thoroughly. Imagine explaining each one to a client, your team, or other leaders in your organization.

5. Observe others and keep growing. You have to be a lifelong learner in all aspects of life, but particularly if you want to grow as a leader. Study critically what others say and do.

6. Seek feedback and act on it. Ask others to share their perceptions of you and how they would describe you to others.

The Engineering Institute of Technology (EIT) has a Diploma of Leadership and Management and a Professional Certificate of Competency in Project Management for Engineers & Technicians. These courses offer the kind of training that familiarizes students with ‘people skills’ and teaches a range of skills including scheduling, cost control and risk management.

Drawing on his years in engineering, the Dean of Engineering at EIT, Steve Mackay, has articulated his thoughts on dealing with conflict in engineering teams. He believes a manager who is able to diffuse difficult situations makes a good leader. Consider his ideas in the following:


Works Cited
“Born to Lead? A Twin Design and Genetic Association Study of Leadership Role Occupancy.” Egyptian Journal of Medical Human Genetics, Elsevier, 10 Sept. 2012, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1048984312000811?via=ihub.
Powitzky, Elizabeth. “Great Leaders Are Made, Not Born: Six Strategies For Becoming A Better Leader.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 25 May 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/forbesfinancecouncil/2018/05/25/great-leaders-are-made-not-born-six-strategies-for-becoming-a-better-leader/2/#35abb68d25d2.
speakersspotlight. “On Leadership and Direction | Dr. Jordan Peterson.” YouTube, YouTube, 8 Aug. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_wVDdJ0JQk.