Research Roundup: July 2022
Cracking the Leadership Genetic Code
Scientists have been able to identify genetic markers common to a range of different people, from introverts to narcissists. In a new study, four researchers now have shed light on how genetics correlates with another group: leaders.
The study was conducted by Zhaoli Song, associate professor at National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School; Li Wendong, associate professor at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Business School; Xuye Jin, a data scientist at NUS; and Fan Qiao, an assistant professor at Duke-NUS Medical School. The team examined data from the U.K. Biobank, a public genetic and health database.
The team examined the genetic information in the database related to more than 240,000 individuals of European ancestry. They then cross-referenced this data with information from the U.K. Standard Occupation Classification and U.S. Occupational Information Network related to leadership and management roles.
After adjusting for income and education, the team found a genetic link between holding leadership positions and having a higher body mass index, an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, a tendency for increased alcohol consumption, and decreased longevity. One reason for this link might be because people drawn to leadership are genetically predisposed to develop such conditions. Another might be because the high stress that often accompanies leadership positions could make it more likely that these diseases will develop.
The researchers also found that leaders are more likely to have the genetic variant that puts them at increased risk of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Bipolar disorder, especially, has been linked with positive leadership traits such as greater creativity and higher intelligence. But the negative effects of the condition, such as depression and mood swings, can have a negative impact on job performance.
These findings contradict previous studies that have linked leadership with good health and greater well-being. On the contrary, says Li, leadership could be detrimental to health.
“Since the late 1980s, studies using twins have shown that differences in people's genetic makeup account for 30 percent of differences in whether they hold leadership roles,” he says. “Now we have gone a step further in and conducted genomic studies using a vast database to identify genes related to leadership.”
These findings matter, he adds, because “leaders’ well-being affects their behaviors, which may influence the performance and well-being of their subordinates, teams, and organizations. The implications arising from a leader’s health can be vast.” To that end, he says, leaders might do well to adopt behaviors and lifestyles that help improve their health—and, in turn, the health of their organizations.
Linking Meaning and Proactive Behavior
In the past, scholarship has shown that the more employees find their work meaningful, the less likely they are to seek positions elsewhere. But what are the factors that lead to meaningful work?
Past research into meaningfulness at work also has focused on factors related to job design and the work environment. A new study, however, has looked at the link between meaning and employees’ actions. The study was led by Doris Fay, a psychologist at the University of Potsdam in Germany, and Karoline Strauss, a professor of organizational behavior at ESSEC Business School in Cergy, France. They worked with Christopher Schwake and Tina Urbach, both researchers in work and organizational psychology at the University of Potsdam.
The research team conducted three studies. In the first, participants were asked to take on the perspective of employees described in two written scenarios. In one, the employee’s company had just installed a new computer software program that was causing errors; in another, the protagonist was dealing with coworkers who were not abiding by decisions made in a previous work meeting.
Participants read both of these scenarios, but the versions they read were randomly selected to end with either a proactive or a non-proactive response. in Scenario A, for example, the fictional employee responded by either avoiding errors on her own (non-proactive condition) or organizing internal training for the company (proactive condition). In Scenario B, the employee either discussed long-term solutions with colleagues (proactive) or refused to allow himself to be upset by his colleagues’ behavior (non-proactive).
In a diary study, workers reported that they felt their work had more meaning on days when they also demonstrated more proactive behaviors.
The research team found that participants who put themselves into the position of employees in the proactive conditions found their own work more meaningful than did those in the non-proactive condition. The researchers repeated these findings in two subsequent studies. These included a diary study in which they asked workers to write about their workplace behaviors and perceptions of work meaningfulness from day to day. In this study, workers reported that they felt their work had more meaning on days when they also demonstrated more proactive behaviors.
Employees can find more meaning in their jobs when they feel they have more control over outcomes, which, in turn, can lead to a sense of greater well-being, says Strauss. “Meaningful work has been linked to job satisfaction, engagement, and motivation,” she says. “It can also be linked to positive outcomes for the employer, like low absenteeism and boosting commitment and job performance. In short, finding work meaningful is beneficial for both employees and employers.”
Toward Reform of Research Assessment
In July, the European University Association, a cooperative organization the represents more than 800 higher education institutions across 48 countries, released the Agreement on Reforming Research Assessment, drafted in partnership with Science Europe and the European Commission. The agreement is the first step in the creation of a widespread coalition of research institutions that will work to implement research assessment reform.
The agreement, which will open to signatures of commitment in late September, lists changes that the coalition considers necessary to promote the quality and impact of academic research. Signatories to the agreement promise to adhere to 10 principles and make 10 commitments in their research assessment efforts.
Among the ten principles, signatories will promise to “guard against sources of bias,” as well as engage in the “early sharing of research data and results, [build] on the work of others, and [subject their research] to critical external validation.”
They also will agree to “reward a variety of research missions, ranging from basic and frontier research to applied research” and recognize “contributions that advance knowledge and the (potential) impact of research results” over the short-, medium-, or long-term. Signatories will promise to recognize and value a broad range of diverse research interests and promote inclusiveness in research teams and innovation.
Among their commitments, first and foremost, signatories will “abandon inappropriate uses in research assessment of journal- and publication-based metrics, in particular inappropriate uses of Journal Impact Factor (JIF) and h-index.” Instead, institutions are asked to assess research based on the evidence of its larger impact.
The EUA has posted answers to frequently asked questions about the coalition on its website, and invites researchers and institutions to send questions or intentions to join the coalition to [email protected] The EUA is organizing a workshop series called “National Perspectives on Reforming Research Assessment” that is intended to raise awareness and inspire discussions about opportunities related to this effort. In addition, the association is planning to hold the first coalition meeting later this fall.