Leadership research - to identify what is common among successful leaders - has been taking place for over a century now. And much of the leadership research has focussed on successful (and unsuccessful) corporate leaders and CEOs, possibly because it is easier to find empirical data on them and their performance over sufficiently long periods, and to study large samples in different countries.
The initial leadership research focussed on trying to identify common traits that all leaders exhibited. Since then, leadership research and theories have become far more complex. Researchers have tried to study whether all leaders flourish in all situations or do different situations call for very different leadership qualities and throw up very different types of leaders. Other researchers have focussed on the role of followers, on the ecosystem and even on a biological basis for leadership and C-suite suitability.
Currently, there has been a lot of interest in the biological basis - or rather the genetic markers - of leadership. A research, conducted by the University College London (UCL) and published online in the Leadership Quarterly in 2013, found that a genotype called rs4950 appeared to be associated with the passing down of leadership ability through generations. The study used large samples (over 4,000 individuals in the US), and was conducted by an international team of researchers, including scientists from Harvard, NYU and University of California, with the lead author Dr Jan-Emmanuel De Neve from the UCL School of Public Policy.
A later research, led by researchers at Kansas State University and National University of Singapore, focussed on the DAT1 gene, because earlier studies had shown a link between the body's dopamine system and qualities like motivation and self-discipline. The study found that a particular variation of the gene exhibited certain qualities that could, in theory, have a leadership connection, though the link was hardly clear cut.
Future research may identify specific genes that determine leadership qualities but in the meantime, other evidence shows that all leaders (and high-performance CEOs) do tend to have some things in common. In fact, the Business Today-PWC Best CEO survey offers some interesting clues about what's the link between the best CEOs in every field. The survey showed that while the past three years have been extremely disruptive for businesses - because of policy changes and new technologies - the top CEOs in all sectors managed to perform extremely well, making profits and showing strong revenue growth in good times and bad.
There were three things strikingly common among them. First, they were never satisfied with status quo, even when their business was doing well. Two, they were always looking at the future and at new opportunities. And finally, none of them was afraid of taking risk.