What if Training Is More Important than Talent?
POLITICAL SCIENCES |

What if Training Is More Important than Talent?

ARE LEADERS BORN OR DEVELOPED? A STUDY BY MARIANI AND GAGLIARDI OFFERS AN EXPLANATION

Leadership skills do not relate entirely on a natural talent. They can be learned. Myriam Mariani and Luisa Gagliardi, both professors at Bocconi, used an original method to assess it: they analyzed data on military service. “When it comes to leadership skills, there is a self-selection effect. People with a knack for it tend to enroll in programs that teach leadership. This makes very difficult to understand how much leadership depends on a natural talent and how much on training”, professor Mariani says.

The authors used data on military service in order to isolate the effect of training. “Literature says that during military service people are directly exposed to examples of hierarchical leadership. There is also an indirect effect: the draft led people to keep studying in order to postpone their service or to have access to better assignments”.

The authors employed a difference-in-difference research design using the policy discontinuity in the US, which abandoned the compulsory draft in 1972, and a sample from countries that kept compulsory draft in the same timespan. Because it is compulsory, military service cancels out the effects of self-selection. Then, data from 7,000 research and development projects, for which there has been a great demand for leadership in the last 20 years, was analyzed.

 “The end of the compulsory draft reduced the likelihood of assuming leadership roles in research and development projects by 5.7%. In other words, leadership skills can be learned. At the same time, the end of conscription realigned the gender odds of being in leadership positions and produced a transition from a more hierarchical leadership style to a less autocratic and more creative style, which is more likely to lead to inventions”.

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by Claudio Todesco

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