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'Mummy's boys grow up to be the best leaders'

Adolf Hitler always carried a photograph of his mother, while Lenin claimed it was his maternal influence that inspired his revolutionary zeal.

In a more peaceful vein, Mahatma Gandhi can thank his mum for setting him on the road to living sainthood by encouraging his vow to eschew the pleasures of wine, women and meat.

According to researchers from Heriot-Watt University, the reason for these important figures' rise to power and influence may be down to their relationships with their mothers.

They argue that mummy's boys, from George W Bush to Richard Branson and the BP boss John Browne, eventually let go of the maternal apron strings to become the most effective leaders.

Howard Kahn of the university's Department of Business Organisation said: "No one knows what makes a good leader. While some people think they are born, others believe it has more to do with education, personality or even height.

"We hope that by moving away from the trait and behavioural theories to look at people's childhoods we will be able to identify a single important factor."

According to research carried out so far it is people who have had a happy childhood with their mothers who are more likely to go on to be the best bosses.

By comparison, bosses who had an irregular or bad relationship with their mothers are more likely to be inconsistent and ineffective in their management styles.

Those who were neglected or ignored as children often become fiercely independent in adult life and expect their workers to be the same.

Previous research has already argued that childhood and adolescent relationships at home have an influence on emerging leaders during their formative years.

Birth order, family size and parental treatment have all been recognised as major factors in the development of leadership tendencies. First-born children are often given more responsibility, while the youngest gets more attention. Those with siblings have to learn how to how to work better in a group.

For many leaders the input of their mothers' emotional intelligence in their formative years helps them to learn how to motivate others.

The researchers at Heriot-Watt hope that by discovering the key to successful leadership they can help pinpoint potential high-flyers of the future at an early stage.

In addition they hope their work into the effects that mothers can have on leaders from the worlds of politics, business and sport will help teach bosses to change their leadership techniques when dealing with different employees, thereby increasing their effectiveness.

In putting their theory to the test, Dr Kahn and his team are working with 12 of Scotland's leading figures from politics, sport and business to discover how their childhood has influenced their successes.

"If we can work out what successful leaders have in common we might be able to predict who is going to be a leader in the future and train them to adapt to different situations," said Dr Kahn, who refuses to name the leaders involved in the programme until the research has been concluded.

"We don't have enough good leaders but if we can identify those with leadership style and teach them how to use it effectively then it can avoid personality clashes.

"People fail to be good leaders because they think they can use the same style for every worker."