Left-handed leaders

In the current political climate, many world leaders seem increasingly to lean to the right. This is despite the fact that many of them are actually lefties. Look closely enough and you’ll see.

I’m talking, of course, about left-handers. A disproportionately high number of prime ministers and presidents are (or have been) left-handed.

It was an advantage, especially being a left-handed pitcher. We win with our ability to surprise.

British Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron is a leftie. As is the world’s most powerful person: President Barack Obama. In fact, five of the last seven US presidents have been left-handed (a tradition begun by Thomas Jefferson): Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan (ambidextrous), George Bush Sr, Bill Clinton and Obama. Had he not lost to Obama in 2008, John McCain - another lefty - would have been US president. In total, 16 per cent of US Presidents have been left-handed. Ireland's previous prime minister, Brian Cowen, was a lefty, as was his predecessor, Bertie Ahern.

Roughly 10 per cent of the population is left-handed (a figure that has grown four-fold in the last century, as it’s no longer beaten out of pupils). Many historical world leaders are rumoured to have been left-handed (sometimes disputed) – from enduring empire leaders (Julius Caesar, Queen Victoria) to juggernaut corporation leaders (Bill Gates; Henry Ford; IBM head Lou Gerstner; John D. Rockefeller). A National Bureau of Economic Research study even suggests left-handed men earn more. Two in three left-handers are men.

Even if you focus on the (easier-to-prove) modern lefties, the pattern is striking: left-handers are remarkably over-represented in leadership positions.

Frankly, it was about time molly-dookers like me received some good news. We are constantly being told by ominous studies that we’ll die younger or that we’re goofily more accident-prone. Other drawbacks, such as smudging and clumsiness, are well documented and unsurprising in a world designed for right-handers.


Even language and its connotations stigmatises left-handers: left is gauche, loony, awkward, unlucky, eccentric, sinister (left in Latin) and associated with the devil. Right, in juxtaposition, is correct, adroit (droit: right in French), dextrous (dexter: right in Latin), steadfast, proper, conservative, measured, authoritative. It stretches across tongues and seas: In Bulgarian, lefteren is a lefty; it means inefficient or inadequate. The Arabic words for left-handers, feshlawe and A'asar, translate as "loser" or "difficult".  In Chinese, zuo is used, meaning hindering. In German, linkisch means awkward. Canhoto in Portugese means incapable or the devil. Levsha in Russian means untrustworthy.

In short, left-handedness suffers from a major image problem.


This can change. The best thing about being ‘cack-handed’ is the unique, outside-the-box perspective it gives you.  It teaches you to be inquisitive, to reject the status quo, to resiliently stand firm without caving in to pressure and to lead, not follow.

From renowned global heads, to local level leaders, left-handers dominate the upper echelons.

'Ongoing determination'

Melbourne’s Alex Makin, 33, believes his “early experience with inferior scissors” is responsible for his “ongoing determination”.

“My earliest memory is that the school's left-handed scissors were too blunt to cut. So I learnt how to use the right-handed scissors in my left hand,” he says. It taught him patience and resolve: “My left handedness played a part in not giving in to frustration.”

This proved useful: in 2005, aged 25, Makin became the youngest councillor elected to the City of Maroondah and served two terms until 2012. He served as Mayor when he was 30 in 2010, and remains the youngest Mayor in the history of Maroondah City Council. He needed the steeliness of the 'corky dobber': “Dealing with the egos and politics of an old traditional council like Maroondah, needed determination,” he says.

Sporting edge

In sports, too, left-handers can lead the pack. Professional golfer Nick Cullen, who is defending his Isuzu Queensland Open title in August, differed in his approach to golf from his father: “He was left-handed in everything except golf. But he never tried to change me,” he tells me.

It’s a thought shared by Sydney-based Shane Pepper, a professional baseball player turned MD of Plum, a children’s fashion brand: “It was an advantage, especially being a left-handed pitcher. We win with our ability to surprise,” he says.

Pepper, his wife and their son are all left-handed. Since leaving the sport, he has found other advantages that he believes helped him and his wife make Plum a success (winning the NSW Chamber of Business Small Business Excellence Award 2013): “You learn very quickly how to be adaptable. It encourages you from a young age to find new ways of doing things. You become more creative and better at problem-solving: great business skills.”

I’ve noticed something similar in boxing classes I take. When a ‘jab, hook, upper-cut, double jab, hook, jab’ instruction routine is demonstrated, we southpaws must do the polar opposite of each instruction, requiring twice as much thought and a subversive feeling of individuality. Some sports still underestimate the southpaw, though: a left-footed snowboarder or surfer is called a "goofy-foot", a term that undoubtedly was coined derisively but has become a term of affection and even a pseudonym for someone who approaches things a bit differently. Out of left-field, perhaps, to use the baseball vernacular.

Science leans left

The science is on the side of the molly-dooker. An Australian National University study suggested left-handers are quicker and sharper than right-handers. It showed left-handers responding faster to stimuli in a series of tests. This backed up earlier studies which indicate that lefties process language using both hemispheres of the brain - as opposed to right-handers, who primarily use the left hemisphere for this purpose.

The study proposed a ground-breaking concept: when one hemisphere of the brain got overloaded and slowed down, the other hemisphere could more easily pick up the slack without missing a beat: and this was far more likely to happen if you were left-handed.

All this evidence could amount to a game-changer for lefties. Our fortunes stand to be transformed: from the devil-associated, goofily downtrodden and beaten of the last century to the undisputed top of the pile for the next.

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