Where Are You in the Lineup?

I recently heard Shankar Vedantam, NPR’s social science correspondent, talk about the effects of birth order on how children develop, more here. No surprise, the segment got me thinking about how birth order plays out among siblings in family businesses.

If you have older siblings who work with you, do you rely on them to take charge of decisions in the business? Are you an older sister who can’t help assuming you’re supposed to be in charge? Or, are you the stereotypical youngest child who broke all the rules and now yearns to be an entrepreneur?

I firmly believe that every family-and every family business-is unique. It is way too easy to generalize about how firstborns, middles, and “babies of the family” are likely to behave when they join the family business. That being said, the lens of birth order may lead you to consider your own attitudes and behaviors toward your siblings at work-that’s why I think it’s important.

Here are some questions to consider:

How do you feel when a younger sibling disagrees with you?

How do you respond when an older sibling gives you advice?

What would it take for you to manage an older sibling?

What would it take for you to work for a younger sibling?

If you’re in a meeting with your siblings, what do you most often say or do?

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. I’m simply suggesting that thinking about them may lead you to appreciate how “where you are in the lineup”-and where your siblings are-may be having an impact on you. And, perhaps more important, it may ease some of the tensions you feel with your siblings and increase some of the fun you have together.

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