The Last Shall Be First and the First Shall Be Last

We know the key to building inclusive work environments is to recognize and embrace differences our colleagues and customers bring to the workplace and the marketplace. We are familiar with categories of differences like race, gender, age, generation, sexual orientation, ability, culture, language and personality.

There is another difference that serves as a powerful influence on how we show up in the workplace-our birth order. Besides affecting who we marry, our intellect, our parenting style and career choice, it can also determine what kind of colleague we will be in the workplace.

Heavily influenced by their parents, they learn early on the role of the standard bearer. As children they talk and walk early. As adults, they receive the most psychological therapy than any other birth order. They gravitate to leadership positions. Over 50% of US Presidents were first-borns. They dominate the rosters of Rhodes Scholars, university professors and corporate leaders. They can be control freaks, perfectionists and authoritarian leaders. The art of compromise is a workplace challenge for them.

Known as super first-borns, they are heavily influenced by their parents as “the center of attention.” Raised around adults, they develop high vocabularies, a serious work ethic, incredible amount self-confidence and an unlimited sense of creativity. They seem to have it all together yet carry around a lot of inner turmoil by trying to live up to high standards. Being easier on themselves and learning the value of teamwork are critical skills for their career development.

Middle Children
The most difficult to define birth order, middle children often trend opposite to their first born siblings. Squeezed between first-borns and last-borns, they form relationships outside their kinfolk and create their own external families. They learn to be mediators and the owners of the middle ground. In the workplace they are known as harmonizers and make great teammates. To reach their full potential in the workplace, they will need help in resolving conflict and negotiating difficult conversations.

Last but not least are the last-borns. The most out-going birth order, they thrive on attention since they compete for it at home. They inherit the label of not being taken too seriously and grow up with an “I’ll show them” attitude. Their sense of adventure and the need to set their own path give them a creative and innovative view of the world. They tend to gravitate toward people professions and make great salespersons. Developing connections in the workplace and close supervision should help them leverage their relational strengths in the workplace.

Whether you are the perfectionist first-born, the engaging lonely-only, the mediating middle child or the rebellious last-born, these family influences spill over into our workplace families. Just as childhood relationships are important, employee affiliations are significant as well. Let’s use these birth order tools to better understand our colleagues. An inclusive workplace depends upon it.

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