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  • Writer's pictureCarmel Pelunsky


I spent the last few weeks falling in love with a Prince. The combination of his smooth red hair, intelligence and boyish charm meant he made his way straight into my heart. Unfortunately, I was a little allergic and he therefore fell into that category of, ‘I love him but cannot live with him.’

Changing leaf colour. The Transition to Autumn

If you have not guessed it by now, Prince was a puppy I was minding for a friend. Despite my coughing and sneezing, I persisted, and he now has a firm place in my heart. If you are not a dog-lover, fear not, Autumn/Fall Reflections is not about Prince per se. It is more about how I watched my own dogs, Puddle and Thunder, snarl at, play with, and ultimately tolerate Prince as part of the pack. Watching the process got me thinking about that big C that organisations are speaking about so much right now: Collaboration.  


Watching Prince bash into, and ultimately be accepted by, the pack encouraged me to think about collaboration from a new angle. As the younger of two siblings, I had never thought much about the experience of the middle child. Watching a third dog join my pack developed my empathy for the middle child. The eldest child, it appears, can be eternally confident of their place in the world. They are, and always will be, the eldest.  With the arrival of the second child, the family structure remains clear: a parent(s), the elder and the younger sibling. The little brother or sister is invariably demanding, cute and takes some of the attention away but still, the structure works; everyone knows their place. And then the third child arrives (and sometimes more after that). Suddenly there is yet another younger, cuter, and more demanding member of the family. I watched as Thunder, now the ‘middle’ child of my pack, was completely discombobulated by Prince’s arrival, sometimes engaging with him, sometimes pushing him away; always making clear that he was in charge. At times Puddle, Thunder and Prince fought; at times they kept to themselves; and every now and then they played together.  I could not but wonder how birth order impacts how we engage with each other.


Collaboration as a Leadership Capability

Having developed many Leadership Capability Frameworks over the years, I have learnt to spot the trends quickly. In the last few years, organisations have moved away from the pillars of Strategic Insight, Executional Excellence and Inspirational Impact to attributes such as Agility, Curiosity, Empathy, and Collaboration.

Like any behaviour, Collaboration has a normal distribution curve. Some executives are highly skilled at collaborating with peers, some are awful at it, and most of us fall somewhere in-between. Organisations live in hope that by articulating Collaboration as a leadership capability and describing what it means in terms of mindset and behaviours, we will shift everyone’s behaviour one step to the right. But in my experience, this seldom happens. How people collaborate, or do not, seems hardwired and difficult to shift.


Does birth order matter

I admit that I have always been sceptical about the psychology of birth order and whether it has any influence on personality.  It seems more akin to astrology than to a psychological phenomenon. However, a brief literary search limited to the last twenty-four years, and incorporating academic peer reviewed articles only, revealed a few interesting facts.  

  1. There have been 316 peer reviewed articles published since 2000, which was about 315 more than I expected.

  2. There appears to be some evidence that performance on psychometric intelligence tests declines slightly from firstborns to later-borns.

  3. There is no evidence that birth order has a lasting effect on the Big Five personality traits of Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Adaptability and Neuroticism.

  4. When searching for 'Birth Order and Collaboration', only three studies popped up, and the most relevant was conducted on three-year-old children and how they co-operate.

  5. The impact of birth order is very difficult to measure given the number of confounding variables (age gap between siblings, age of parents, socio-economic factors, personality traits of parents etc).   


We can learn something from our birth order

Despite the challenges of measuring the impact of birth order, there appears to be at least something we can learn from it.  While our personalities may not be determined by our birth order, the way in which we engage with others is influenced by our role in the family system, of which our birth order is one significant factor.  Prime et al. (2017)[1] conclude that the youngest child has an advantage in how they co-operate compared to first born children regardless of their siblings’ prosocial behaviour. Middle children may also have an advantage compared to the eldest if their siblings are prosocial. The point seems to be less about whether our birth order impacts who we are, but rather how we are with others,

Like any psychological tool, applying this thinking bluntly is unhelpful and could lead to gross generalisations or simplistic remarks. But we may all benefit from reflecting on our family dynamics through the lens of our place in the sibling hierarchy. Let’s get curious about what feels natural to us - when do we like to fight, to ignore and to play? How do we welcome others into the pack, if at all? Below are some more specific questions to reflect on.

Until next season


[1] Prime, H., Plamondon, A., & Jenkins, J. M. (2017). Birth order and preschool children’s cooperative abilities: A within-family analysis. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 35(3), 392–405.



Coffee break for self reflection

1. What does my place in the sibling structure mean – do I tend to reach out and engage or wait for others to approach me?

2. How has being the eldest, middle, youngest or only child impacted how I engage with peers? Whom do I naturally collaborate well with, who triggers me so that I withdraw or 'fight'?

3. If I were to ask my siblings for three words to describe me, what would they say?  Would I be pleased or disappointed by the words they chose?

If you’d like to reflect in person, feel free to reach out and we can grab a coffee.


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