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Andy Imboden

As the oldest of seven, this is exactly the type of research we need more of!

Seriously, I agree that "competition" as cited by the BoA executive probably isn't the mechanism that leads to the results. For example, I almost never have been in a "competitive" situation with my youngest sibling, because she's 12 years younger.

More likely in my view is that being a member of a large family has given me a greater intuitive sense of when "there's something wrong with the pack" and an issue that needs airing/discussion. A large family also by necessity has given me more practice in building coalitions and gaining consensus.


Coming from a family of 12 kids with working parents, being organized, on time, polite, and respectful of other's feelings, time, and possessions helped. I agree that family can be tough and honest, but also caring and supportive. Great parents are key. Give first. Help first. What goes around comes around.


Laura: When one has little external feedback at the peer level, I would argue that it is virtually impossible to have a true understanding of who/what you are. Your base of comparison is extremely limited.

It is the same reason that (absent any biological complications) the 3rd or 4th child in a family is almost always potty trained younger, walks younger, talks younger. It is because they want to be like their siblings. They see what they do and they want to be like them. In other words, they see what others are doing and recognize their own level of skill and try to improve.

Self-awareness does not exist in a vacuum. It is, by definition, a comparison of your personal attributes relative to those around you, which is why I disagree with your argument that an only child could conceivably be more self-aware.

I suppose it would be the difference between "theoretical" and "applied" sciences. Both have value, but one is probably more useful to real world situations than the other.


I have not seen the study but I would have to agree with the theory on a number of levels. Siblings are the ultimate petri dish for personal interaction. As they say, you can pick your friends but you can't pick your family. Likewise you often cannot pick your co-workers. The ability to negotiate and work with those you would otherwise not be inclined to be around, makes a very good base of knowledge and understanding, if not out of genuine concern, then at least out of manipulative skill :).

The caveat to the analysis would be that "on average" or "in general terms" the findings are true, but it does not automatically mean that in any given situation the result would be true. Yes, I know many more "princes" and "princesses" that come from only child families, but I have certainly, but more rarely, encountered them from multi-sibling families as well. Parents can do things to offset the effects of being an only child, but those only go so far.


It's unusual for me to get heated about this blog, but the comments on this post are bugging me a little.

Bob is quoting a press release with a real finding from a real research paper that shows executives with more siblings tend to be better bosses. Without the raw data, we can't be sure it's a statistically significant result but instead of crying foul and saying what amounts to "it can't be true because I'm an only child and I'd make a good boss", wouldn't it be better to accept that the findings might have a point and keep an eye out for the pitfalls your background has left you with?

If you disagree with the study; go and conduct your own, but don't just claim that it must be wrong because you don't like the result.

All I am seeing here is whingey only children demonstrating exactly the problems that are likely to be causing the results of the study!

Laura Schroeder

I'm an only child. Back in my early consulting days I was housed with another girl who had 7 siblings. We shared a car and she ended up getting to use it most of the time. As an only child I had an ingrained 'fairness block' about claiming the car two days in a row, whereas she spoke up and asked for it almost every day. Very pleasantly and assertively, too. It drove me crazy! ;-) My point is, she was more comfortable asking for what she wanted because she grew up having to ask for her share, whereas I had to learn it as an adult. I think, however, there's a chance that only children are more self-aware (all that alone time growing up), so it may balance out in terms of leadership skill.


I think John C. Welch might be giving us an excellent example of why only children sometimes do not make such good bosses as those with siblings: he wrote a very long post all about himself.

Of course being an only child gives you a different skill set to being one of several and, of course, some of those skills will be useful in the work environment. But being able to fly solo, however useful it may be in IT, is probably not the most useful skill in a good boss, as bosses need to be always aware of others and their needs.

I too am an only child, and I am lucky enough to have wonderful friends who do not pull their punches when I am being self-centred, as I often am.

I can only hope that is enough to enable me to compete with all the other potential bosses out there who benefited from better socialisation as children than I did and to do the best by those who work for me.

John C. Welch

That's kind of "coincidence posing as causality" reasoning. As an only child, i had to be EXTREMELY good at dealing with sticky situations, because i had no sibling backup whatsoever. If i messed up, i was getting beaten up. Usually by someone else and their siblings.

It meant I had to learn, quickly, how to get into someone else's head with a completely different home life and worldview. If you have a lot of siblings, you may do more negotiating at home, but on the other hand, everyone is coming from similar, if not the same backgrounds. It's rather a lot different negotiating with an older brother than someone who didn't grow up in the same house.

Being an only child also meant that, contrary to popular belief, i still had to be good about sharing and playing with others. As it turns out, being greedy and demanding doesn't make you a lot of friends.

It meant that if there was a party, or even a gathering, i didn't have anyone but myself to rely on when it came to meeting people. If i didn't do the initial work, then i had no friends to help out later on down the line.

It meant that the people i did hang out with had, far more than they did with siblings, the option to tell me to go play in traffic or not include me or what have you, when it came to social situations. YEah, having to bring your brother or sister along sucks on one level, but having a group of people who kind of have to get along with you is handy on others. When any group you're a part of can easily boot you to the curb, you have to develop good people skills, or you spend a looooot of time alone.

Of course, being an only child prepares you, and well, for being alone, or more correctly, by yourself. Since other than my parents, both of whom worked, i had no other family at hand growing up, I had to learn to function solo for long periods of time. That's pretty damned handy in the IT field, where you may spend a lot of time on your own in a server room or what have you. Functioning solo is a lot harder than it looks if you never have to do it until you leave home.

Being an only child did a lot to really prepare me to walk into a room full of people i don't know, have never met, and by the time I walk out, have them be at the very least associates, if not budding friends, because that was the ONLY way i could make friends as a kid.

Does that mean that being an only child makes you a better boss? nonsense. It means that being an only child gives you a different set of skills that can be helpful when you're in the workforce, or in charge, that can be helpful if you use them well.

Sibling numbers don't automatically do anything. It's how you apply what you learned that counts.

Cathy MacMillan

I agree that having siblings helps you to be a better boss. I had three and learned a lot about responsibility and team work as I was often the one left to babysit and needed teamwork and cooperation to make it easier on all of us!

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