The business landscape is changing. In case you haven't noticed, here's a quick refresher: Millennials are taking over the workforce. In a typical office, there are more people under 35 than ever before. Yet, they have a completely different outlook on how management structures work. They don't like hierarchies, and they prefer a flat organization.

In this environment, it's less about your title and whether you are bossy and in charge. It's more about your expertise, your empathy, and your ability to connect in a personal way.

Leadership is an act of empowering, enriching, and equipping. In the old model, which died for good in about 2010, the leader in business was the person who is always right, who talks louder than everyone else, who makes frequent demands, and who collects the highest paycheck.

Back then, the typical firstborn mentality--the person who had to take charge in the family--was well-suited to the role. "You do what I say" works great in that setting. The goal is to make sure younger siblings don't walk out into the street or swallow a bug.

In a startup or any company that employs young adults, those direct commands from on high, usually from the bossiest or angriest person, fall flatter than a pancake. No one cares. In fact, the best way to make Millennials strongly dislike you and not want to work with you is to boss them around.

That's why, even with an obvious bias as a middle child myself, I've seen a new paradigm emerge. The middle child is often a better leader in a modern office filled with Millennials. With skills honed for conflict resolution (or outright avoidance), high empathy, a more realistic view of what it takes to succeed, and even a better grasp of how to listen and work in a team, middle children are a better match because they already "get" the flat structure of families. They don't need to be in charge. They want success like everyone else, but they are willing to work with those around them (that is, those who were once their younger and older siblings). Middle children understand team dynamics, and Millennials care most about the team above all else.

Let's say you are a firstborn and bossy. At one time, that meant you could walk around and issue dictums to the troops. After the year 2010 or so, consensus decisions broke the mold. Millennials emerged. People started working in an open floor plan, the boss became the person who had the best ideas. It became a matter of expertise more than position. And, firstborns lost the battle. Acting like you know what to do is the mode of operation in a family. Knowing what to do in a modern office requires a college degree or experience, and anyone in the birth order can attain that.

Where does that leave firstborns? For once, it's a level playing field.

Obviously, firstborns can still lead--they have a natural inclination for that. (Although, new research on this topic suggests that it is not as much of an advantage as you think, since our birth order is really about how we act with our family and not out in the real world.) I've been told before that introverts can also lead, they just need to work harder to engage with a team. That's now true with firstborns, who need to set aside the bossy tendencies they learned growing up and train themselves to become more team-oriented, to build consensus, and show empathy. They have to work harder to be less bossy.

Do you you agree or disagree? Feel free to post on my Twitter feed.

Published on: Jun 20, 2017
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