Sibling Rivalry – Sibling Leadership

Sibling Rivalry – Sibling Leadership


I was talking to my sister Sheila a trained social worker, about the cover of this week’s TIME: “Why Mom Liked You Best: The Science of Favoritism.”  I asked her what she thought it meant for leadership.  “Everything,” she said. “I think it’s present in every workplace, as people vie to be ‘closest to daddy.’”  I was surprised by the swiftness and wide sweep of her reply. I didn’t disagree.  It got me to thinking about something I’d wanted to re-educate myself on, so I went online to check it out.

In Genesis, Chapters 1, 2 and 3 each describe an event: God creates the world, then creates Adam and Eve, then they mess up and God banishes them.  The story I sought begins Chapter 4, a terse, tragic, and peculiar account. Eve gives birth to Cain, then later to Abel. The older works the field; the younger tends flocks. When they bring their gifts of sacrifice, God chooses Abel’s. Cain was “angry” and his face “downcast.” God tells him not to worry, just to do what’s right (warning that if he doesn’t, sin will be out to get him).  Cain promptly invites brother Able for a walk to the field where he kills him.  Yeesh! The first kids, first story, and first murder – all wrapped up in 200 words.

Sheila, TIME, and Genesis can’t all be wrong. This sibling rivalry stuff is big.  “So, what are the implications for leadership?” I asked Sheila again. She said “leaders need to emphasize collaboration over competition.” I liked that.  Jennifer weighed in that she didn’t see such fierce competition on her team. Sheila suggested it would be hard for her to know, because if the hypothesis was right, they’d all be on their best behavior “in front of mom.”  Jen nodded, and Sheila added, “A leader needs to keep their finger on the pulse.” Jen agreed, adding, “Yes, you need a good deputy.” My niece Isabelle opined, “A leader needs good spies in the field.”  All good ideas, given the ubiquity of sibling rivalry:  Be sure your data sources are good and rich, and stress collaboration.

To me, it’s more radical, however. Because I don’t see Adam and Eve, Sheila’s boss, Jennifer, or your boss as “the leader.”  In our world I believe we need to reshape our view and instead expect that everyone can and must lead.  The only way we become adult, complete humans is that we take responsibility for others, moving out of parent-child relationships to adult-adult relationships.  In other words: We lead. We are all leaders.  In China, Hu Jintao may be able to say, “this is what we’re  all going to do,” but in our country, freedoms, checks and balances, and critical thinkers and media all mean that power will not easily flow top-down.  And if we’re going to compete, it can’t be top-down; instead we need everyone’s talent, creativity, commitment, passion, collaboration and follow-through.  In my humble opinion, the only way this country competes is that we stop expecting Barack, Rick Snyder, Warren Buffet or Steve Jobs to fix things. Mom and Dad DIDN’T fix everything, and neither will they.

Sure, those in authority have tools to release or thwart the universal leadership I’m talking about, but the responsibility and opportunity essentially belongs to each of us.  Bosses can vigilantly watch for and diminish sibling rivalry, expressed as boss-pleasing behavior or fratricidal politics. But maybe it’s more important that everyday leaders – the siblings themselves – act to empower each other and quit trying to please “mom” or “dad.”  Instead each of us can and ought build up a new generation of leaders to meet the challenges all about us.

You’ve got to lead side-to-side if you’re going to

Lead with your best self,


  • You have got it right, Dan. Leadership is all about our character that we must develop, manage and put into action when the going gets rough.

    People who accomplish great things have a combined passion for a single mission with an unswerving dedication to achieve that mission, whatever the obstacles and however long it might take.

    For Peter Drucker, leadership is about communicating with people, uniting them behind a shared mission and values, and mobilizing energies toward accomplishing the mission or purpose of an organization. An effective leader leads followers with dignity, and inspires them toward achievement. That means that leadership is a means to an end–the mission it serves is the end.

    Goals convert vision/mission into energy. When you lay out exactly what you want to do in detail, you immediately start feeling the room move and the earth shake.

    “Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification,” by Martin Seligman, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania who helped establish the Positive Psychology movement, and Christopher Peterson, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan, is a scholarly, 800-page reference book. The book was intended, according to the authors, as a “manual of the sanities,” an attempt to inaugurate what they described as a “science of good character.”

    Seligman and Peterson consulted works from Aristotle to Confucius, from the Upanishads to the Torah, from the Boy Scout Handbook to profiles of Pokémon characters, and they settled on 24 character strengths common to all cultures and eras. The list included some we think of as traditional noble traits, like bravery, citizenship, fairness, wisdom and integrity; others that veer into the emotional realm, like love, humor, zest and appreciation of beauty; and still others that are more concerned with day-to-day human interactions: social intelligence (the ability to recognize interpersonal dynamics and adapt quickly to different social situations), kindness, self-regulation, gratitude.

    In most societies, Seligman and Peterson wrote, these strengths were considered to have a moral valence, and in many cases they overlapped with religious laws and strictures. But their true importance did not come from their relationship to any system of ethics or moral laws but from their practical benefit: cultivating these strengths represented a reliable path to “the good life,” a life that was not just happy but also meaningful and fulfilling.

  • We always hear about leading from the front, from the back, but I like the idea of leading “side to side.”
    Everyone brings something to the table, why not use those strengths to overcome the weaknesses (that we all bring to the table) and we can get something accomplished (and improve) together. Count me “in.”

  • Dan – You are so right. In a modern family, parents should be leaders. A modern analogy to the workplace, I suppose, when compared to parents and bosses as monarchs or supreme commanders. Following is an example of such leadership, as opposed to boss or executive as “in loco parentis.”

    The very astute framers of the Constitution meeting in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787 saw things the modern way you have pictured. They recognized the power of a monarchy (many of them having recently rebelled against one) and the need for a strong “top down” command of a well-trained military AND having acknowledged all that still said the President would be (A) selected by the Electoral College and (B) Commander in Chief of the military. Thus, the military was placed under the control of the civilian political process.

    To further limit the excesses of monarchical command authority, the delegates took two votes on June 1, 1787, to (A) put the power to “make” war in the Congress and (B) prohibit the Congress from transferring that power to the President. Later, Charles Pinckney pointed out that Congress might not be in session when an army was needed and the word “make” was changed to “declare” in order to permit the President to respond to a sudden attack. Also, the Constitution was written to enable the Congress to authorize the President to suppress insurrections and enforce federal law.

    In this way, the command authority needed for a military was placed further under civilian control because the Congress was to include the House of Representatives, which was the only body in government – at that time – to be elected directly by the voters. Thus, the voters’ representatives were each given one vote which, combined with the votes of other representatives (side by side leadership), could give a veto over war to the House and, at the same time, voters were given the ability (some might even say the right) to try to influence their representatives on the issue of whether the U. S. should enter a particular war.

    This is one way in which the side-by-side power of representatives is an integral part of our national leadership.

    More on the background of the “declare war” clause of the Constitution (Art. I, Sect. 8, Cl. 11) is available in a recently published law review article – yes, this is how I know so much about this subject that I can try to convey it to you – “RESTORING THE CONGRESSIONAL DUTY TO DECLARE WAR,” Rutgers Law Review, Winter (Vol. 63, No. 2), 2011. Available on and the Social Science Research Network at

  • Can anyone explain what kind of fruit Adam and Eve ate in the story? After 6000+ years I think we’re all due an intelligent explanation. No guesses, opinions, or beliefs, please–just the facts that we know. But first, do an Internet search: First Scandal.

  • Favoratism also sets in motion the people who wish to be the “father” or “mother.” Of course that sets out the worst case senario of dictatoriship and leader idolitry. north Korea is a good example today, but in small organizations all over this country we have dictators of sorts.

    I used to speak with an older timer in a Steel Workers union at an Alpena coffee shop. He had been a union president. One thing he said was that a union is only as strong as the membership. If the members sit back asking why do the people at headquarters not do something for us, they will not suceed.

    If a set of the members spend their time at intrugue each trying to gain control of the local leadership, then nothing gets accomplished. That is what we have in Washington DC right now, the elected few spend far too much time trying to take control and obstruct the opposition, rather than solve the naitons challenges.

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