Lessons in Leading-Up from a Two Year Old

Children develop leading-up skills at an early age. Most of them teach us things we shouldn’t do.

Leading-up from a two-year-old’s perspective:


“I’ll be good.” A two-year-old uses good performance as a bargaining chip.

If you want to lead your boss, do your job with excellence. Don’t use performance as manipulation.


Tantrums are extortion by toddlers. Never embarrass your boss to prove your power to get what you want.

Unhappiness is a short-term strategy for getting what you want.


Looking at the floor with a pouty face is an attempt to get ‘management’ to adapt.

Be clear about what you want, not simply what you don’t like. Don’t use dissatisfaction as an exclusive tool for change.


“Please, please, please.”

Children feel comfortable telling you what they want.

Clarity is a useful tool when managing-up.

It takes persistence to lead your boss. It’s never once-and-done. But nagging creates resistance.


Leading-up is about helping higher-ups more effectively get what they want. But when leading-up is mainly about getting what you want, it’s manipulation.

If your leader adds value to the team and serves organizational interests, help them get better. Sometimes that means helping them treat you better. Other times it means overlooking.


All bosses suck. Everyone has a narrow band of exceptional skill, a wide band of average skill, and a huge bucket of things they suck at.

When you spend most of your think-time focused on people’s weaknesses, you are the problem.

In praise of overlooking:

Everyone in your life has glaring weaknesses.

  1. He’s not good with ambiguity.
  2. She can’t organize her way out of a wet paper bag.
  3. He lets things bother him.
  4. She’s terrible with details.

Overlooking enables relationship and enhances influence.

What does leading-up mean to you?

What suggestions do you have for leading-up?