Five things My Daughter Taught me about Leadership

I have a two year old daughter to whom I dedicated Leadership From Below. I believe she embodies the principle. She has absolutely no formal power, she is clearly a small thing who has a lot to learn about life. One would think she lacked the size, experience, or economic resources to pursue great things. On the other hand, I have discovered that she very often gets her way. Why is that?

1. Be persistent.

When I dedicated my book to her, I admit I was thinking of her qualities like persistence, dedication, stubbornness, and willingness to go to extreme measures. All of these are important to bottom-up leadership where you do not have a lot of formal power, such as in team work, when working with competitors, or in any kind of partnership. Management books and managers had better take notice soon – and knowledge workers are using these principles daily. So, let’s turn to my daughter, who is two. For instance, if she has indicated she wants something, say a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, she will pursue her idea until it gets there, even if there are very good reasons why she would not get one, such as she just ate, we are in the car without easy access to food, or we are making something else for that meal. Resisting leadership from below occurs at great peril, if you are dealing with passionate believers. They will simply not give up. Persistence is largely a good quality in life. You can accomplish more if you are prepared to work at it, even if the environment initially is hostile to your ideas or you do not see immediate results. However, not everyone is persistent, and not all persistence does in the end lead to success. So, there must be more to her shrewdness. Maybe persistence only pays off if you…

2. Build an unbreakable bond.

Having reflected on this a bit more, I found something even more important: the leverage she has through the unbreakable bond she has created between herself and her significant others, indeed everyone who spends time with her. For example, she is her uncle’s favorite, he refuses to discipline her and leaves the room when she is sad, to avoid being associated with causing any pain. He explores the good side of the little princess and lets her parents handle the rest. What that bond does is that it creates an unbreakable allegiance to her, her actions, opinions, viewpoints, and desires, even the ones that are clearly counterproductive, cause things to break, or are really painful. This week, for instance, my daughter decided to put our telephone in the toilet. We scolded her a bit for it, but it is now just a good story. Also, for some inexplicable reason, after we dried out it, it is now working again. Does her bond extend to objects, too?

3. Make your way the natural way.

My point is this, leadership is about building relationships, only then can you have influence. Trying to push your will through without strong relationships with people around you will only cause resentment. However, if you have a unique position built on repeated interactions where you have shown you care about others, where you show that despite your strong will you also give back, your commands will be carried out. The even stranger thing is, it will not feel like a command. In fact, it might feel like the natural thing to do.

4. Push your point, but move on.

Even more impressively, if I have been coerced to accept one of her whims, even if making her happy has been at the expense of my good night’s sleep, sending the report my boss is waiting for, or has taken every minute of my valuable talking time with my wife that evening, it is soon forgotten. By both of us. Life goes on, there are new challenges ahead. This happens even if there have been seemingly unsurmountable obstacles to peace, maybe I slept for only an hour combined throughout the whole night. She will simply smile at me and say something like: “Daddy read?” How does she do it?

5. See yourself as an equal

My daughter, who only just turned two, had an almost innate feeling of the peer-to-peer principle which is so immensely important in contemporary society, and is every day exploited by practitioners of leadership from below. She simply sees herself as an equal. She has no fear. She will likely approach royalty, CEOs, tax men, bosses, or teachers she will meet on her way in the same fashion she approaches her parents: as an opportunity to explore life, present her position, and share her world view with others. May that attitude become more prevalent in business, too. Having an effective leadership style is not about age, experience, or formal power. It is largely an attidude and a set of skills you hone through practice. I say, look at the two-year olds around you, and learn.

About Trond Arne Undheim, Ph.D.
Trond Arne Undheim is a futurist, speaker, entrepreneur and former Director of MIT Startup Exchange, based outside of Boston. He is the CEO and cofounder of Yegii, a search engine for industry professionals, providing collective intelligence. He holds a PhD on the future of work and artificial intelligence and cognition. He has accelerated four unicorns and helped launch over 50 startups. A former MIT Sloan School of Management Senior Lecturer, WPP & Oracle executive and EU National Expert, he writes for Fortune and Cognoscenti, and has been featured in print media and television. Undheim is the author of Pandemic Aftermath (2020), Disruption Games (2020) and Leadership From Below (2008). His next book is Future Tech (2021).

2 Responses to Five things My Daughter Taught me about Leadership

  1. Norman Dragt says:

    Those are surely important lessons for a leader. A pity most leaders do not have much time to hang around two year olds. And if they have ever hung around 2 year olds, they forget this wisdom, by the time they become leaders.

    It is even a bigger pity, that most humans forget these techniques by the time they have left their parents home and gone through the formal education years. Which is probably one of the biggest reasons we have so little leaders, even though we have so many teachers around the age of 2.

    A few important points however to remember for people who now think that all two year olds will become leaders. First, the possibility to develop these five points depends on the parents. Parents that give their 2 year old to develop their abilities, will probably create leaders, even if that might only be in the life of the child. Second, not every child will show these properties. Third, a child that shows this behavior, should not blindly be allowed to do so, just because you want it to become a leader. And even leaders should allows keep their heads with it. Something you can not yet expect from a 2 year old. Fourth, the biggest challenge will not be the 2 year old stage, but the period from 4 to 25 years when the world will fight every child that shows these leadership traits. For example schools and teachers will profess that the child is equal, but their behavior will show that they think children and parents are of a lesser kind of human. And children will take that with them if they do not get to hear another sound outside of school.

    So if your child shows perseverance, do not fight it, because it will help it become independent and self supporting. If your child creates important bonds with other people than yourself support those bonds, and do not be jealous. Or if you feel jealous, react by investing in the relationship with your child, instead of fighting the bonding with others. If your child shows equality behavior, start showing it yourself. If your child does not show equality, you better start showing it yourself. Because if you do not give the example, it will become a human that either shows disdain for others or will show subordinate behavior, as those are the primary behaviors you find in this world. And as few humans develop this ability to feel equal to others by themselves, your better help your child. And last but not least, moving on after you made your point, is important as it shows others that you do not see their mistakes as something they should take personal. But that also means that you must see others as your equal. And you must be willing to help others find a solution to solve the problems that were created by the mistake.

    So to end, those five points are important abilities for every human being, that wants to lead his own life. So maybe what 2 year olds show us, is that we are allowed to live our own life and not that of others. And maybe even more important, they show us, that organizations that work with hierarchy and formal leadership, are an artificial system that hinder the development of humans to become leaders in their own right.

  2. Pingback: Can President Obama Exhibit Leadership From Below? « Leadership From Below

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