Leapfrogging: a new workplace term you need to know

Managing up. Managing your manager. Upward influence. Whatever you call it, one thing is for certain: countless articles have been written on how employees can get their boss to like them, think highly of them and favour them.

This column is no exception. This year alone I’ve drawn on the latest research to explain why franchise owners struggle to look after staff, why it’s common for them to neglect the welfare of employees in a crisis and how they’re frequently misguided about people with a disability.

Leapfrogging is when an individual bypasses their immediate manager, opting instead to go to their manager’s manager.
Leapfrogging is when an individual bypasses their immediate manager, opting instead to go to their manager’s manager.

All this textual chatter assumes the solution to an underwhelming boss is to deal with that person directly. But there’s another way – perhaps a more efficient method – to which scholars have now given a name. They call it “leapfrogging”.

Leapfrogging is when an individual bypasses their immediate manager, opting instead to go to their manager’s manager. Their practices are overt. Ingratiation. Self-promotion. Brown-nosing. Anything it takes to make the higher-level boss perceive them as more competent and likeable.


The study that led to the appropriation of this term has been published in the Personnel Review journal. It focused on staff who circumvent the chain of command to “obtain resources which might include the ability to promote, provide salary increases and change job responsibilities”.

The researchers acknowledge the audacity of employees who adopt this approach since they often know less about their “target” (the ungracious word used by the scholars to describe the boss’s boss) than they do about the person to whom they actually report. As such, their goal necessitates greater cunning, or at least a more deliberate strategy, for it to be achieved.

It’s obviously not without risk. If the direct supervisor discovers they’ve been sidestepped, there’s little doubt the relationship will fracture due to what they perceive as an act of disloyalty. Of course, that assumes a solid relationship exists in the first place.

That was indeed a major finding of the research which analysed the behaviour of 131 employees. Those who found leapfrogging irresistible almost always had an unsatisfactory relationship with their boss. Interaction was minimal, support was negligible and trust was pretty much non-existent. They were managed authoritatively with onerous rules and barely any involvement in decision making.

In effect, they were decent people who justifiably determined they had no other option.

But then there were those who did have other options. Those whose relationship with their immediate manager wasn’t bad at all. This is where the second major finding of the study comes in. The researchers sought to identify the type of person most tempted to engage in leapfrogging. Among those with such ambitions, it was the office Machiavellian who emerged on top because “they are willing to achieve goals by any means”.

So, if there were a tug-of-war between the two – a managerial relationship on one side and a “manipulative and persuasive” employee on the other – which of the two would be most potent?

The answer is … the relationship.

Further number-crunching revealed when the relationship between an employee and their direct manager was positive, it “deterred leapfrogging”. The relationship doesn’t even have to be that great. Even a “moderate” connection with their boss was sufficiently “powerful” to overcome the forces of a Machiavellian.

It’s therefore entirely possible to “prevent [employees] from feeling the need to leapfrog … If they are being treated fairly and are receiving adequate amounts of communication, trust, opportunities to achieve and appropriate recognition for their achievements, they are likely to reciprocate with returned trust, improved attitudes and more positive behavioural outcomes.”

While the scholars caution going over a supervisor’s head “can be tricky”, the risk for many employees – in the absence of a strong relationship – is totally worth it.

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Source: Thanks smh.com