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This article is part of our women’s leadership series on creating leadership identity, based on principles from Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office, by Lois Frankel, Ph.D. Be sure to refer back to the previous article of this series, on the power of verbal presence in shaping your leadership identity.

What comes to mind when you think of the word “business?”

a) A chess match or sport where people are playing to win

b) An event where people come together and collaborate

c) Both a and b

d) I don’t really think about it, I’m too busy

If you answered C, you’re correct. Business and the workplace in general, are both a grounds for collaboration and teamwork, but also competition.

According to Dr. Lois Frankel, “the workplace is a game. It has rules, boundaries, winners, and losers. Not only is it a game, but the rules of the game change from organization to organization and from department to department within an organization.”

Many women don’t view business or the workplace in this way. Instead they view it as a collaborative set of events, where people are coming together for a big goal or a great cause. While this may very well be the case in your organization or department – it’s not the only thing going on.

My question to you: Are you playing to win the game of business? If you’re not sure, here’s how you can tell if you’re not playing to win:

  • You avoid office politics or openly tell others you don’t “play the political game.”
  • You routinely take on assignments beneath your skill or job grade.
  • You don’t consciously build relationships and especially avoid reaching out to influential people in your organization.
  • You narrowly interpret the rules of your department or organization, and avoid taking calculated risks.
  • You routinely avoid asking for what you need or sharing your opinions.

If you have higher leadership aspirations, it’s important to accept the fact – and even embrace it – that business is a game, and the most strategic players win.

Let me also say this – playing to win doesn’t mean engaging in actions that are unethical, immoral, or being someone other than yourself. I personally think this one mindset singlehandedly holds women back. We’ve been ingrained with a belief that playing to win is completely negative, and instead we need to judge each situation on its own merits. Playing to win is a positive – because when we do so, we build our leadership identity, increase our odds of growing the number of women into higher levels of leadership, and impact our organizations and communities as we’ve envisioned.

So how do you become a better player at the game of business, and do so with integrity? Below are just a few ways – after you read through them, begin with one to implement over the next 30 days.

  • Learn to play a strategic game or competitive sport. The lessons learned in decision making, team dynamics, and thinking ahead all apply to the workplace.
  • Analyze each assignment you have and ask yourself: Is this a stretch for me? Is it right in-line with my current skills? Or, is it beneath my skills? And if you routinely find yourself with assignments beneath your skills or right in-line with your skills, talk with your leader about how you can change that.
  • Pay attention to how you interpret rules in your department or organization. For example, do you routinely ask for permission on things that really don’t require it? Are you so strict with expense management that you refuse to spend approved dollars on items needed to do your job? Do you look at something as a narrow “yes or no” without even a second thought? If these are normal behaviors for you, next time be more flexible on something that’s a small risk and see what results you get.
  • Remember that part of your job role is to build relationships – no matter what your title. Take time each week (5-10% of your working hours) to get out of your office and get to know others. It’s especially helpful to get to know others in different departments or divisions.
  • Nix phrases like “I don’t play office politics,” or “I don’t play the game” from your vocabulary. While you may still hang onto those beliefs and need to work through them, don’t verbalize them to others. It only paints you in less of a leadership light.
  • Shadow someone in your organization who is successful in a sales role – this could be an account executive, a sales manager, or an inside sales person. Sales is a profession of understanding needs, being consultative, and negotiating for successful outcomes.
  • Take classes in improvisation or negotiation skills – both are critical for playing well at the game of business.


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