The stories are flowing back and forth on whether actress Mo’Nique was really blackballed following her Oscar win for Precious, but regardless of how true that story is, one fact remains: Mo’Nique didn’t play the game.
Does one always have to play the “game,” whether in Hollywood or the corporate world to get ahead? The overwhelming consensus is yes, but the key to keeping your own authentic self in tact is the way in which you play.
As a Black woman in corporate America, Vanessa Lindley, now CEO of The Lindley Consulting Group LLC, said she definitely had to play the corporate game–and it came at a cost. “I have been successful in corporate and being self employed. I played the corporate game, was with one corporation for 10 years, achieved great success and when I got to the place I fought so hard to be, I did not want to be there,” recalls Lindley, coach and author. “It was a struggle for me to leave because as a Black woman I had achieved so much. I was a young Black female working in one of the wealthiest counties in the countries, so I felt like I had to stay for ‘my people.'”
But Lindley decided it was time to leave the corporate world. “After a lot of prayer and contemplation, I left and 10 years later being self-employed, I do not regret it one bit. I earn a six-figure income and am a wife and mother. I feel a passion for what I do and am well respected.”
While playing the corporate game could make the climb up the professional ladder a little easier, it can be done without sacrificing who you are. As legal empowerment coach Toni Moore put it, playing the corporate game is just a part of life. “Life is a game and there is no better place to illustrate the game of life than the corporate game,” she tells us. “Much like professional sports teams, the corporate game consists of key players, team leaders, coaches and owners. But whether or not you choose to play the game or watch from the sidelines dictates whether you will win the game.”
If you look at your industry as a team, then what type of player do you want to be considered? “If you want to be the Most Valuable Player on the team instead of an anonymous corporate player, you must step away from the desk and step up to play big,” says Moore. “You must be willing to start each day ready to do what you must to help the team win. You must be vocal about what matters to you and be willing to sacrifice to lead the team to bigger and better victories.”
It’s not just the team you are looking out for when you play the corporate game; the ultimate goal is to take your career to the top. “If you want to climb up the corporate ladder so that you can negotiate your salary and bonuses, then you must play smart and diligently do what you must to be better than the rest of the team. If that means sacrificing sleep or television time to meet and greet others, then you must play to win the game so that you are not forgotten by the major players and decision makers or worse yet perceived as a spectator,” says Moore. “Lastly, if you like where you are and don’t want to be traded to a different department or benched by a rookie, then you must play for keeps by being the indispensable player who every thinks about when they think of the corporation.”
Part of the game is collaboration and alliance building. You must be willing to connect with others in your company and in the industry. This may mean doing a few favors for your connections in hopes they will repay you sometime in the future. This could also mean stroking a few egos. So if you are the no-nonsense, straight-ahead type, it might be hard for you to throw out praise.
Risk is a major part of playing the game; you must be willing to work outside your comfort zone. And this can be scary for some as your chances of failing are greater–but you also have a lot to win if you succeed.
Also, while people love to say it’s not personal, it’s business, the corporate game is personal. “Recognize that mood and emotion ultimately control the game, not power and authority,” writes Fanning. So, y must work to get on the “good” side of key people who can help you get ahead. Again, if you are not one to make nice with people you may not like, this could be difficult.
Playing the game as a woman can bring a different set of rules as well. While women tend to excel at public relations and relationship-building, they often have a difficult time “being political.” Many women dislike political games, find them unseemly and unnecessary, and avoid them when possible. Women sometimes think being humble is the best course of action, but in the corporate game you must take credit for your accomplishments. Women can and should play the game, says Lindley. Even though she left the corporate world behind, she emphasizes that women “must be willing to get several great mentors, both male and female and different races. They should do what they like to do and are good at. They will definitely have to be able to work with and for diverse people and be able to navigate in the game.”
Try not to lose your self when playing the game, though, which may mean walking a thin line. If you are not your authentic self, people will not only lose respect for you but your credibility will go out the window.
Not playing the game could affect your career negatively as well, as will playing it safe. “The corporate spoils go to those who want to push boundaries, make an impact, and look for something much bigger than themselves to contribute to,” writes career coach Ben Fanning in his blog.
If you decide to skip the game altogether be ready for a steeper climb up the ladder, explains Lindley. “You can get by without playing the corporate game, but it will be difficult. You will have to be a star at what you do and be in high demand. I had a friend who walked the line of playing the corporate game and would not get promoted until she went back to get her Masters degree, got a mentor, started going to networking and golf events, then she had two corporations fighting over her, offering to pay her $80K in student loans and signing bonuses.”
Sounds like a game worth playing.
Do you play the corporate game?