What does it take to succeed in corporate America?
In my 30-year career in media on the ground floors of HBO, CNBC and HGTV working to develop these brands and make them successful, I learned the secret and the unique way women must leverage it. To be successful, men and women must express their competitive spirits openly. We compete against our colleagues for promotions, additional people and resources because all of these are limited. We compete against the players in our business sector for better operating results.
As a woman, I had to learn how to express my competitive spirit in a way that maintained my likeability. When we compete and get winning results, we will likely advance. For women, this is tricky because there needs to be a certain finesse to assertive behaviors, or ‘leaning in,’ if we want to foster collegiality.
Further, research bears out that for women in the workplace, there’s an inverse correlation between competence and likeability. The higher up we go, the more we risk our likeability. Likeability is necessary for most people to keep moving up in organizations. Gamesmanship, the overriding strategy of my book, “New Rules of the Game,” is a way to compete and win without sacrificing likeability.
Gamesmanship is a strategic way of thinking, a set of behaviors and an attitude. It proposes that winning and losing occur every day in the workplace. At the highest levels, gamesmanship can mean persuading your senior team of your vision or values that will carry the organization forward. Competition, with self or self-mastery, comes naturally to most business people, men and women, as we push ourselves to do our best work every day.
We’ve chosen business as a career because we have competitive moxy. But for women, it’s the external competing that’s hard. Most of us have been reared to collaborate, not compete, with our colleagues. We’re good managers because we bring compassion and empathy to our teams. Competing requires dispassion, so it can be harder for us. Finding a comfortable style to compete is needed if we’re to accumulate the little wins that eventually translate into advancement.
“New Rules of the Game” lays out 10 rules that can help anyone to win. I drew from my own experience and that of many female executives I interviewed for the book. As such, they take into account the trickiness and nuances of winning as a woman in the workplace.
Part one lays out the first seven rules.
Rule 1: Conditioning. Conditioning is how an executive goes from good to great. To advance, you must acquire and demonstrate certain technical skills. The three most critical are line experience, financial acumen and a global view, and all of these can be learned.
Rule 2: Composure. Respect and promotions in the work place go to the individual who has a calm and confident presence. This is something anyone can learn. My Greek and Italian heritage made it a challenge to find calm in myself, but I succeeded as anyone can with enough practice.
Rule 3: Playing offense. Playing offense is being in the front lines and taking actions to improve the business you’re in, along with your career. It means asking — or fighting — for what you need to be successful.
Rule 4: Brinksmanship strategies. Brinksmanship is the skill of artful negotiations, with a little bit of theater thrown in.
Rule 5: Fan clubs. Growing a fan base is the work we do to gain team support for company initiatives as well as the forward motion of our careers. Some of the tools that helped me to build a fan club were a generous use of smiles, laughter and humor. These are great connectors.
Rule 6: Practice, practice, practice. Good execution develops through practice, and success follows.
Rule 7: Uniform requirements. Sigh. Yes, how we dress still matters.
These are strategies and skills that are behavioral in nature.
Part two moves beyond skills to examine the emotional maturity that’s required when one traverses into senior management.
Rule 8: Good sportsmanship. Grace attracts others to want to work with you — colleagues, staff and management. All of us win and lose every day in the workplace. I share stories of how I lost out in promotions, and how I handled it. Losing with grace makes more wins possible up the road, as it did for me.
Rule 9: Grit. Grit is mental toughness. It is the warrior within you that enables your career advancement even when there are setbacks.
Rule 10: Team play. For women on the rise in the corporate world, two sets of teams matter. We need to manage within our work team and within our home team. Managing the home team is the hidden secret to successful work-life balance.
Both winning behaviors and emotional maturity are needed to succeed in business today. The ability to be liked as a leader is a more fragile thing for women, as many feel we’re expected to behave in supporting rather than in leading roles.
But it can be done. We can win, too. We just need to know the rules, and to practice them.