Take a look around your office and you’ll likely notice a lack of African American executives. Racism and socio-economic factors have undeniably led to this grave reality, but some of it can be attributed to a lack of knowledge about “the game.”  In order to climb to the top of the corporate ladder you must be strategic and intentional. It’s essential to know the rules and all the players in the game. Lois P. Frankel, Ph.D., author of the bestselling business book, Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office, has some powerful tips on how to play your game at the edge of the field. May the best (wo)man win!

Read The Playbook. Don’t assume the boundaries on the playing field are the same for everyone.  In most organizations, the boundaries are widest for Caucasian men, narrower for Caucasian women and even narrower for people of color.  Size up the playing field in your organization and identify the rules and boundaries for various behaviors. This in turn will help you to create strategies for successfully maneuvering the field within bounds but at the edge.

Follow the Leader. Observe and emulate the behaviors of the most successful people of color in your organization. They are the ones playing their games at the edge of the field, without going out of bounds. Ask a few of them if they would be willing to talk to you about the success factors they employ or to mentor you.

Listen Up. Consciously decide if it’s you or the size of the field that’s holding you back.  Sometimes we receive feedback that would be true on any field—in which case it’s best to take it to heart and act on it. At other times, the feedback is unique to the situation or company. If in every job you’ve heard that you are like a bull in a china shop, then it’s time to do something about it.

Switch Teams. Understand that it is unlikely that you will change the size of the playing field to suit your needs. Playing your game at the edge can help to stretch the boundaries, but if it’s too narrowly defined for you, you’ll only continue to be frustrated and eventually resentful.  Rather than allowing the resentment to tarnish your reputation, start looking for a bigger field or one that won’t judge you based on your color or ethnicity.  

New Rules. When transferring to a new company or a different boss, don’t over rely on past strengths to build your credibility. They may or may not work. If you find yourself challenged by the transition, assess the new playing field by observing the behaviors of the people who seem to be winning the game. You might need to add some of their actions to your tool kit.

Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office was revised and updated for its 10th anniversary release last month. Follow Dr. Frankel @drloisfrankel.