Katie Couric’s Advice To Women: Play The Political Game

The AOL Celebrating Women Creators event with Katie Couric was held in New York City’s Paley Media Center last Monday night. The event featured a panel of creative women in entertainment. During the session, a woman in the audience aspiring for a career in news reporting asked whether any of the panelists had advice on overcoming career obstacles. Instead of the generic advice “work hard and success will come,” Couric added to this by saying “don’t be above playing the game a little bit, with people, because it really ultimately means you are smarter than they are.” But what does it mean to “play the game” and why is it vital for a successful career?

To succeed in today’s workplace requires that you not only achieve results but that you do so through or with others in the organization. Being able to negotiate, influence, engage, convince and persuade others effectively in order to get things done is what office politics is all about. Most people consider political skill in a negative light, associating it with backstabbing and manipulation. Even Couric maintains that she does not see herself as a political person. But there is a constructive side to being politically savvy. For over two decades Gerald Ferris, Professor of Management and Psychology at Florida State University, has researched politics. In his book, Politics in Organizations he describes political skill as the ability to understand and influence others at work in order to achieve individual or organizational outcomes. Ferris found that high levels of political skill neutralizes workplace stressors and enhances performance, reputation, success and career progression. 

Playing the political game is a necessity in today’s organizations which are increasingly becoming flatter in structure and more flexible, with individuals connected through informal networks rather than through formal lines of authority. Couric offers sound advice because the changing nature of work has increased the need for employees to demonstrate stronger influencing skills rather than relying on traditional lines of authority to get things done or advance their careers. And this change matters more for women than men.

In his book, Political Skill at Work, Ferris states that women are deficient in political skill when compared to their male counterparts at work. This is either because women do not recognize the importance of politics or they are less willing to engage in it. The reason Couric’s advice is critical is because when women try to advance their careers they are less likely to engage in organizational politics and prefer to rely on formal means of career advancement, such as obtaining qualifications or working hard. This lack of willingness to engage in politics negatively impacts career success. Developing political skill will help women overcome barriers to career advancement because successful women are able to display high levels of political ability, enabling them to ‘break the glass ceiling’. So listen to Couric and “play the game a little bit.”