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Surviving ‘wounding the king’ when the king is still around?

Dear Office-Politics,

I recently read a response on your website about, “Wounding the King.” I have done that myself. I addressed issues concerning the need to have ’employee diversity’ at a school board meeting after being ignored by my immediate school principal and the director of personnel.

The king in this case is the assistant superintendent of a school corporation. I am a teacher. He and the principal applied a lot of pressure, also using the director of personnel. Until I began to read your book, Survival of the Savvy I had no concept of what I had done and why I was being blocked for administrative jobs. I thought I was doing well for the school and students.

I eventually resigned in 2003 because I didn’t know the politics. I have worked hard to re-build a relationship with the director of personnel, (through a retired ally, director of curriculum and instruction) at first being skeptical. She seems to be very helpful to me. She has shared corporate buzz with me, which is mainly aloof. She offered a position to return to the classroom with an opportunity to be mentored into administration. She gave me pointers on reinventing myself. This is after I had met with the superintendent (not asst.) about a job they created for me which was an “untouchable.” I declined that offer. I accepted the teaching position (with a different principal) for two reasons:

    1. Rebuild my image because I was not receiving favorable references. This way I can build new relationships and change perceptions.
    2. An opportunity to develop skills at being more political because I was certainly under-political for future opportunities.

QUESTION: Is there a way to survive wounding the king when the king is still in the corporation? Can I somehow develop a relationship with him or work around him?

Thanks for your excellent website.

Complete Woman


dr. rick brandon
dr. marty seldman

Dear Complete Woman,

Firstly, we want to thank you for integrating so much of Survival of the Savvy into your repertoire, so don’t sell yourself short. We hope you pat yourself on the back on how well you “get it”, understanding “wounding the king,” acknowledging that speaking truth to power can be done successfully or not, cultivating relationships with those in power in order to influence other stakeholders, discovering your corporate buzz and reinventing your image through targeted behavior changes, and taking what looks like a step backwards in order to take two forward. This last strategy of compromise is what we described NFL quarterback Warren Moon doing when he left one team’s elite position to take a lower salary and backup role elsewhere, only to soon find himself the new team’s starter and hitting career numbers along with a stellar contract. So right on, Complete Woman!

What else can you do? Keep developing relationships with key power holders who will help you influence the “King” subtly and informally by hopefully dropping your name, working your efforts into their conversation. Since you know you turned off the King by advocating for a cause that was NOT near and dear to him figure out those initiatives that ARE his baby and IF THEY ARE CONSISTENT WITH YOUR VALUE SYSTEM, work on supporting them. Don’t be too obvious about these new efforts, since diligent, conscientious work behind the scenes will impress him even more than flamboyant, spotlight grabbing ones.

A riskier tactic that is still worth considering is to network more and show up more at events where the King hangs out, and if the atmosphere seems right, consider making some sort of contrite comment about wanting to be a team player and never intending to cross any goals he had (an apology of sorts, if you’ve offended or blocked his efforts). You might also make sure that all powers know that you appreciated the job offer that was made and provide sound reasons why you declined so that it is a gracious rejection that leave other doors open.

Keep building a track record for paying your dues all over again, while networking with people who are in favor so that your new reputation blossoms and can be later harvested. Naturally, NEVER drop old friends or be a fair weather friend in ways that would make you overly political.

We wish you well!! If nothing else, remember that pros always work on improving and view it as a sign of courage and maturity. We salute you as a fellow bozo on the bus doing doing our best on this fascinating journey, eh?

Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.


Rick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. Co-authors,
Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success

cover of Survival of the SavvyRick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. are Co-authors, Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success. Dr. Rick Brandon is CEO of Brandon Partners. He has consulted and trained tens of thousands at corporations worldwide, including Fortune 500 companies across a variety of industries. Dr. Marty Seldman is one of America’s most experienced executive coaches. His 35-year career includes expertise in executive coaching, group dynamics, cross-cultural studies, clinical psychology, and training.

Publication note: This letter was originally published in 2005. We are republishing the best letters from Office-Politics and integrating them with our blog format.

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