Think like Robert Duvall in The Godfather, and be a consigliere to someone. If you don't have the boss's ear, get the ear of the person who has the boss's ear. If you can't get that person's ear, get that person's best friend's ear. When a boss who'd deeply trusted me became suddenly enamored of a new employee, thereby shutting me out, I didn't let my ego get in the way. Instead, I took the new favorite child to lunch and asked if I could help her with a project she was working on. As a result, we became friends, and my boss started hearing about all my "brilliant" ideas through the current darling. All this returned me to the boss's favor—and eventually led (along with other things, of course) to a promotion.
Pitfall #2: You Haven't Cracked Your Boss's Code
I once had a boss who never said "I think" but always "I feel." I myself had never used the words "I feel" (except in a strictly emotional context—i.e., regarding my cats), but I started using them—and others like them. When I did, (I feel) my boss became more responsive. Why? Because I was literally speaking her language. (And guess what? Now I say "feel" all the time.)
Pitfall #3: You've Forgotten Your Fellow 99 Percent
Over and over, I've seen colleagues sabotage themselves by thinking that people in positions of obvious power are the only ones who matter. Whenever I've interviewed for a job, I have always sent at least two thank-you notes: one to the person or people who interviewed me, another to the assistant. After my recent novel was finally printed, I sent thank-you notes to the production manager, the cover designer, the assistant cover designer, the copy editor and the assistant copy editor. Aside from the good karma this creates, consistently behaving in this way ultimately creates—I believe—a Gladwellian Tipping Point that pays off in ways that will benefit you, too. You know the trickle-down theory, right? This is the trickle-up one.
Next: When vulnerability can equal strength