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Warning Signs: How Vulnerable is Your Career?

The Extraordinary Leader Workshop - Toronto Dec 5As the frenetic pace of organizational mergers, downsizing, and restructuring picks up speed, middle and senior managers are faced with career opportunities and major threats. A few months ago I coached “Sheila,” a manager who had been through our Extraordinary Leader development process. Sheila had been given 360 feedback from her manager, peers, direct reports, and others who regularly worked with her.

She was surprised by the low ratings given on her leadership — especially from her manager. She’d been in the company for seven years and had never had a performance review or received any meaningful feedback from him. And she didn’t ask for any. Sheila seemed to be operating on the principle that “no news is good news.”

Her boss avoided confrontation or conflict of any sort. The closest he’d come recently to giving her any sort of meaningful feedback was an offhand remark that if she didn’t deal with leading change more effectively she “could be redundant.” As we discussed her career path over the last few years and her assessment report, she began to realize — coming from him — that was a very strong warning. As the company was going through a major restructuring, she began to realize just how tenuous her job really was. By putting herself in a personal feedback ‘cone-of-silence’ her career was now at great risk.

I thought of Sheila recently as I read Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman’s latest Harvard Business Review blog “Keep Your Name Off That Layoff List.” Zenger Folkman gathered data from a Fortune 100 company after a downsizing effort to see if they could identify the factors that predict which people were most likely to be let go.

As with Sheila’s case, they discovered, “one factor that wasn’t very predictive, it turned out, was a history of good performance reviews. Only 23% of those who were laid off had been given a negative review the previous year. The implication is that the other 77% who were asked to leave had no clue this was coming.”

Zenger Folkman identified six factors “that should have raised red flags.” All those who were laid off shared at least two of these. Sheila had at least four and maybe five of the six factors. See “Keep Your Name Off That Layoff List” to assess your own career position.

Better yet — since self-assessment is only half as accurate as 360 feedback — get feedback from your manager, direct reports, peers, and others to more accurately assess and develop your career.


For over three decades, Jim Clemmer’s keynote presentationsworkshops, management team retreatsseven bestselling booksarticles, and blog have helped hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. The Clemmer Group is the Canadian strategic partner of Zenger Folkman, an award-winning firm best known for its unique evidence-driven, strengths-based system for developing extraordinary leaders and demonstrating the performance impact they have on organizations.


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