"I didn't see it coming."
Then, when it was too late, when the human resources department or your supervisor handed you a layoff or termination notice, you wondered how you'd let yourself be blindsided. You'd thought yourself a rising star, your talent immunizing you against negative consequences.
You didn't see the signals that warned you that you'd skated onto thin ice once too often. Now, you're out.
If you'd like to avoid this happening in the future, here are three clues to watch for and three areas you need to pay attention to.
A sea change
Cumulus clouds that grow faster vertically than horizontally portend a severe thunderstorm. In the same way, an uneasy feeling in your gut can warn you that you've lost favor with your boss or senior management. If you're unwise, you'll tell yourself you're imagining things and wait for a dramatic signal. If you're smart, you'll act immediately, by asking your boss for a meeting during which you ask specific questions to uncover how he thinks you're doing. Then, you'll use what you learn to head off trouble.
If you're left out of crucial meetings or notice that decisions impacting you are now made by others, you've been marginalized. When your boss or other senior managers begin ignoring you, there's a reason — and you need to find it.
When colleagues stop dropping by or turn "cool," it often means they see what you haven't – you're in trouble and they fear it's contagious. Don't let yourself be the last to know; instead, ask for honest feedback from colleagues you can count on to tell you the truth. Too often we wait for feedback as if no news equals good news.
Even if you work for someone you consider a joke, your manager has the ability to appraise your performance. When's the last time you asked yourself, "What does my boss need from me or see as my priorities?" How much time and effort do you spend building a bond with your manager? If you can't answer the first question and your answer to the second is "little to none," change course.
Do you play well with others or are you a pain? Talented "stars" often believe their skills immunize them, leading them to feel comfortable walking on others or even undercutting their immediate manager. While their immediate manager and others in senior management tolerate a star's narcissistic behavior in the short-term, once the star becomes more trouble than he or she's worth, the verdict becomes, "We'll miss your skills, but we think the full team is better off without you."
Have you surrounded yourself with colleagues who never find fault with you, or who wouldn't tell you if they did? If you've created a bubble around yourself because you only hang out with one or two allies, or perhaps because you get defensive when others give you constructive criticism, you may develop an over-inflated opinion of yourself. Those who believe their own press release, or who seek out positive but not negative feedback, risk complacency and remain unaware of how they need to change. Don't miss out — spend at least part of each week with those who might have something to say you'd rather not hear, and ask them to tell what it is.
Don't let "I didn't see it coming" be the refrain you sing.