Valuing diversity is important to an organization’s success. It can also be used as a scapegoat by a disparaged employee looking to place blame and cause issues for the company when they are overlooked for a promotion or let go. It appears this is what happened with the New York Times firing of female Executive Editor Jill Abramson. Her ousting has ignited controversy over what led to the decision to fire her.

Some reports have indicated that Abramson was fired because she openly complained about making less money than her male predecessor and wanting to be paid the same. Though The New York Times has denied any pay disparity and publicly commented the issue played no role in the firing.

Pay disparity for women executives is still an issue in today’s workforce – and one that should be addressed – though it seems that is not the real reason Abramson was ousted.

It was her poor management style that lead to her downfall. She had piss poor management skills. Her peers, direct reports, and others she worked with at the New York Times described her as “pushy” “a non inclusive manager” “rude” “undermining” and “bossy.”

Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger issued a statement saying that he fired Abramson after she proved “…unable to improve upon problems with her management style, which had been the subject of complaints by her colleagues. During her tenure, I heard repeatedly from her newsroom colleagues, women and men, about a series of issues, including arbitrary decision-making, a failure to consult and bring colleagues with her, inadequate communication and the public mistreatment of colleagues. I discussed these issues with Jill herself several times and warned her that, unless they were addressed, she risked losing the trust of both masthead and newsroom.”

She wasn’t fired because she was a woman – not even because she was a woman who complained she didn’t earn as much as her male counterparts – even though it has been reported she earned even more.

Though – she decided to play the “gender card.” She hired a lawyer to complain that her salary was not equal to that of her predecessor – because she was a woman. Her boss felt this was the final straw – her attempt to raise the salary issue at a time when leadership and peers were already upset and on edge was felt inappropriate on both on its “merits and in terms of her approach.”

So, she was ousted. It had nothing to do with gender equality or diversity. Jill needed to improve her management style and focus on being a better leader.

So – what can you do to improve your management style and be a better leader?

  • Communication: Being in a leadership position can sometimes be a solitary role. Often leaders make decisions in a vacuum and rely on managers or supervisors to communicate important information downward. Successful leaders lead through two-way communication. Much of it is nonverbal. For instance, when leaders “set the example,” that communicates to their people that they would not ask them to do anything that they would not be willing to do themselves, this only helps to make leaders seem more human to employees. Based on some of the facts that lead up to Abramson’s ousting was operating more or less in a vacuum, she didn’t make time for consistent consultations with her colleagues. People value direct interaction and communication from leaders. This not only helps to show that leaders are remaining committed to the people in an organization, but also offers an opportunity for them to step out of the “tower” and build relationships with employees
  • Accountability: Good leaders just own it – the good or the bad! Jill needed to be a grown up. She could’ve benefited from being a more honest, transparent, accountable, inclusive and authentic leader. Great leaders acknowledge that things don’t always go exactly as planned – and don’t whine and make excuses – but let employees and customers know they see issues too. Make an effort to relate to what employees or customers are going through, share next steps they plan to take to reevaluate and improve. That’s what builds trust in a leader – and trust in leadership is correlated to high performing organizations with committed employees, loyal customers, and increased performance and profit! It sounds like Jill never earned the trust of her employees.
  • Feedback: Soliciting input from those you lead regarding your actions and behaviors and how those behaviors positively and negatively impact them is imperative to being a great leader. As Sulzberger said, he had received feedback on how she could improve, and he gave her that feedback expecting she’d act upon it. It appears she ignored the feedback and opportunities for improvement. Great leaders harness their self awareness and remain open to feedback – they take the feedback regarding those actions and behaviors that may negatively impact those they lead and make a conscious effort to be aware of when those behaviors are occurring and why, and aren’t afraid to work toward continuing self improvement.

As Abramson told a group of graduating seniors at a commencement address at Wake Forest University, “What’s next for me? I don’t know … I’m in exactly the same boat as many of you.” Well, maybe a good place for her start of her journey to what’s next is to take some leadership development courses and hire a good executive coach – and not scapegoat diversity and being a woman as the reason she was let go. She could benefit from evaluating her own behaviors, looking at the way they impact those she leads, and perhaps make herself a more people focused leader.

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