Why were you fired? “I’m not altogether sure”

Fired red stamp

It happens.

Out of the blue an exec (or anyone else) gets whacked.

Sometimes it’s a clear quantitative reason (e.g. sales goals weren’t met).

But many times it’s not. And that not-so-clear can be for a host of reasons frequently including “bad” fit.

And at the top, where competence is a given, fit is what what sometimes gets you hired and more often than not, fit is what gets you fired.

Jill Abramson formerly Executive Editor and head of the New York Times is one of those whacked execs (Abramson has by the way lots of company: for example see Sumner Redstone’s firing of Frank Biondi or Tom Freston).

Abramson suggests her termination was gender-related. She cops to being “pushy” – code for bitchy and over assertive when it’s applied to a woman.

As an exec coach, I know that the best thing my clients can do is know who they are, know how their behavior impacts others, and know when and how to modulate those behaviors to make them more effective. Even changing how you speak can be impactful.

Staying in denial – as Abramson seems to be doing – keeps her stuck.

There is a no doubt there’s a double standard between men and women in society. The behaviors that can get men lauded may not work well for women. Guess what? The behaviors that may work well for women may not work well for men.

Guess what else? The same applies for a host of other categories: younger and older, taller and shorter, experienced and newcomer, foreign born and home born, etc.

The knack is to know how to shift your behaviors to be more effective. The stuff that great feedback from others and work like coaching (whether formal like the work I do or informal from mentors).

Here’s some quotes from Abramson – emphasis mine:

  • Did you could think change your tone or did you say screw it? “The latter. You are who you are.
  • “Not everyone agreed with me. And maybe I could have done a better job building a consensus around my priorities. But I don’t have many regrets.”
  • “I know publicly what has been said by the leaders of the New York Times and have to accept it on its face, I suppose.”

Cut to the chase? Get great feedback. Accept it. Integrate it as appropriate. Move on. Figure out now what works for you in your current or hoped-for-role and what might derail you.

Continue to improve the former, and figure out how to shift the latter.

Full interview of Jill Abramson by Kara Swisher can be found here.


Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub.

Fired red stamp (Photo credit: Wikipedia)