A Lesson from LeBron in Emotional Intelligence

James made an educated and experienced decision, not an emotionally mismanaged one.

In business, there is absolutely no substitute for intelligence. For entrepreneurs, the best way to build and brand a business is to “start with smart.” Traditionally, however, when we think about “intelligence” we think about education and experience. There is another “E” consistently missing from that equation: emotion. No matter how much education and experience you possess, if you cannot manage your emotions, your hard-earned smarts start to sound silly.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to manage yourself and your emotions, and to understand and strategically adapt to the emotions and actions of others. Read that again just so it seeps in! In my book, SKIRTS in the Boardroom, I dedicate an entire chapter to this topic, because I think it is completely under-appreciated in the marketplace—and, apparently in professional basketball.

The sports-saga that continues to unfold regarding LeBron James’ “Miami-bound” decision and the subsequent “me-bound” response from Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert exemplifies this concept precisely.

Recently on ESPN Sports Center (you can see the video excerpt here) and Twitter, I shared some pretty critical views of Dan Gilbert’s response. I think it is utterly unbecoming of an owner in the National Basketball Association to attack a player’s character in the manner that he chose. I, like most people, can understand Gilbert’s disappointment at the loss of a superstar player like LeBron—possibly one of the best to ever play the game. But at the end of the day, it is just that—a game. You win some. You lose some.

LeBron enabled the city of Cleveland to win a heck of a lot more than they ever experienced in franchise history. Plus, he brought more than wins. Over the past seven years, he attracted increased enterprise, more jobs, and philanthropic partnerships to the city like never before. Personally, I think LeBron more than fulfilled his obligation and commitment to the city, the fans, and the franchise. He was undoubtedly the free agent of free agents this year. To me, free agency is like entrepreneurship in action. The key for all entrepreneurs and business owners (Gilbert included) is to act with quality emotional management. Here are a few emotional management lessons that will help you in business and in life:

• Number One: Think Long Term.
Any financial adviser will tell you the importance of diversifying your investments. Gilbert should have never placed all of his eggs in one basket. Furthermore, his remarks show the consequences of a short-sighted emotional reaction. LeBron clearly thought about the long-term implications of making an informed business decision. Short-sighted decisions almost always have a negative impact on your credibility. Rebounding from that will be an uphill battle. You will never, ever make a situation better by being bitter.

• Number Two: Make Decisions as C-E-O of Y-O-U.
Many sound business decisions still come with backlash. Sure, LeBron could have made the announcement in another way, but would it have really made a difference? More people watched the announcement than watched LeBron in the NBA Finals. Nobody had a problem with the announcement format until after they heard the results. “Operation Recruit King James” became a larger-than-life process due to the fans, not due to LeBron.

Make no mistake about it, this was and is about m-o-n-e-y. An insane amount of money and future earnings will follow LeBron wherever he goes. Owners know it. Marketers know it. And the fans know it. We are not accustomed to seeing a professional athlete with this much power and influence—not just over the game, but over his own career.

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