A Lesson from LeBron in Emotional Intelligence

Cavaliers Owner Dan Gilbert's response to James' exercising control over his NBA career amounts to a flagrant foul

In terms of accomplishing "black enterprise," James's decision could represent the beginning of a power shift in the sports industry.

Most players are at the mercy of the owners. They are traded like commodities every single day, often discovering their fate only after the deal is done. When the owners make a decision, it’s just business. When a player makes a decision, somehow it becomes betrayal? Lebron was no longer a contracted employee of the Cleveland Cavaliers. He served his time—he gave seven years. If LeBron was as horrible as Gilbert’s letter indicated, why was Gilbert willing to pay LeBron around $125 million? Dan Gilbert might be an owner but he does not own LeBron. LeBron, a grown man, did not have to check in and get permission to leave. Independence is the hallmark of entrepreneurship. Business owners become so accustomed to managing others that they forget to manage themselves.

• Number Three: Choose Your Words Carefully
The words you serve up today might be the same ones you end up eating tomorrow. The level of indignation and incredulity that Gilbert displayed was really a master class in poor emotional management. He has hurt his city, the fans, and the franchise. What player now wants to play for an owner who fails to appreciate seven years of hard work?

The team should have been prepared for LeBron to stay or go—they should have had a public relations response plan in place. Again, that would require thinking long-term, or, let me see … thinking period! There was no thought here.

Conversely, I believe LeBron handled himself—i.e., managed his emotions—very well. His decision was best for him, his family, and his finances. He made an educated and experienced decision, not an emotionally mismanaged one.

Certainly, emotions were involved here as it was a difficult choice. He just managed them strategically. That is what emotional intelligence requires. He continues to walk carefully and quietly, which is smart. LeBron was able to rise above intense pressure and make a sound choice. Isn’t that what we all want? Real freedom comes from being able to make decisions that are responsible, yet free of the overwhelming expectations of others.

My mother, Mary Evans, has always taught me that your exit will be remembered longer than your entrance. The emotion surrounding LeBron’s decision will pass. He will be fine. His endorsements will be stronger than ever. We should be pleased to finally see a group of professional athletes take charge of their careers. For the first time, we see players directly influencing the composition of a team and proactively collaborating. Plus, we saw three superstars–Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh–each take less money than what they otherwise could easily demand in a year of free agency with uncertainty about the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement. LeBron left about $20 million on the table. While no one is crying over fewer zeros in LeBron’s check, sports fans need to see a bit of selflessness for a change.

In terms of accomplishing “black enterprise,” we are making progress. I look forward to the day when the players don’t just own their careers, they own the team. The money they make pales in comparison to the money being made by the industry. What we have witnessed here is the beginning of a shift in power. The question is whether we will be intelligent enough to see it and harness it or become so emotional and short-sighted that we waste it.

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Now it’s your turn to weigh in. Let’s elevate the discussion beyond the typical rhetoric. What lessons have you learned and what can we take away from this entire situation moving forward?

Related reading: Lost In Emotions? (March 2010, Black Enterprise)

Reinvention Strategist™ Marshawn Evans is a former Miss America beauty queen turned Donald Trump Apprentice, turned Georgetown University trained sports & entertainment lawyer who equips the motivated to live without limits. She is Founder of ME Unlimited, a management consulting and performance strategy firm, and author of the bestselling book, SKIRTS in the Boardroom: A Woman’s Survival Guide to Success in Business & Life. Subscribe to her free empowerment e-newsletter at www.marshawnevans.com. Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

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