Imagine for a moment you’re the owner of an NBA team. Your most valuable player demands a trade. So, you meet with him face-to-face, and he presents you with an ultimatum:
Fire the coach and my boss (the general manager), or lose me.
That’s reportedly the situation that Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai faced recently. According to reports by ESPN and The Athletic, the team’s best player, NBA superstar Kevin Durant, is making the team choose between him and head coach Steve Nash and general manager Sean Marks. “Durant stated he does not have faith in the team’s direction,” according to Athletic sources.
Of course, it’s impossible to know exactly how that conversation went down without being there. But perception is reality, and a leaked report requires some type of response. What would you do?
Tsai responded with a single tweet.
“Our front office and coaching staff have my support. We will make decisions in the best interest of the Brooklyn Nets.”
Tsai’s tweet isn’t just brilliant; it’s a master class in emotional intelligence, the ability to understand and manage emotions. Let’s break down what makes this tweet so great, and what business owners and leaders everywhere can learn from it.
(If you find value in the lessons in this article, you might be interested in my emotional intelligence course, which includes 20 rules that help you develop emotional intelligence in yourself or your organization. Check out the course here.)
How to improve company culture
Before we get into the brilliance of Tsai’s tweet, let’s take a hard look at the situation the Nets owner was facing.
The Nets have nothing to gain from firing Nash and Marks. Even if they replaced both, Durant could make a similar demand in a year, or even a few months. Not to mention that both Nash and Marks have produced good results in their years with the Nets organization, while remaining consummate professionals.
Even more important, though: If Tsai were to fire Nash and Marks to appease his superstar, what kind of culture would that create?
Research indicates that employees do best in an environment that promotes psychological safety, a fancy term that basically means trust. By firing his front office, Tsai would prioritize the needs and wants of a single employee over what is best for the team. This would set a dangerous precedent, discouraging any future coach, general manager, or even fellow teammates from speaking up against Durant, even when he’s wrong–out of fear it could lead to them losing their jobs.
Which brings us to Tsai’s tweet.
With media reports swirling, and both competitors and fans alike wondering how the Nets would respond, Tsai showed his people that he’s got their back. By confirming commitment to his coach and front office, he shows that no single player is above the team’s culture.
But there’s another key factor to Tsai’s tweet: It doesn’t throw Durant under the bus.
Tsai recognizes that feelings and emotions change. Meaning that, managed right, relationships can heal and the organization may still find a way to work together with its current staff, maybe even accomplish great things.
At the same time, Tsai also knows that as much as Durant may want out of Brooklyn, the Nets have control, and therefore, the upper hand.
Build a team, not just a group of stars
As an employer, you want high performers. But companies live and die by the success of the team as a whole, which is (potentially) greater than the sum of its parts.
A great team needs more than a superstar, no matter how talented. It needs different types of people, to fill various roles. It needs people who support one another, through good and bad times. And it needs open, honest, transparent communication.
Sometimes, that type of communication requires difficult conversations, and decisions. You know, like when you tell your best performer that the answer is no–and that’s for the good of the team.
Because when you make decisions for the good of the team, you use emotional intelligence to your advantage. You get the best out of your people. You dictate the culture, instead of allowing others to dictate it for you.
Do that right, and you’ll have a team you can be proud of. And that just makes success taste all the more sweet.