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Tim Elmore

On Leading the Next Generation

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The Only Way to Take the High Road

Something happened last month that caught my attention, but it went unnoticed by most sports fans in America.

Dwayne Casey had a breakout year as the head coach for the Toronto Raptors. The season was a record-breaking season, where he won more games for the Raptors than any other coach in their history; he achieved the best record in the conference and entered the playoffs as the number one seed, and received the NBA’s Coach of the Year Award, which is voted on by the 30 NBA head coaches each year. Not a bad season for anyone.

There’s just one more thing. He was fired by the Raptors.

Yep. Evidently, the owners are unhappy about not winning in the playoffs, so they let him go. “Too bad. So sad. Don’t be mad,” as we used to say as kids.

What Went Unnoticed

Photo Credit: USA Today Sports

All of that was the story that made the news. It did not go unnoticed, although it shocked many of us across the country. What stunned me was how Coach Casey responded to the decision. Take a guess as to what he did:

  • Did he tweet about the decision, venting his frustration?
  • Did he hold a press conference, defending his record?
  • Did he begin playing the blame game as so many do?

Nope. To my knowledge he didn’t succumb to any of those natural reactions.

Instead, Coach Dwayne Casey wrote a letter. It was not a letter to the front office. It was not even a letter to his players. It was a letter to the city of Toronto:

“Dear Toronto,

Thank you.

Thank you to basketball fans across this city and the country of Canada who supported the Raptors and welcomed my family with open arms during our seven years here. Thank you to all the fans who cheered us on at the Air Canada Centre while we built this program into a playoff contender, packed Jurassic Park even in the cold and rain, watched the games from home and offered their undying support as we traveled this road to relevancy together.

Thank you for teaching our all-American family the Canadian way. That being polite and considerate to one another is always the best way. That diversity is something to be embraced and celebrated. That taking the time to learn about each other’s cultures is the surest way to find common ground and understanding. Thank you for making our children feel safe, valued, and comfortable in their own skin. We cannot express how important it has been to build the foundations of who our children are as human beings in a country that shows through its words, actions and laws that all people deserve basic human rights, and a chance to reach their goals through education and hard work.”

Wow. His response was not just gratitude instead of guilt. It was a demonstration of what high emotional intelligence is all about.

High EQ in a World Filled with Emotion

Sports is a world full of extreme emotions—anger, exhilaration, joy, frustration, judgment, impatient screaming at referees or umpires, you name it. Most of the time, we see sports as a place where people don’t manage their emotions well. That may be true, except for Coach Dwayne Casey, who took the high road because he has high emotional intelligence. In fact, high EQ is the only way we can take the “high road.”

Emotional Intelligence is the healthy management of our emotions. It implies having:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-management
  3. Social awareness
  4. Relationship management

So, what must leaders do to achieve the same emotional intelligence that Coach Casey displayed?

1. See the big picture.

Casey saw far beyond his employment as an NBA coach. He saw the benefits of having those years in Toronto and what it meant for his family. It wasn’t just about him or his status. His response prevented the situation from becoming heated.

2. Be specific in your gratitude.

Next, his purpose for the letter was to express gratitude. When we see the big picture it usually enables us to get beyond our regret and to express thankfulness. He didn’t merely offer platitudes—he clarified specific realities he appreciated.

3. Decide on what’s most important.

Casey obviously kept his eye on what his most valuable priorities were. It was his family, teaching his kids to live life well and leveraging his position to positively impact the city. He didn’t mention his paycheck or his skills. Picking priorities is paramount to high emotional intelligence and high road living.

4. See each step as a preparation for the future.

Inherent in his letter were ideals that led me to believe he saw his role in Toronto as a steppingstone for his next one. This enables leaders to rise above the fray of heated emotions and words that we’ll regret later. Saying “thanks” for specifics instead of being defensive is vital for our own health.

His words felt sincere because he got so personal and genuine. He got far beyond the world of basketball and spoke about life. This is what taking the “high road” is all about. It’s about managing emotions by keeping things in perspective. But beware—if you take the high road there’s not too many people on that road. It can be lonely.

What if we changed the reputation of leadership, education and sports? What if we kept this thing we do in perspective? Let’s learn from Coach Casey’s clinic on EQ.


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The Only Way to Take the High Road