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Dan Gilbert Letter: Leadership Communication 101

Dan Gilbert LetterCleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert has posted an open letteron on the Cavs website blasting basketball star LeBron James for his decision to leave the team as a free agent and sign with the Miami Heat.

As the chairman and founder of Quicken Loans and a prominent business leader and investor, I think Gilbert shot himself in the foot with what amounts to a childish and petulant tantrum.

I also thought it was an excellent example of how CEOs and business leaders should not communicate. Let's take a look at an excerpt from the letter:

As you now know, our former hero, who grew up in the very region that he deserted this evening, is no longer a Cleveland Cavalier.

This was announced with a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his "decision" unlike anything ever "witnessed" in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment.

Clearly, this is bitterly disappointing to all of us.

You simply don't deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal.

But the good news is that this heartless and callous action can only serve as the antidote to the so-called "curse" on Cleveland, Ohio.


You can take it to the bank.

Now, expressing his disappointment and trying to rally the fans was a good thing, but the message gets completely lost in the name-calling rant.

By calling LeBron James's announcement "narcissistic," a "cowardly betrayal," and "heartless and callous," Gilbert's tirade is, according to author and crisis management expert Eric Dezenhall, and I'm paraphrasing here from a CNBC segment, "a petulant, self-entitled, morally superior, drunk-dialing tantrum you later regret doing."

In the same segment, author and executive development specialist David Caruso said it's good for executives to express emotion, but in an appropriate manner. He goes on to explain that leaders have to weigh the business benefits or harm in how potential clients or talent may perceive, not only their words, but how they say them.

I couldn't agree more. And from my perspective, Gilbert's guarantee of a championship comes across as his own narcissistic display, as well as grandiose behavior that puts unnecessary pressure on himself and his organization. It sets the Cavaliers up on a pedestal they, in all likelihood, can't live up to.

Sure, it's tough for executives and leaders to be real without going over the top, but here are 10 tips for maintaining that difficult balance when you're communicating:

  1. Be passionate, but not petulant
  2. Be genuine about your feelings, but not inappropriately so
  3. Keep your inner child on an adult leash
  4. Don't be grandiose, period. It'll get you in trouble more times than not
  5. Always remember who you are and whom you represent
  6. You may be an owner, but you don't own people, so don't behave as if you do
  7. It's a business; don't take rejection personally, and if you do, don't communicate that
  8. If you're emotionally charged, don't say it or hit the send button; wait a day
  9. You're more likely to self-destruct by communication than any other way
  10. Maintain a sense of humor and humility
Here's a link to the CNBC segment on Dan Gilber's letter
Image CC 2.0 via Flickr