After a last-minute loss to the Chicago Bulls last Sunday, Miami Heat basketball coach Erik Spoelstra confessed to reporters that his players were deeply upset, some even in tears after the latest in a string of tough losses.

If you’re a Bulls fan like me, or someone who witnessed with distaste last summer’s LeBron-apalooza, a months-long bidding war for the privilege to give NBA star LeBron James a multi-million dollar contract that culminated in “The Decision,” the overdramatically titled and completely unnecessary national prime time special during which James announced his decision to “take his talents” to Miami’s South Beach, then you likely experienced a slight tinge of glee at the news that Heat players were suffering.

It’s OK to admit it. It’s normal. The Germans even came up with a word – schadenfreude – for that little warm feeling of pleasure that comes from someone else’s misfortune.

Besides my glee, Spoelstra’s comment set off a firestorm of criticism from analysts, coaches, players and fans. One enterprising fan even set up a web site, didtheheatcrylastnight.com, to track the apparently fragile emotional state of James and Co.

Big boys don’t cry, as L.A. Lakers coach Phil Jackson put it. If anything, the only acceptable emotion in sports is anger, ideally spurring an insatiable drive to crush the competition into a thousand tiny bits (see Jordan, Michael). In the bubble that is professional sports, that’s a respectable emotion.

Happy or sad, we’re taught to keep our emotions in check at work. Upset with the latest directive from above? Grin and bear it. Think your employees are a bunch of whiners? Put on a happy face. But emotion can have a useful and powerful place at work, particularly in leadership.

Today’s leaders are increasingly required to have “emotional intelligence,” argues a recent study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity. What is it? It’s the ability to recognize, understand and manage emotions in order to drive individual and team performance. Today, a leader’s EQ is as important as their IQ.

But managing others’ emotions is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the targeted use of a leader’s own authentic feeling as a situational management technique. A flash of anger or look of disappointment can serve as a motivational tool to give an underperforming employee or team a kick in the can. An authentic tear or sob can connect a leader to a team in a deeply personal way.

Judicious use is the key, otherwise leaders run the risk of turning into the butt of a joke. Look no further than John Boehner, speaker of the U.S. House, who blubbered his way through several high-profile television interviews earlier this year, for example. Used right, emotions are a powerful management tool. Used poorly, they’re a distraction and a source of unnecessary drama.

Spoelstra’s decision to reveal his team’s emotions was the wrong way to do it. Opening that little window forced him and his players to endure some harsh criticism. When dealing with emotions, one of the many things a leader does is channel emotions in a healthy way, not set them ablaze.

Mike Prokopeak
Mike Prokopeak is editorial director of MediaTec Publishing Inc. Mike directs content for the CLO Symposium live conference series, the CLO Breakfast Club programs and all MediaTec magazines, as well as the e-Seminar series, research initiatives and special projects. Mike brings a wide range of experience in journalism, publishing, and marketing along with a proven track record of editorial achievement to MediaTec. After joining Mountain Living Magazine in Flagstaff, Ariz., as a reporter, he worked his way up to editor in chief, eventually taking on general manager responsibilities for the magazine and its sister publication, Flagstaff Live, both owned by Pulitzer Newspapers Inc. He directed the editorial, design, advertising and events departments and successfully led a complete redesign of the publications. Mike has also worked with leading educational publishing companies, including Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and the Great Books Foundation. A former teacher and Peace Corps volunteer, Mike brings in-depth experience in continuing education and training to MediaTec. He can be reached at mikep@CLOMedia.com.

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