San Antonio Spurs coach Greg Popovich got ejected in last night's game versus the Denver Nuggets, an important game with playoff implications. In and of itself, that's not too unusual in the NBA, except that it happened 63 seconds into the game.

The Spurs' LaMarcus Aldridge turned to fire up a shot from the post and was fouled by the Nuggets Paul Millsap (or so the coach thought). Popovich's robust protest soon earned him two technical fouls and set the record for the fastest coach ejection this season, and fastest since 2012.

My first reaction was that he was clearly doing this on purpose to get his team fired up. One of those cinematic moments where the coach whispers to the ref, "Hey, I'm going to throw a tantrum, then, please eject me." Every game counts now with the playoffs around the corner, and the Spurs are teetering on the edge of being eliminated.

So, any spark of inspiration must be welcome. Popovich is also known for being curmudgeonly, even rude, with reporters--yet clever in how he still wins most people over. An intentional tossing wouldn't be a surprise.

Then, I learned that he was also ejected just three days earlier in a home loss versus the Sacramento Kings. The two technical fouls he drew in last night's game led to made free throws and a 6-0 deficit right out of the gate.

This suddenly smacked of a plain old-fashioned loss of temper, not a strategic ploy. I've seen far too many leaders with a temper really lose their cool--and the impact it has on the troops.

Here's what happens when leaders lose their cool.

Let me first dismiss the myth of leaders getting heated as being inspirational. The term "lose your temper" came from ancient times in reference to what happens to a sword that "loses its temper." In battle, it becomes brittle, breaks, and instantly loses its usefulness. The same goes for leaders who lose their tempers.

You become the antitheses of helpful. You make poor decisions that hurt the team. You quickly lose the respect of team members. You role model poor emotional intelligence and unacceptable, out-of-control behavior.

Just as important, losing your cool creates uncertainty born from inconsistency. Most leaders that periodically blow their top don't do so every single day. It's unpredictable, like a volcano. And while you can learn their triggers, it doesn't mean those triggers will consistently set them off. 

Research from social psychologist David De Cremer shows inconsistency like this is toxic. It strips certainty from an organization and creates apprehensions about future interactions with that leader. It often damages self-esteem and is viewed as patently unfair, especially depending on where the offending leaders directs their ire.

That can cause further self-doubt and uncertainty about future interactions. Losses of temper confuse people, erode trust, cause fear, and can lead to learned inertia where the employee, paralyzed by all of this, just avoids or shuts down interactions with that leader.

There are plenty of alternatives. Taking a pause can be extremely powerful. Learn what your triggers are--everyone has them. Be intentional about putting things in perspective and keeping calm in those moments. Challenge your thoughts of rage before they convert you into a screaming lunatic. Mind your mood swings and impulses.

Nobody wins when you lose your temper. Not in battle, not when embattled, and certainly not your battalion.

Published on: Apr 4, 2019
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