Coping with a Meltdown

On January 13, 2016, in Monday Motivator, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman
Few things are more singular than being on the receiving end of a meltdown. We learn to take them in stride when children are involved. We take a deep breath and ride it out when our soul mates “flip a nut”. But what do you do when it happens to your boss?

For three years, I worked for a boss with an anger management problem. His challenge was two fold. On one hand, he was smart. The guy was usually two pages ahead of the rest of us. It was hard for him to wait for the team to catch up. On the other hand, he was passionate about the business. He had trouble reconciling that anyone who worked for him couldn’t have the same focus, dedication and attention to detail that he felt he brought to the table.

He was surrounded on all sides by people who wanted something from him, employees, shareholders, regulators and customers. That alone can contribute to immense stress and influence behavior. Add in a little personality disorder and fireworks could ensue.

Watching him work from a slow burn to an all out rant generated a combination of fascination and terror among his team. When he was on a tear, nobody within his field of vision was safe.

It was one of the most instructive learning experiences of my career and gave me some insights into how to handle a meltdown.

Keep your cool. – Once the horses are out of the barn, you have to let them run. But you don’t have to whip them into a further frenzy. Someone who can keep it together when everybody else is falling apart wins.

Peel back the emotion and look for valid points. – Useful gifts are almost always interspersed amidst the fireworks. Feedback is the breakfast of champions and sometimes the most beneficial vitamins taste bitter. Sort out what’s useful and integrate it into your game plan. Try to toss the rest into the trash.

What else might be going on? – Many, many times in my life, I’ve discovered that what sets people off has little to do with what they are yelling about. We all carry invisible loads on our shoulders that nobody else can see. Sometimes they are too heavy to bear and manifest by amplifying something that’s unrelated to epic proportions.

Don’t take it personally. – It’s just business. We choose a career. That career has success metrics. There are behaviors that can positively impact those metrics. Usually, when we get developmental feedback at high volume, those metrics are out of balance. Take stock of how you’re measuring your own professional progress. Are you and your team delivering enough value? Are you on track to get there? If not, reassess what you need to do to adjust. If so, keep breathing and stay the course.

Decide how and when to fight back. – The middle of a meltdown might not be the best time to make your case. Pick the time and place for your battles. Pull your forces together before you return fire. Take the high road. Acknowledge what’s true. Share how you will deal with it. Correct misconceptions, but do it professionally with facts as a foundation.

Be sensitive to patterns. – If your boss’ behavior happens often, is it directed toward a specific issue or area? Is this something you can impact in a positive way?

Decide when you’ve had enough. – Change the changeable. Accept what you can’t change. These are the two maxims we often hear about life. But there is a very important third dimension: remove yourself from the unacceptable. You are a person of value. If you find yourself in a situation where your boss is incapable of appreciating your work, seek someone else to serve. 90% of people won’t take this third option because it involves deliberate change. Moving outside of an uncomfortable comfort zone is something few will do. Those who can muster the courage to make a change almost always end up in a better situation.

In most cases, you will want to let things cool down before your respond to a meltdown, but there will be moments when you will have to fight back in real time. The challenge is having the wisdom to know what to do and when. Defending yourself in the midst of a high emotion situation is a high risk proposition. In some cases, especially if you work for a bully, you will have to eventually take them on. Be prepared.

In my own encounters with my anger prone boss, I finally determined that he was, in fact, simply a bully. And, no matter how smart or accomplished they may be, I won’t countenance bullies. One day, we ended up having a huge bi-directional meltdown. There was a consensus in the room that I “earned his respect” that day. He didn’t pick on us much after that. But at that same moment, I decided to remove myself from the unacceptable. I stayed around long enough to help our team achieved the goals we set. And then I was gone.


Working Through a Slump

On January 11, 2016, in Monday Motivator, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman
Losing your mojo is not fun. And eventually it happens to all of us. Events compound and all of a sudden we’re questioning our abilities. This is the definition of a slump.

The best of us will eventually stumble. We’re tempted to leave the team, quit the game, give up. Real winners understand that we are not judged by the number of times we fail, but by the number of times we succeed. And as the great sales trainer, Tom Hopkins, teaches us, “The number of times we succeed is directly proportional to the number of times we can fail.. and keep trying.”

What are the secrets of getting back into the zone?

Calm down – You’re not the first, nor the last high performer to hit a plateau. Take a deep breath. This, too shall pass. Find that elusive balance between effective focus and trying too hard.

Look at the situation from a distance – Much of our stress comes from being too close to the moment. Solutions often materialize when you contemplate the forest and not the trees.

Simplify your game – Get back to your basics. What are the things you did to get to where you were before the slump? Often times we let things like work ethic, coachability and a willingness to learn slide when we get a taste of success. Are you still checking those boxes every day?

Listen to your self-talk – Try to move away from, “I better not” to “I know I can.” Stay positive. Act that way even if you don’t feel that way. What you create on the inside ultimately manifests on the outside.

Live in the now – Slumpers ping-pong between reliving past mistakes and the fear of making more in the future. There is only one moment you can control, the present. Make the most of it.

Raise others up – Focus on assists. Look for every opportunity to make a teammate look good. Be supportive and reassuring. It will inspire others to follow your lead and will be reflected back at you.

Be patient – You’ve proven to yourself that you can do the job. You can and you will do it well again.

Be grateful – You have been given the gift of skill and success. Failure is an equally valuable gift, if you treat it as the learning experience that it truly is. Weight training is grounded in adding more resistance until you approach your capacity. A slump is the ultimate in resistance to forward movement. Keep doing your reps and you will be stronger. Be especially thankful that you know what sustained success feels like. It’s an opportunity that’s given to very few. Gratitude puts travail in its proper perspective and can lift you to new heights.

Stay the course – Victory is always within the grasp of those who can keep going. Philosopher H. Jackson Brown puts it this way. “In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins- not through strength but by perseverance.” Keep taking the shots. Keep getting up whenever you’re knocked down. To paraphrase Winston Churchill’s advice to his countrymen during the Battle of Britain: “Never give up, never give in. Never, never, never.”

You were born to be great. If you’ve known achievement you have positive proof that this is so. Elite human performance comes with commensurate challenges. Those who do great things must overcome great obstacles. At some point in your career, a slump will be one of them. Use it as a launching pad to help rocket your life story into a new and even more exciting chapter.


By Scott Westerman
It’s time for those New Year’s resolutions. But before you make your list, let’s begin with a reality check.

You have to step up your game.

What got you by last year won’t be enough to get you by this year. Your competition will be tougher, smarter and more agile. The rules will probably change and you’ll have to learn how to play well in an evolving sandbox. Good stuff and bad stuff will happen to you. Deal with it. Step up your game.

Here’s a fact of life: The universe doesn’t care about you. It’s agnostic. lt has given you one extraordinary gift: the gift of life. You are an amazing human being, capable of doing remarkable things. Circumstance, people and events will get in the way of your hopes and dreams. Deal with it. Step up your game.

And why not go a step beyond just stepping up. Why not decide to be Epic this year.

It won’t be easy.

You won’t be able to blame your problems on other people, politics, where you came from or what’s happened to you.These things are what they are. Complaining about how you think your current situation is connected to them is wasted energy. These are things that “entitled” people do. Stop it.

If you decide to be epic, you will be accountable for your actions. You will hold others accountable for theirs. You will pay the price in time, talent and treasure to manifest the things you want. You will go the extra mile, work harder than the competition, open your heart to possible heartbreak, give a little more when you think you don’t have anymore to give. You will follow the law even as you fight to change laws you think are wrong. You won’t intentionally hurt anyone, but you also won’t intentionally allow anyone to hurt you or those you care about. You will deal with the your unpleasant current realities. And you will never lose faith that you will get to where you want to be.

The entitled think they are already there. The truth is we are never there. Being epic isn’t a destination. It’s a lifelong slog, a process, a daily commitment, a lifestyle. It’s never over until we stop breathing. We are all works-in-progress, always having to prove and re-prove that we can add value, make good decisions and do good things.

Epic people make some bad decisions. They make mistakes, sometimes big ones. They are imperfect. But they quickly do what they can to right their wrongs. They say that they are sorry. They rectify, forgive themselves and move on. And they embrace failure as the learning experience it was meant to be.

Decide to become epic and you will quickly discover that a lot is expected from those who expect to earn a lot. Our rewards in life will always be in exact proportion to our service. And payday does not come at the moment you serve. It will come only when you demonstrate consistent, excellent service over time.

And you can lose it all in an instant.

Every day, every hour, every minute you press the reset button and start the the program over again. Screw up the code and you’ll crash. Keep refining the code and you your capacity, your velocity, your awareness, your achievement will all increase.

The vast majority of the world will not decide to be epic. That’s not your fault. What is your fault is what happens if you decide to join them.

You will become what you think about and who you associate with. Think deliberately, productively and with a purpose. Let go of energy sucking relationships and prioritize people who care.

We are all actors on a world stage, deciding which role we want to play and acting like that person.. until we become that person.

What kind of person to you want to be this year? Life will throw you the same ups and downs whether you’re entitled or epic. You can let things happen or make things happen. It’s your choice. And by the way, not making a decision is a decision.

If you’re not happy with your current situation there’s no use blaming anybody for where you are right now. You’ll only stay there if you choose to make it so.

So decide, do and keep doing. There is no better feeling than the exhilaration of pursuing purpose with a passion. Teachers will emerge, fellow travelers will join you. Your life will become an adventure and not an apology.

Why not step up your game? Why not choose to be epic? And why not begin the journey from entitled to extraordinary right now?


In Praise of Carl Izzo

On December 30, 2015, in in Memorium, by Scott Westerman

Carl Izzo 1925-2015I never had the honor of getting to know Carl Izzo personally. But I’ve had the opportunity to study a few of his greatest creations. And they reflect an exceptional human being.

Italian culture so mixes the elements of devotion and passion to create strong family bonds, deeply rooted in tradition, loyalty and personal accountability. These were just a few of the values Carl and Dorothy Izzo endeavored to pass on to their children during 64 years of marriage. Things worth having never come easy. They require, sacrifice, steadfast dedication and attention to detail. Education is crucial to competitiveness. Family is an institution you can always count on. And discipline is the highest expression of love.

Grab opportunity by the reigns and tenaciously invest your God given gifts to create value today and to pass your knowledge on to the generations that follow. Whether that meant creating ceramic craftsmanship that could outlast the floor joists on which it was laid, or inspiring a son to become a teacher, a coach and an internationally admired role model for sportsmanship and leadership, excellence was the essence of Carl Izzo’s life.

An appreciation for the natural beauty world around us, the sometimes painful lessons that build character, honesty and integrity, and the spiritual foundation that gives rise to every blessing; these are the things we all hope will permeate the DNA of our children. These are the fundamental building blocks of a life of service to family and community, a behavior set that Carl Izzo personally modeled as an energetic community booster and school board member. He chased it on the golf course, the baseball field and at the bowling alley. And he passed it on as an admired father, a loving grandfather and a tireless supporter of Michigan State University’s athletic endeavors.

One only has to spend five minutes in the presence of Carl Izzo’s son, to know that all of these elements so mixed to create a life well lived. Tom may have been educated at Northern Michigan University and forged from iron into steel in the fiery furnace of Division One College Basketball. But the facets reflected in the man were, at first, seeds carefully sowed and tended by a first generation American, a World War II veteran rightly dubbed a member of the Greatest Generation, a north woods entrepreneur and a truly dedicated, loving father.

We grieve the passing of this extraordinary man. There are way too few Carl Izzos in our world. But we are also joyfully grateful that he walked this earth, planting seeds that have grown into exquisite works of human art, and leaving indelible footprints for us to follow.

Colleen and I extend our deepest sympathies to Tom, Lupe and the entire Izzo family, and our deepest gratitude that the best elements of your amazing father continue to live on in your image.

Scott Westerman and the entire MSUAA Family


Letters Home

On December 27, 2015, in The WestermaNation, by Scott Westerman

Letters HomeW. Scott Westerman, Jr. was just 16 years old when Pearl Harbor signaled America’s engry into the Second World War. When the army offered young men a chance to enlist and get a year of college under their belts, my father graduated a semester early from Gallia Academy High School in Gallipolis, Ohio and entered Ohio Wesleyan University. Along the way, he was smitten by Marcy Percy, the woman who would become his wife and my mother. She was a year older and basic training was looming so the only promises that were made were to communicate by mail while dad served his country.

It was a time when written word, an envelope and a 2 cent stamp were the way we got to know one another. A five minute long distance telephone call cost $1.15. ($15.78 in today’s dollars). Our Internet was the U.S. Postal Service and the preferred email application was a pen and paper.

When dad returned from the war, he discovered that his parents had saved the many letters he wrote. In 1985 he painstakingly typed each one into the word processor on his Apple MacIntosh SE, printing a few copies for family members on his dot-matrix printer.

Thirty years later he asked me if I could take his last remaining printed copy to the office supply store to make a few more. It was then that I remembered that his old Mac and a box of diskettes had migrated from our family home in Ann Arbor to my East Lansing basement.

And I got an idea.

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Something to think about this holiday..

On December 20, 2015, in Comics, by Scott Westerman



Mark Dantonio’s Secret Sauce

On December 6, 2015, in Spartanology, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman
If ever a season proved that Michigan State University head coach, Mark Dantonio, has brought the Spartans into the ranks of the college football elite, 2015 was the one. Here’s how he did it.

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By Scott Westerman
I originally wrote this in November of 2010. Ironic that every word still applies, both to our football team and to life.

“Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

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By Scott Westerman
Even though it’s been more than five years since Colleen’s diagnosis and over two years since she was again deemed cancer free, I still stress out during the week we go to Ann Arbor for her check-ups.

I love to preach how the only moment we can control is the present moment but, in this case, I can’t seem to practice what I preach.

Be KindA favorite Internet meme of mine is, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be Kind. Always.” Whenever I’m in stressful encounters, I try to imagine what battle the person who is stressing me out may be fighting. Often times, our reactions in the moment are the result of a bad day or a painful past that hampers our ability to “be kind – always”. Expressed anger may have nothing to do with the person in its path. Peeling the onion to understand the root cause is essential to living the precept that “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to what happens to you that impacts the ultimate outcome.”

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This is why we do what we do

On November 2, 2015, in Spartanology, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman
Whatever abundance we may have enjoyed in our lives came about because someone else cared enough about us to invest in our potential.

Max O’Connor’s story brings that truth sharply into focus. Max had the desire and the brains to succeed in college and in life. Through no fault of his own, his circumstances put overwhelming obstacles in the way. Then, a group of Michigan State University alumni in St. Louis decided to invest in Max, and changed his life.

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