When Excellence is an Expectation

By Scott Westerman
“High achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation.” – Charles Kettering

I like to say that “Spartan teams are never beaten. Sometimes the clock just runs out before we score enough points.” That was the case tonight in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines were a better team tonight. But we were still competitive. Just like Coach Izzo’s kids always seem to be as February turns into March and the road to the Final Four begins afresh.

Juxtapose that with The Chicago Spartan’s amazing 8th Annual Sparty Ball event that happened last night in the Windy. A record number of scholarship dollars was raised, even as every attendee had an experience that became one of those Spartan memories we’ve grown to treasure.. and expect. It was an outstanding team effort. A win-win for everyone involved.

What would it be like to be on a team that is so consistently good that excellence becomes an expectation?

Exceptional performers have no off season. They know their numbers. At every given instant, they have a feel for where they are physically, mentally and emotionally. They have long ago mastered the fundamentals. Their exuberance is rooted in the fine tuning that makes high performance a reflexive thing. Through repeated practice, their muscle memory scores points in situations where their conscious minds are bombarded with unfriendly fire. They stay in the game on the edge of illness and injury. They know that the assist can be more important than racking up personal accomplishments.They seem to find that second, third and fourth wind that is just enough to outdistance a competitor.

They are able to totally focus on the moment, realizing that winning is nothing more than a series of well executed behaviors that contribute to a team’s combined success.

These are the elements of victory. Setbacks happen the moment we lose site of them. In a championship environment, when you are competing against the best of the best, setbacks can happen in an instant. They are what determine a contest’s outcome.

No team can win every time, every year. But legendary programs learn, re-calibrate, adjust, recover and get back in the game.

As spectators, we take all of these things for granted. Win a championship one year and we expect you to do it again and again. The year after a Final Four appearance, it might be easy for some to say that the 10th Sweet 16 appearance in 15 years is failure.

It isn’t.

Have you been able to regularly attract talented people to your team, a team that is populated by a totally new set of faces every four years? Do you have a track record of helping your team members grow in skill and confidence to the point where they can be successful at the next level of their career, even if that career takes them in a totally different direction? When they go, do they think about the life lessons you taught them with the same degree of gratitude that they feel for the success you accomplished together?

Have you done these things consistently and successfully in good times and in bad?

This is what the best leaders do. This is what Tom Izzo has done at Michigan State University. This is why his assistants become great head coaches. This is why his former players come back, year after year, to spend time with him.

There are a lot of ways to “win”. But only one way to be a true winner.

An outstanding leader fosters a culture where excellence is an expectation. You join the organization to learn, to grow, to excel and to pass it all on to the people you serve.

Teams with a sustained record of success put lots of points on the board. But they have also learned one very important underlying lesson.

When the season is over, we are not measured solely by the final score. We are measured by how we got there.

Feedback is always welcome to Scott@Spartanology.com

Scott Westerman is Associate Vice President for Alumni Affairs and Executive Director of the MSU Alumni Association.