“Sometimes your routine gets thrown out by a big game or series, and you have to get control and bring it back,” says 19-time Major League Baseball All-Star Cal Ripken Jr. It’s a lesson in sport that’s just as relevant to business today.
Cal’s wisdom, honed over a record-breaking career spanning more than 2 decades for the Baltimore Orioles, goes far beyond the confines of the diamond. His lessons in grit, persistence, and steadfastness are just as applicable to the challenges faced by small business owners, CEOs, finance leaders, and HR professionals.
Here Cal shares his Major League Baseball journey tips for any business leader looking to get ahead.
1. Maintain balance through routine
Cal is a big believer in routine, maintaining balance and a sense of normality through the highs and lows of baseball. Emotional extremes, either high or low, he believes can make it difficult to think clearly and perform well.
He explains: “I never wanted to be too high. I couldn’t operate when too ‘up’. Conversely, you can’t operate when you’re too down.” His advice? “If you can, keep a normal sort of mindset as you go.” A level and balanced mindset is key.
“With life and big-league baseball, it’s difficult,” he elaborates. “All-star games, opening days, playoffs. They’re all different, and you must figure out how to perform in those environments.” The same applies in business. “When you get to the regular nature of your job, you got to click back into a routine because that’s why you got there, to begin with.” So maintaining a balanced mindset is vital.
2. Focus on today
In 1991, Cal Ripken Jr. had a great season. “I won the Home Run Derby and MVP at the All-Star Game and had this adrenaline high,” he explains. “I was playing well and didn’t want these extra things to distract me from the regular season.
Cal has a mindset of humility, focusing on the present, helping him stay grounded, avoid complacency, and strive for improvement.
“It’s OK to celebrate for a little while, but if you celebrate too long, you won’t get into your groove again,” he says wisely. “Maybe it was just my way of humbling myself by saying, OK, that’s yesterday. What’s going to happen today when I turn the page,” he adds.
Take this way of thinking into the business world—every day is a fresh start and an opportunity to excel and grow, no matter what you previously did.
3. Finish things out, even when you’re tired
Cal’s advice is also to keep going, even when you’re tired. He says: “It’s a long season—162 ball games. When you’re heading towards the end of the season, and you play to push for the playoffs, you must remind yourself to finish things out.
“Sometimes you’re tired with all the work that you’ve done coming up to it. But that’s when you got to dig down deep. I will still take batting practice, swing in the cage and be ready for those games. Finish out strongly. All good teams and businesses get better as the year goes on.”
A business year is long and may have ups and downs. Staying committed and seeing things through for the final stretch is critical. Success comes from pushing through challenges, staying dedicated, and continuously striving for improvement.
4. Focus on the detail, and always be ready
For Cal Ripken Jr., having a detail-oriented mindset made things easier.
“Parts of baseball like base running or timing your movements with the pitch might seem mundane, but they are crucial,” he explains. “If you’re not attempting to steal a base, you should still take a secondary lead to gather momentum.”
The challenging aspect of this is that your readiness usually results in a false alarm. “You must prepare for the pitch, only to return to first base after three unsuccessful attempts. You repeat this process—take three steps or ‘hops’ towards the next base, then retreat to first.”
Regardless, you must treat each pitch as if it will result in an actionable ball. “Players like me approach the game with the expectation that the ball will be hit and that we must react accordingly instead of being caught off-guard,” he explains. “This approach keeps us on our toes and ready to act at all times.”
Being detail-oriented and diligent in mundane tasks helps prepare you for larger, more high-stakes moments.
Cal adds: “My dad used to say when we were practising, not just to go through the motions but develop good habits—then it’s easy when the time and stress gets tough.
“In the playoffs, each pitch has everything riding on it. If you prepare yourself by being detail orientated, it’s not a big change for you. It’s much easier.”
5. Don’t rest on your laurels
Channel your preparation and work ethic to maintain and build upon your success. Don’t let complacency creep in, Cal says. Instead, see wins as opportunities to set even higher goals and continue striving for excellence.
“It’s easy to over-celebrate,” Cal says. “I was 23 years old going into the off-season when I won the World Series. There were so many different things that happened. You were wanted in every celebration, which threw you out of your normal off-season routine. You’ve got to tell yourself that it didn’t happen by accident the first time and prepare for training.”
“You can’t rest on your laurels, and if you want to do better, you must prepare the same way.”
6. Be consistent
Consistency is the secret ingredient to achieving greatness, just like Cal Ripken Jr. did over 21 seasons, holding the MLB’s longest streak of 2,632 consecutive games.
The key to maintaining consistency lies in taking responsibility for your off-season work. Think of the off-season as the critical period where champions are forged. During this time, Cal Ripken Jr. laid a solid foundation for his performance.
“To me, it’s about your discipline, in between your ears. You’re the one that must put the work in and get ready for spring training. No one is standing over you in the off-season. It all falls on you. I prided myself on being consistent each year. The key to consistency is taking responsibility for that off-season work because that builds you up for the regular season.”
Taking responsibility for your off-season work means committing to continuous growth and development. It means investing time and effort into enhancing your knowledge and skills, even when there’s no immediate competition on the horizon. Have the discipline and the drive to push yourself beyond your comfort zone and reach new heights.
Baseball and business: Not too dissimilar
In business, as in baseball, pursuing greatness is a journey that requires unwavering dedication and a commitment to excellence.
Cal Ripken Jr.’s success, forged through his illustrious baseball career, revolves around timeless principles: unwavering consistency, an unyielding focus on the present, a relentless dedication to every detail, and the cultivation of exceptional habits.
Adopt and embrace these invaluable lessons into your leadership playbook to hit home runs in the business world, crushing every obstacle in your path to set new records of achievement.
Ultimately, running a business can be challenging, filled with uncertainties and complexities; but armed with the right support and the most effective tools, you can transcend challenges and exceed expectations.
Follow Cal Ripken Jr.’s approach to excellence and discover a level of determination that propels you and your team towards unprecedented success.
Step up to the plate with confidence and swing for the fences. The rewards of your efforts could be nothing short of extraordinary.