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Ripken's Record-Breaking Philosophy

“Being aware of the Green Monster and the differences in approach it might require,” said Cal Ripken Jr., general session keynote, “allows you to adjust your game for such a challenge.” Referring to Fenway Park's famous 37-foot wall in left field, Ripken, known as baseball's “Iron Man,” said the possibility of breaking Lou Gehrig's record for the most consecutive games played was his monster.

Read an online extra, “Extra Inning with Cal Ripken,” and watch video clips from an interview conducted by NACUBO President and CEO John Walda, in Business Officer Plus.

“The ones that succeed in facing down such a challenge keep an open mind,” he said. “That attitude opens up a whole new world that may change the way you deal with things in the future.” It worked for Ripken, who broke Gehrig's playing streak by participating in 2,632 games before retiring from the Baltimore Orioles in October 2001 after 21 seasons.

No Secret Formula

When you break records, said Ripken, everyone thinks you possess a secret. When a reporter asked him, “What traits would someone need to break your record?” it got Ripken thinking. “I came up with eight ideas,” he said, which ultimately became the basis for his book Get in the Game: 8 Elements of Perseverance That Make the Difference (Gotham, 2007).

A Winning Philosophy

Ripken described the personal and professional traits of those who achieve extraordinary goals:

1. The right approach. “I created my own professional mission statement,” said Ripken. That is, “My job is to come to the ballpark every single day, and if the coach asks me to play, I play.”

2. Strong will to succeed. Is an intense drive to succeed genetic or learned? Ripken thinks it's part of an individual's hardwiring. “But whatever you are born with,” he said, “you need to look around and see if you can enhance things.”

3. Passion. Your love for your work carries you through the tough times, said Ripken. “In 1988, we had a terrible year. We were at 0–21. But, I had to figure out what I could do to contribute. In the end, it was the love of the game that kept me there to work it out. And the very next year, we turned it all around and reached the pennant.”

4. Love of competition. Most players handle competition against other players and teams fairly well, said Ripken. “As we achieve success, however, we can get complacent. So, good competition can give you an edge.” In competing against themselves, Ripken advised that people be totally frank. “When you look in the mirror at the end of the day, you need to be honest about your performance and figure out how you can improve.”

5. Consistency. You can't always make the best pitch or catch, but it's everything that you do in between that keeps you effective, advised Ripken. He recommended several areas of concentration, including learning to readjust when necessary, focusing on the ability to perform every day, finding solutions quickly, and making yourself irreplaceable by fulfilling numerous roles.

6. Conviction. This can be interpreted as being hard-headed or stubborn, admitted Ripken. “At our house,” he said, “there was what we called 'good' stubborn and 'bad' stubborn, and it's true that there's a lot of gray area in between.” But, basically, when you believe what you are doing is right, you have to stick with it.

7. Strength. This trait refers to the 1,000 hits you take in the cage for the 4 hits you will get in the game, said Ripken. “We can't do something successfully and long term if we don't prepare for it.”

8. Life management. “This category can go all over the place,” said Ripken. “I focus on the idea that there are certain things that we need to accept because we can't change them—and a lot of things that we can control.” A good example, explained Ripken, is the way he “managed” his managers. While he never changed teams, he played for many different managers, each with a new system. He took an active approach, going in on the first day of spring training and asking how the manager saw Ripken's spring training unfolding. “They would usually turn the question back to me and ask me for details. I'd prepare a template of my plans, give the manager a copy, and keep a copy for myself,” said Ripken. “So, sometimes, you can help the manager manage you. By doing so, you put some controls over what happens to you.”

Ripken ended with this: “I will now leave you with my secret: You can't accomplish anything from the sidelines—you can't be afraid to get in the game.”

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