I’m a passionate baseball fan.
The game shaped my approach to life and to work. There are countless life lessons tied to baseball by talented scribes and players, but the one that is my favorite is straightforward: There are three outs in baseball — out hustle, out think and out perform. How’s that for an opening statement of a strategic plan?
Though lacking in on-field talent, a measure of my business acumen came from my participation in and adulation of our National Pastime. Early on, I learned how to add, subtract, multiply and divide by working batting averages, slugging percentages, ERAs and the like — this provided a formative foundation for later analyses of budgets and spreadsheets. I also learned that sticktuativeness and patience are all-important — in baseball and business, you can do something about yesterday tomorrow.
Be Consistent, Reliable and Detailed With Deliverables
Other lessons? I learned that nothing is trivial in business or baseball, and that the devil is in the details and repetition. That it’s always important to respect the game and your competition. That, if you have genuinely prepared — if you’ve faithfully put in the time, effort and study — you’re ready. I learned that you should always field the tough chances with confidence because you have over-prepared through study and practice, but that you should still expect to flub one every now and then (and often get booed, frequently by folks who have no clue). But not to worry — in baseball as in business, another opportunity will be coming at you before you can Say Hey. If you’re prepared, you’re going to get that 3-1 count on occasion, and you’re going to take advantage of it.
I learned that you can’t hit every pitch out of the park and that if you try to do so, you’ll soon be sitting on the bench; it’s far better to be consistent and reliable with your deliverables in the field and in business. I emphatically learned early on that the game will humble you; ditto with corporate enterprises. I learned that it’s about the team’s success, not yours as an individual. And that camaraderie and chemistry are keys to the ultimate achievements. Check your ego at the clubhouse (or office) door.
(I also painfully discovered that I couldn’t hit a curveball, but my difficulty with a nasty yakker is neither here nor there for purposes of this blog. I just finally needed to confess that sad realization about Uncle Charlie.)
Iron Man Cal
What got me on this tangent? Being a Maryland boy, I grew up worshiping Cal Ripken, a first-ballot Hall of Famer. A skilled player who practiced meticulously, studied intensely, and worked at his craft vigorously, Ripken played the game the “right way,” getting every ounce of production out of his God-given talent.
Baseball’s Iron Man is known first and foremost for breaking the consecutive games played mark. For the non-fan amongst readers, here are the key stats: the “unbreakable” record was Lou Gehrig’s 2,130; Ripken ended his streak with 2,632 consecutive games played — the equivalent of more than 16 demanding seasons where his managers could head to the ballpark and know that a significant cog on the team could be penciled into the lineup. In indelible ink.
Ripken’s tenacity underscored for me another precept that I long ago embraced as a successful business operator. This symbol of consistency — who showed up for work day in and day out, who never gave in or gave up, who was as dependable as a happy Labrador — is an excellent example of what we should want and admire in an employee.
As an administrator, one cannot offer enough praise or give enough thanks to the HR god in the sky for the employee who is always there, always on time, always prepared. The rock who insists on staying late to finish a project, who offers help to others with their efforts even though his or her own workload may be stacked intimidatingly high. I’m speaking reverently about the co-worker who is hardly ever sick and certainly not wimpy — a headache or minor ache or pain does not keep them home.
The Full and Valuable Package
This type of skilled employee isn’t by nature a complainer, and they don’t participate in office politics. They come to work and do their job. You won’t find them chatting it up about their fellow employees or pontificating their own sets of excuses. They are not skeptical by nature and never a PITA. They don’t start packing up and powering down at 4:45pm to ready themselves for the sprint to their car or logging out for the day at 4:58pm … almost every single day. This type of colleague puts the team first. Always. Hence, they are a well-respected and critical difference-maker in the workings of the office’s production efforts. If they can’t find a way, they will generally make one. In other words, they are the full package — talented, dedicated, consistent, reliable and of good character. They’re Cal.
It’s hard to corner the market on excellence. We can’t all be the Yankees — budgets are real and sacred in business, and superstars are expensive. While there is no doubt that a team of megastars makes for an impressive organizational chart, give me a lineup of unassumingly skilled, devoted, trustworthy, dependable, focused, lunch-pail-type co-workers — the under-the-radar talent that gives you a smile and an occasional raspberry — and I’ll take a lot of your market share. I’ll probably have more fun at work, too. (And fun is an essential ingredient to success, but that’s for another blog post.)
In summary, what is true for baseball so often applies to business. Whether manager of a team or a company, you are only as strong as your weakest player/employee. Surround yourself with employees who are consistent and dependable — forevermore two traits we admire most in people. They are the individuals who create the solid foundation of successful businesses. Such troopers should be praised, honored and appreciated more than they are in most workplaces. Conversely, your enterprise will be more robust if you take the additional (courageous) step of not pussyfooting around with the malcontent, the complainer, the naysayer, the whiner and the gossip. Regardless of their talent, such employees have the potential to tear apart a clubhouse or business, and actually bring down productivity and morale. Counsel them. Document. Warn them. Document. Bench them. Document. And then cut them. You’ll thank me later.
In conclusion, there is nothing tedious or lackluster about consistency and dependability. A business should do the dull things right time after time so that the extraordinary will not be required too often. Believe me — extraordinary is very difficult to deliver day in and day out. That’s why I shout, “All hail the trooper!” On my ballot, they are your Hall of Famers.