On May 12, Yogi Berra celebrated his ninetieth birthday. Considered by many to be the greatest catcher in the history of baseball, Yogi has led a remarkable life. Born Lawrence Peter Berra in St. Louis, Missouri, as the son of Italian immigrants, Yogi dropped out of school in the eighth grade to help his family. He earned the nickname Yogi from a childhood friend who thought he resembled a Hindu yogi when he sat with his arms and legs crossed at certain points of inactivity during a baseball game.
Yogi served in the United States Navy during World War II before embarking onhis Major League career, a career that would see him play in fourteen World Series, win ten World Series titles, play in eighteen All-Star Games, win three American League Most Valuable Player awards, catch Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series, and manage teams from each league to the World Series after his playing days ended. However, despite all these accomplishments, this legendary Hall of Famer may be best known for the “Yogi-isms” that have endeared him to the public for generations and have made this likable man one of the great ambassadors of American sports.
Often characterized by their simplicity, repetition, and seemingly paradoxical contradictions, many of Yogi Berra’s quotes became well known, and some are still frequently used by people in our culture today. However, are there actually leadership or character lessons to be learned from some of them? Yes, there are. The following are “Yogi-isms” that can reveal insights into human nature or offer edifying advice:
“You can observe a lot by just watching.”
Take time to learn. Keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth closed for a while. Don’t be so eager to prove yourself or to make your point that you end up failing or making yourself look foolish. It is common to our human nature to want to appear successful and independent, but if we can temper our reflexive impulses by taking the time to actually listen and learn from others, everyone may benefit in the long run.
“You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.”
“If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else.”
Set clear goals for yourself or your organization, and use those goals to guide your actions. If you don’t set clear and concrete goals for yourself or the people you lead, you are not likely to be successful, and you may end up someplace you don’t want to be.
“You give 100 percent in the first half of the game, and if that isn’t enough in the second half you give what’s left.”
Sometimes it takes everything you have to meet your goals, but many people are not willing to make such sacrifices. However, if the goals are really worthwhile and you are really dedicated to achieving them, you will be willing to do what it takes to accomplish your objectives.
“You should always go to other people’s funerals; otherwise, they won’t come to yours.”
Don’t expect other people to be there for you if you have never been there for them. In life, you often have to give to get anything in return.
“There are some people who, if they don’t already know, you can’t tell ‘em.”
Some people are simply stubborn, uncoachable, and nonteachable. If you find that your organization is full of these types of people and that you just can’t find a way to get through to them no matter how hard you try, it may be time to cut ties and to bring in new people who will be more willing to work with you in attaining a shared vision.
“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
As a leader, the time will come when a difficult decision has to be made. When that time comes, do not shirk your responsibilities. Make the decision. And remember, not making a decision is making a decision because you have decided to let time and chance guide your course rather than your own actions. That is not a characteristic of effective leadership. A strong leader will weigh the evidence (perhaps with others), determine what he or she believes is the best course of action, and be accountable for the decisions he or she makes.
These are just some of the “Yogi-isms” that can teach us valuable lessons about life and human nature. Try applying them in your life. If you find that you still fail, don’t get discouraged and give up. Just pick yourself up and remember Yogi Berra’s most famous quote: “It ain’t over till it’s over.”