Leadership lessons from Yogi Berra

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Joel Purcell
  • 341st Civil Engineer Squadron commander
On Sept. 22 we lost a great American, Lawrence "Yogi" Berra. For those that don't know, Yogi Berra was born to Italian immigrant parents and went on to become an 18-time All-Star, 10-time World Series champion, and three-time MVP.  He played 18 seasons with the Yankees and one with the Mets before continuing on as a manager and coach until his retirement in 1989.

Most of you probably know he was a baseball player. What you may not know is that prior to his major league debut, he was a Navy gunner's mate on an attack transport during the D-Day invasion. He fired machine guns and launched rockets to soften German defenses at Omaha Beach and he received a commendation for bravery. In 2013, he was awarded the Bob Feller Act of Valor for his military service (named for Cleveland Indians pitcher Bob Feller, who walked away from a $100,000 contract to join the military during WWII).

Besides being a baseball great, Yogi is probably best known for his "Yogi-isms," simple and frequently quoted sayings such as "It ain't over 'til it's over" and "The future ain't what it used to be." There is a certain wit, wisdom, and insight to what Yogi said that can be used to teach so many life lessons.  So, I thought it would be a great way to honor his life by applying those sayings to leadership and being a good Airman!

"You can observe a lot by watching."

Have you ever stopped to take a hard look at what's going on around you? Can you pick up on subtle changes in your workplace or the people in your life? Or, are you so concerned about what is going on in your life that you glance past it? Being a good Airman is about attention to detail, being able to spot issues at the lowest level, and picking up on changes in behavior in those around you. Take a hard look around, you may be surprised at what you see.

"Always go to other people's funerals; otherwise they won't go to yours."

I get it, we are all busy but you have to make time to build relationships and support people. Attending promotions, retirements, awards ceremonies and going away luncheons must be a priority to you. Nothing makes a person feel worse than having a special event that others don't show up to.  Sometimes it is the little things that make the biggest difference in people's lives, attend those events!

"It's déjà vu all over again."

I believe that even though technology is changing daily, people are pretty much the same as they have always been. We all face challenges at work and at home, we never feel that we have enough resources to get the job done, and we feel overwhelmed at times.  I also believe that the problems you face have been faced and dealt with in the past. If you don't have a mentor, get one. If you aren't mentoring anyone, find someone to mentor! There is a good chance that someone has a problem that you have solved in the past and you can help them through it.

"When you come to a fork in the road...take it."

Sometimes you just need to make a decision and move forward. Often the worst decision you can make is indecision. I'm not advocating that you make snap decisions; you still need to think through things, but you can't be so afraid to make a wrong decision that you are paralyzed to act. We are all human and we are going to make bad calls. If you make a bad decision, own it, correct it, and move on.
Thank you, Yogi, for your example, wit, humor, and selfless service. May you rest in peace.