MoneyBall for the Rest of Us #3: what Tom Yankus taught me about leadership

MoneyBall for the Rest of Us #3: what Tom Yankus taught me about leadership


Every once in a lifetime or so, someone like Tom Yankus comes along, sets his hand upon your shoulder and says “kid… fill in the blank”.

And it remains with you all through the years, etched in  corner of your mind, to be repeated and reused in all sorts of forks in the road of life. Of course, in my case, I acknowledged little of it for the first five years, and used only a little of it in the five that followed. But my journey has taken me a long way from Exit 14, and has more than a few decades of seasoning now. The advice seemed to settle in, the mentorship seemed to take on a new meaning, and I realized what a fine leader I had followed.

And the irony of course, is when you present something like this to TY, he invariably says “did I say that? – sounds like an afterthought!” And yet, I kept it with me for decades.

I’ve written a few pieces now on TY (here, and #2 here) but later this Spring, we will break ground on the new Ayers-Yankus Baseball shrine (news item), and I am proud to have been a part of the support that makes this possible (as can you, here). We likely all have our TY afterthoughts (add yours if you like in the comments below).

TY taught me many things while I was at Choate, but I learned them years after as I built and lead teams of 5 (many), 75, 105 and then 1,005 people. I remember one instance where I was managing a large and logistically challenging charity and having trouble balancing the need to get things done and the desire to  remain somewhat un-hated (for a summary of the breadth of the challenge, look at KFAC). I reached out to TY and asked about communication style, especially to large groups. His advice was to stay direct, but try to make them smile.

Wit makes it go down easier. One of the funniest expressions I ever heard from him was when we were debating the merits of one classmate who was off to a good start in his career, and had the attitude to match. TY cracked a classic, one perhaps he had been saving for years: “He was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.” I fell off my chair laughing.

Another story, which he will deny and I can’t prove after 30 years (these are the best kind) was when the honor roll was announced one spring in Chapel, and those on it were asked to stand. They did as each name was called, and they started making a lot of noise about it (especially if you were sitting down and not expecting your name to be called). TY’s hand went up, and the Chapel hushed. “Those of you standing for honor role, please remain so” he bellowed. “You’ve done great work here. But take a moment to stoop and shake the hand of one of the C students next to you. Because while they may not be standing now, they have had to learn the communication skills that will allow them to lead people like you the rest of your lives. Be friends”.

Needless to say, I was sitting so I did not fall off my chair. But I didn’t forget that either. And so in preparation for this announcement I spent a little time interviewing Tom (most of which ended up in my previous blogs). Here now are last nuggets from that conversation

MS: what were the best years for you? TY: Other than 1989 (marriage to Julie), 1990 (first daughter Anne arrives), and 1992 (second daughter Alex arrives), I loved my year in Navy flight school (1957) and my years in pro baseball (1956 and 1958).

MS: What is the compliment you most frequently get? TY: “You look the same as when I had you in class. Don’t you ever get old?”

MS: What is your favorite word? TY: Empathy.

MS: What it your favorite quotation? TY “An Alumni pulled me aside and said ‘You taught me how to write.’ That means more to me than anything else.”

Yes TY, perhaps it does.

I mentor two kids and several entrepreneurs. Similarities are coincidental.