Feb 08

Knowing when to say when

February 8 - 28-time-management Not too long ago, we pitched a piece of business in which the founding CEO was still actively engaged. We waited patiently for his arrival and, then, boom, the conference door swung wide open.

In limped a wizened, elderly gent who looked to be in a great deal of physical distress. He hopped into the room, lowered his failing body onto a chair and pulled himself towards the table.

We began the discussion, but he quickly interrupted. First, he wanted to tell us what he was looking for. That was fine. But, then, he began to regale us with countless war stories from pre-Columbian America. His tales were interesting, but totally irrelevant to the topic at hand: getting his organization better known.

It got to the point where we were collectively biting tongues and pinching arms to keep from snickering. And that, for so many reasons, was sad.

It's sad to see anyone in any profession who doesn't know when to say when. Professional sports are full of these sad sacks, including:

– Willie Mays, circa 1973
– Joe Namath, circa 1977
– Joe Louis, Roberto Duran, Muhammad Ali and countless boxers.
– Herschel Walker (Greg Schmalz tells me the erstwhile Heisman Trophy winner of three decades past is now an Ultimate Fighter. That's sad and scary)
– Brett Favre, circa now (Just check out the Hyundai Super Bowl commercial)

Politics seems to attract a fair share of octogenarian blowhards who don't know when to say when. That said, Congress seems replete with blowhards of all ages.

So, why do some people not know when to say when? And, why do others know exactly when to step aside? Greta Garbo, Sandy Koufax and Barry Sanders come to mind. Each quit while still at the very peak of her or his game.

As we were leaving the new business meeting described above, I pulled our team aside and said, 'Guys, I'd like one of you to put a bullet in me if I ever hobble into a meeting and start telling war stories from the 17th century.'

I'm not sure what my image and reputation will be when I finally do step down. But, I don't want to make it any worse than it will be by sticking around too long. I'd like to think I'll know when to say when.