Knowing When to Say No - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Knowing When to Say No
Coach Lombardi said, "Winning is the only thing." But a true leader carefully picks the fights he wants to wage and win.


Pharmaceutical Executive


After you've been in management for 30 years, your intuition tells you which people are open to new ideas and who just likes to hear himself talk, who likes to grow his ego instead of his company. You also become attuned to a company's culture—particularly, whether innovation is welcome or not. I took a look around, felt the weight of the crystal Waterford glass in my hand, then set it down on the slate coaster on the antique mahogany table. I felt myself rise from my chair. I couldn't believe what I was doing. Where was the old fighter? The Lombardi acolyte trained to win at all costs?

I stood, buttoned my jacket, and smiled as I addressed the threesome: "Being on a board is a lot of work. I believe in this company and what the CEO is doing, and I want it to thrive. That's why I'm here. Having said that, please understand my time is valuable to me, and I've been around too long to spend it with people I don't enjoy. I'm not enjoying this now and I doubt I would in the future." And then I did something I had never done before. I turned and walked out. My good friend, the CEO, intercepted me at the elevator and beseeched me to reconsider. I patted him on the back and left.

Through the lobby I sailed out onto a midtown street, buzzing with life. I spotted a cigar shop and soon emerged to light up before the MetLife Building amidst the energy surrounding me.

After all those years on the obstacle course, I may finally have learned the hardest lesson of all. Leaders play hard, of course. But there are times when it doesn't pay to play.

While I was puffing on my cigar still trying to process what I had just done, a teenager in hip hop clothes walked up. "Got the time, chief?" he asked.

I looked at my watch, smiling at his question.

"Only for meaningful things," I said.


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