I have a personal habit that drives some people nuts: I’m always early for meetings. It doesn’t matter if I’m going to a business meeting, a training presentation, or even a dinner date; typically, I show up at least 15-20 minutes before I’m expected. As you can imagine, this can be problematic, because often as not, the people I’m meeting with just aren’t ready for me. Believe me, when I was single and dating, this was definitely a problem.
I know where this habit comes from. I’m the son of a Marine, who put a very high value on punctuality. But I also have a core belief that my time is valuable and I get annoyed when people are late for meetings with me. I assume everyone feels the same: that their time is valuable, and I shouldn’t be late on them. Most people seem to agree.
Still, there are those among us who are consistently late no matter what. For whatever reason, they can’t seem to arrive on time. Some apologize when they finally arrive, some don’t. A few apologize in advance, after letting us know they’re going to be late. But at the end of the day, most of us feel disrespected by people who are consistently late.
“But,” those consistently late people consistently say, “I’m not doing it on purpose. I don’t mean to be disrespectful.” Of course not. We’re well aware that they aren’t being deliberately disrespectful, unless they’re sociopaths. But that doesn’t matter; the fact is, most of us feel disrespected by consistent lateness. When we feel disrespected by someone, we tend to lose respect for them in return.
This is a big problem for leaders. Working in an environment where the leader is consistently late can be challenging, to say the least. If the leader is late, then everyone is affected, there’s a knock-on effect wherein everyone is behind, regardless of how much they want to be on time. I once served a client, a technology company, where everyone was always 15-20 minutes late. It didn’t matter who they were or the importance of the event. In fact, we joked about it when we were arranging our meetings: “Are we really meeting at 10am, or are we meeting at 10am-(name of company)-time?”
But this wasn’t the only outward sign of a disrespectful culture at this company. Lateness caused people to try to hurry up, to get things done quickly in an attempt to finish on time. Or they would cut each other off mid-sentence or become frustrated and openly denigrate each other in front of others for lateness and other perceived slights. Let’s just say that although my client valued many of the company’s cultural attributes – like innovation and creativity – respectful behavior wasn’t one of them. As a result, complaints, mistakes, turnover and poor employee engagement were significant issues at this company, and so was disrespect for the leadership.
The reality is chronic lateness is a big deal, especially for leaders. We all understand that leaders are busy; but so is everyone else. We need to accept that lateness is perceived as disrespectful, regardless of intent. And it generates disrespect in return. Now, no one is saying that leaders should adopt my problematic strategy – be early for everything. But, being on time isn’t a problem, ever.
4 Quick Tips for Being On Time:
- Expand Your Commute Time in Your Head. For those of us who drive to/from work and meetings, unexpected traffic is the #1 reason we’re late. Assuming you know the number of minutes it normally takes you to drive to work, simply add 10 minutes to that length of time and use that number forever going forward.
- Use Calendar Reminders. Automatically have your first and second reminders preset on your calendar for all appointments. I find one hour in advance for the first reminder and 15 minutes in advance for the second reminder work great for me.
- Use Reverse Psychology. Ask yourself, “How would I feel if my colleague/client/boss/direct report were late for a meeting with me?”
- Reward Yourself. Reward yourself — maybe with a hard candy? — for being on time (in moderation of course, unless you want your dentist bills to go through the roof).