Is someone waiting for you?
Oliver has a habit of arriving late for almost every meeting. His tardiness ranged anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes. Sometimes, he doesn't show up at all. Each time, he would apologize for being late. He also has a very good reason every time.
“My last meeting ran over time.”
“Someone with an urgent need stopped me on the way here.”
"I was busy and lost track of the time."
What Oliver doesn't realize is how this behavior is perceived by those waiting on him for meetings to begin. Regardless of how good his reasons are for being late, many now recognizes it as a habit for him. It has become a part how people see him.
For those who work with the perpetual late comer, this is what his tardiness communicates to them:
He doesn’t care about my time
He doesn’t respect me
He feels he’s more important than the rest of us
I can't rely on him
A few months ago, I was waiting to get into an elevator when a group of friends passed by. I heard one of them say, “I’m always late. It’s the story of my life". Then, they started laughing about it.
But this is no laughing matter. It shows an absolute lack of respect for the people waiting for you.
I used to attend a church where everything starts 5 minutes early. Six o’clock in the evening means 5:55 pm. If you arrive at 5:56 pm, you’re late. In a school that was part of the church ministry, classroom doors are locked at 5 minutes before the time. This was done so that people would cultivate the habit of arriving early for meetings and other appointments.
Not too long ago, I had a meeting with another leader who explained why she strives to be on time at every meeting. She said, “Their time is valuable; my time is valuable”.
Some don't see it that way. There are leaders who see it as badge of honor that people are waiting for them. Maybe this feeds their egos. Maybe they’re just not aware of how the behavior comes across to others. No matter what it is, it may be a good idea for them to rethink the issue.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that you should never be late. That’s impossible even with the best of intentions. Circumstances can conspire to delay your on-time arrival at times. Where it turns into a problem is when it becomes a habit. When people can predict with some high accuracy that you will be late, that you’re always late, this is not a good sign. They will start to feel that you're not reliable. It begins to affect your integrity.
If you are conscientious about always being on time, what’s your usual response in those few instances when you're late?
Those meticulous about keeping to time will realize that they won’t make the meeting on time, before the agreed time. So, they reach out ahead of time to inform the other party or parties of the situation, and why they won’t make it on time. Because they take psychological ownership for anything they commit to, they also feel emotionally bound to follow them through to completion. They know that their good name and reputation depends on it. They’re not content with just explaining it away. They don't deal with it after the fact. They deal with it before.
But what do you do if you have meetings stacked back-to-back and you find yourself running breathlessly to your next meeting?
Pay attention to how your meetings are scheduled. I know a leader who will not schedule 3 meetings in a row without a break or a “me time” somewhere in between to catch up, reflect on the meetings he has attended and have time to get to the next one.
So, while being late to a meeting might seem of little consequence to me, others could infer my level of integrity from it; especially if the behavior becomes a pattern. I could be seen as unreliable. That’s the reason that, as a leader, I cannot afford to be wishy-washy about delivering on promises, no matter how trivial or casual. And being on time at meetings has an implied promise inherent in it.
My effectiveness as a leader depends on it.