Thursday, March 4, 2010

5 Little Things That Make a BIG Difference as a Leader Part 1: Show up on Time

This is the first of another 5 part series about some of the little things you can start or stop doing that can make a big difference on how you are perceived as a leader.

BTW, some of you may be looking for my next installment of “Leadership Lessons from Undercover Boss”. You can stop waiting – I’ve stopped watching after the third episode. I said I would give it one more chance after the disappointing Hooters episode – and I did. I suffered through watching 7’Eleven’s CEO Joseph M. DePinto be amazed at how much coffee one of his store sold, how much food they threw away, and how hard his employees worked. He came across as another “Forrest Gump” CEO – basically a nice guy, but clueless. I can’t take it any more. I'll stick with American Idol for my dose of reality show.

Anyway, back to the new series.

I work with a lot of very successful leaders and aspiring leaders who set very ambitious improvement goals for themselves. They want to be more strategic, lead change, be more visionary, improve their presentation skills, learn marketing and finance, and improve their work-life balance. Yes, these are all important and impressive goals. However, they can be huge mountains to climb, and take years to master.

I once heard of a parent that screamed at their teenager: “if you want to clean up the environment, why don’t you start by cleaning your damn room!”

Sounds like pretty good advice for leaders too. In addition to those BHAGs (big, hairy, audacious goals), why not set some little-bitty achievable goals (LBAGs) for yourself too?

Something that requires little investment but yields a lot of profit, with a nice ROI. $$$

Here’s part 1: Show up on Time

Imagine yourself in the following scenarios and respond with brutal honesty:

1. You’re at a meeting that looks like it’s going to run late. You check your blackberry and see your next meeting is with one of your employees. It’s just a routine 1on1. What would you do?

2. You have a meeting to get to on the other side of town that starts in 20 minutes. On a good day you can make it there in 10 minutes. You’re buried with emails. Do you knock off a few more emails, or leave now to give yourself a little cushion at the risk of arriving early?

3. You’re in a very important meeting that’s running late. Someone 3 levels down in the pecking order has an appointment with you and is waiting for you in your office. Does this bother you at all? Or should they understand, given your position and responsibilities?

4. You have a meeting with the CEO at 4:00m. What time do you show up?

Your responses to these scenarios will tell you a lot about how you manage your time. OK, so you might have a time management issue- big deal, right?

However, they might also reveal some clues that you may be abusing your power as a leader and/or showing a lack of respect for others. You might be subconsciously prioritizing who you are late for based on status, or self-inflated view of yourself.

Does that sound overly harsh and judgmental? It may be. We're all human, and we're all late now and then. Stuff happens. Believe me, I’m nowhere near perfect when it comes to being on time. However, at least I feel really bad about it when it happens. In fact, writing this post serves as a reminder that I've been slipping.

I didn’t always understand this. I was one of those habitually late people.
There were two events that woke me up.

A few years ago, I was that minion waiting outside the big kahuna’s office. I was used to it…. it went along with the territory. However, this executive was different, and taught me a huge lesson I’ll never forget. He came rushing up to me, shook my hand, and sincerely apologized for keeping me waiting. He said it went against a strongly held personal value he had – that NO one, no matter who they were, had the right to abuse their power and keep someone else waiting.

Wow. Heck, he was only 5 minutes late… but he really meant it. He made me feel important – just as important as if he had kept the CEO waiting. I respected him so much for that, and always went out of my way to be an advocate for him.

He was a role model for me, and while I haven’t always lived up to that standard, I’ll always remember the lesson and have strived to.

The second event involved a project team that I was a part of. Again, I was that person that always looked at showing up on time as “early”. I figured nothing every happens the first 5 minutes of a meeting, everybody else does it, and I was being productive by maximizing every minute of my precious time.

This project leader took me aside one day and explained to me the impact that being late to his meeting had on him. To him, it was a slap in the face as the leader of the team. I was telling him my time was more valuable than not only his, but the other 10 people in the room. It wasn’t just a nuisance to him… it really bothered him, and he assessed performance based on this character flaw. To him, it was career limiting.

Fortunately, he cared enough about me and my development to give me this feedback and advice. I’ll bet there were a lot of other managers where he didn’t, and held it against them.

These two experiences changed the amount of value I put on being on time.

Being on time shows people you can manage your work and life, you’re competent, you’re responsible, and shows respect for others.

As leaders, we’re judged by our actions – not our intentions. Want to earn the respect of others? Start by showing up on time.


Anonymous said...

Great post. Thank you for the reality check!

Unknown said...

Great post Dan, I loved it! To me, being on time, besides all the great things you mentioned, shows professionalism. If we commit to it, we send a signal of personal leadership. Thank you for sharing this great stuff with us!

Becky Robinson said...


Your personal stories really illuminate this point. I couldn't agree with you more; my perception of others is shaped to a huge degree by whether they do what they say they will do, and being on time is a key component of that.

I look forward to the rest of the installments in this series.


Unknown said...

Dan- Simple pleasures are truly the best... Fact: The best meetings start on time! Gotta go... before I'm late!

DC Jobs said...

In business the leadership sets the tone for the entire company. It would be difficult to maintain a great corporate culture if the leadership did not treat their subordinates with respect. Showing up on time is definitely an important step in that equation.

Work to Career said...

Great post, the stories bring this simple principle to life. Especially the exec who apologized profusely for wasting your time -- very classy.

Anonymous said...


Another great post! Being on time is extremely important. As you have pointed out from your experience, that NO one, no matter who they were, had the right to abuse their power and keep someone else waiting. Often times, I too have to wait on executives who think their time is more valuable than mine. This really shows the lack of respective from their part. We all need to be on time. At least, we should all try our best. Thanks again for another great post!


Ria Hawkins said...

Couldn't agree more, Dan. It's a continually struggle for me and every leader with whom I work. My intention is to never be late to a meeting with anyone, period. I make it a point of telling every one my people that my need to cancel a meeting (which should be rare) and my lateness to one (which should be even rarer), should never be interpreted as anything related to my interest in him or her and/or the topic at hand. If only all could read and heed! Great post.

Dan McCarthy said...

Katie -

Javier -
Agree - "professionalism".

Becky -
Thanks. Yes, it's about creedibility.

Peter -

DC Jobs -
Thanks. It's a small step that means a lot.

Work to Career -
He was. Thanks.

Chun -

Ria -
I love that! What a great thing to say to your employees.

Andrew Moore said...

Our firm has an incredible issue with being on time. I am frequently having to push back appointments with others due to getting pulled into impromptus or other being late to our internal meetings. I like that you put it together with respect. It is hard to realize that in the heat of the moment. Great Post!

Brandon Jones said...


I really appreciate that you brought up the importance of being on time to meetings. I always try to be on time wherever I go, no matter what the appointment. There are, however, times that it is very easy for me to get to the point that you explained, where I begin to act as if my time is more valuable than others. I never consciously think of it in that way, but I begin to try to use every minute to MY benefit, even if that means that others have to wait. It is a very bad practice.

Being lazy on promptly starting appointments and meetings is a very bad practice. I’ve actually been in the position of your leader and had to let someone know that being late was unacceptable. Several years back I was a team leader in a service organization. In that organization, some of the team members were consistently showing up late for meetings. I told the individuals that this behavior was unacceptable and that they needed to be on time. After a few unsuccessful attempts to correct the behavior, I had to teach the lesson the hard way. I set up a meeting where I was going to help them with some of their projects and waited for ten minutes after the start time of the meeting. They hadn’t arrived or called to notify me that they were going to be late. After waiting I just decided to leave because they hadn’t shown up. Shortly after I left, they arrived. They were very frustrated that I left, but it taught them a great lesson on the importance of being on time. From that point on, they were always on time to every meeting.

Thanks again for the great post.

Brandon Jones

Unknown said...

Hi Dan,

As always I very much enjoyed reading and the important relevance of your article. Time is a valuable resource, and it is shame to waste your own or someone else's. It seems that in today's society people are all too quick to prioritize their own activities and ignore the potential ramifications for others.

With a group of high schoolers I was coaching I had a few sayings. Naturally, because they were high school boys, I had to repeat myself over and over. Eventually, through extra conditioning exercises, the boys learned my favorite, "if you are on time you are late." It is an valuable lesson that hope they will take with them, because, as you have pointed out in this article, timeliness is an important trait.

Thank you for the reminder to us all!!

Dan McCarthy said...

Andrew -
Thanks, hope it helps.

Brandon -
Starting on time sure helps, however, it's hard to get others to break the habit, we can only control oursleves.

Mackenzie -
Thanks. Hope you taught them a lesson that stays with them.

Unknown said...

Interesting post. This is definitley eye opening. I see what you mean about constantly being just a few minutes late affecting others' image of you. Looking forward to reading the rest of your series!

Unknown said...


Showing up on time is very important and a good reminder for us all. In the past I've had people above me in rank come late or even cancel meetings on a regular basis. I myself have also been late to meetings and didn't put much thought to it. I agree that showing up on time really does make an important point and sets a good example for other peers.

Heath Davis Havlick said...

Three cheers for punctuality!

Dan McCarthy said...

Carl -

Yung -

Heath -
sorry for the late responses. (-: