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.