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It’s OK to be Late

It must be a slow news month, because I’ve been seeing a disproportionate number of people whining in public about other people being late to their meetings & appointments. Mostly these are people I do not respect: social media gurus, self-help experts, “authors” of pop business books, professional speakers, venture capitalists, placed startup CEOs and the like.

But it did get me to thinking why I think it’s ok to be late, and why I’m often late. And when I started to reflect on that, almost everyone I work with on successful projects is almost always late or having to adjust schedules at the last minute. Often the first 5 minutes of a conference call is like a Chinese fire drill. We’re not organized, efficient, and yes, we are wasting each other’s valuable time. But it’s ok.

It’s OK because we know in our hearts that each of us has been really seriously busy working furiously hard to be excellent at our part of what this team produces. In many ways, that brief down time of pre-meeting turmoil is actually FUN. Sometimes it’s the only time we get to laugh and joke around as friends, because we’re not hustling.

Work, Much?

Could it be that these people who viscerally hate those who keep them waiting, are the same people who don’t actually do much useful work? Could this be a pattern I’m seeing… that maybe these self-important people are not getting the respect they think they deserve (from those who are late), because…maybe…well, they actually don’t deserve that respect?

A quick closer look… hmmm… an interview candidate was late. Yup… if I was interviewing and really respected the potential boss, would I be late? Nope. Not a chance. But if I didn’t really want the gig, but maybe needed “a” gig, I’d book the meeting and try to make it. But if *anything* better got in the way, I bet I’d be late or have to cancel.

Here’s another one… it was a meeting of subordinate managers. Boss man was bitching because someone was late and disorganized.

Might that have been because said subordinate prioritized some of the excess work she has to do over being on-time for that meeting? Maybe because self-absorbed boss-man isn’t actually doing any work himself? Or, maybe it’s because she alone knows that if she didn’t let this or that slide, things would fall apart?


This situation is almost always a result of poor top-down management IMHO, and said top level managers are never aware of it.

I Won’t Judge… I’ll just Observe

I don’t know… I wasn’t there. But I do know that this public whining is an example of the annoying idleness these self-absorbed, self-professed important people have in their professional lives. That they have time to blog about it…. check that… that they think it’s ok to blog about it, is a sign of the absurdity of the situation.

I also know that if I or any of my colleagues win an extra 5 to 10 minutes because someone is late, we will get a shit ton of work done during that “free time”. And usually, it is work that helps the eventual meeting (finishing an unpolished mockup, documenting an awesome idea to make it actionable, dispatching considered opinions to enable others to turn queued work into actionable tasks, etc).

How often do your meetings “wait” for someone late to show up? I don’t even understand that concept.

But I suspect these annoyed prima donna leaders are perhaps the OTHER kind of executives. The ones who can’t make anything happen without an assistant (or two). Not as bad as the ones who still need their emails printed out for them, but bad enough that an idle 10 minutes leaves them wasting (their own) time, feeling annoyed.

I can’t remember the last time I didn’t appreciate an extra 10 minutes of breathing room in my schedule. I also can’t remember the last time I scheduled things so tight that if someone was late, my day fell apart. That would be, to put it simply, irresponsible of me as a leader.

It’s OK to be Late

I decided to make a list of some reasons why successful team members are allowed to be late for meetings with me and my partners. I hope you enjoy it.

Acceptable Reasons for Being As Late As You Need to Be when working with Me

1. You didn’t get enough sleep last night, or this month, and it got the best of you for a bit.

I totally understand. Neither did I, while I was hot on the trail of success and innovation. We haven’t cracked that issue yet – what makes people creative, and keeps people innovating while executing.

Need some help cause it’s been a tough few days of little or no sleep, or frenetic sleep? I have some tricks I’ll share with you, as do most of my successful peers. Oh, and let me drive to (next place) so you can catch some Zzz’s in the back seat. We can get this done, and get you some down time along the way.

The whole team appreciate you, and we will need you at your best later, so we’re happy to help out now.

Of course I know you’re not tired because that night job of yours went into overtime. You earn a good share of the pie with us, and have options for making more WITH US if you need more work, so you don’t need a second, less-respectful job.

Quality people are worth saving from life’s hiccups, when bad stuff is interrupting their normal human lives.

Respect goes a long way, and is a two-way street. If you really can’t carry your half of the equation, I’m sorry but you going to need to find other work. We’re not going to leave you in the middle, disappointing us and yourself. Only shitty managers and greedy owners do that to their staff.

2. You got distracted by (other important work issue no one was handling) which is now resolved.

Good for you, for getting it sorted. And good for us that you stepped up and took an active roll, preventing the bigger problems that were likely to hurt all of us if you hadn’t seen the problem and reacted quickly.

This is true is because I know you would not have done that for a trivial matter. You are a quality team member, with excellent judgment, and we both rely on you for that wisdom in your role. It’s part of why we are all successful, after all.

Did I just hint that maybe hiring lower quality people leads to poor decision-making that can lead to avoidable lateness at important meetings? Yeah, I did.

3. You underestimated the effort it would take to get to the meeting place (physical meetings)

This includes traffic, the car broke down, the train was late, the dog threw up, etc etc. In this case, my bad for forcing a physical meeting or not finding ways to eliminate the need for it. Also my bad for relying on you to physically be there (on time), because that shit is simply absurd.

Was it for a signature? Could that be done asynchronously?

In-person stuff is real in banking, some deal-making, and for some sensitive introductions. I know that. Some of the best work I’ve ever done as a consultant has been live, in-person. There is nothing like talent, and people pay for talent. To deliver big in real time, in front of an audience of clients or regulators or bankers or … well.. you get the idea. It’s the magic that supports the Big Wins.

But in almost all cases, the need for physical presence can be addressed in flexible ways that work out wonderfully even if a key player is late. If not, IMHO, it was all poorly planned.

After all, isn’t that part of risk management for said big deal or key introduction or whatever?

Here is where I stick in the suggestion… and it’s only a suggestion, mind you, that a prospective employee who doesn’t  survive a late-to-the-interview error was not, actually, a strong prospect. Shame on you for letting yourself get annoyed when a not-very-promising candidate failed to show up on time.

4. You forgot it was (now)

Really? You simply forgot about the meeting?

Again, because only top quality people are on my team, this is my bad. I must not have touched base with you this morning about today’s meeting. I must have overlooked you when I checked in with my key players an hour or so before scheduled time. Because I do that with every one of the people who were absolutely needed at this meeting. That’s how I help them kill it. That’s why we win.

I will try not to let that happen again, and ask for help with the task when I’m super busy. I apologize.

Can you image a boss who schedules an important meeting with his key people, but doesn’t txt an hour or so before to see if they needed anything before the meeting? I can’t either. That’d be pretty lame.

Or maybe it’s a manager who calls a meeting that doesn’t actually need to happen, for some time in the future, and waits for everyone to drop everything else they are doing and show up (on time).

Let’s face it. The only people who will absolutely definitely be able to make that kind of a meeting, are the people who make such meetings part of their work. They need meetings! Meetings are what-they-do! Those people won’t be late, but they are very likely to lambaste anyone who is late.

Who’s Whining? Who’s Winning?

That’s a few.. and I’m tired of writing this.

I suspect most of the whining about this sort of “late” comes from people who employ “workers” they call “labor” and hold accountable to Human Resource policies.

Those days are over. You can’t win today with people who are happy to work for faceless corporations, answer to unaccountable HR drones who defer all responsibility for work conditions to some unnamed higher power in the corporate executive suites.

Today you need people who are willing to work,willing to give it everything they have, and willing to work as a team towards a winning goal, not just an ego goal.

Sorry, that’s all for now. I’m late for a meeting…

So I hope this little essay helps some of you “see” what I believe it means to be a strategic winner in business life, with team members who want to be there with you, and who want to share the win with you.

Basically, I think it’s the opposite of what these whiners are describing they suffer in their professional lives.