Creative Leadership

How Being Late Can Damage Your Reputation

I’ve written before about chronically late leaders and the damage it causes, but now we’re seeing the direct impact that regularly being late can have on your career. No less than the Mayor of New York City – Bill DeBlasio is taking a beating from his peers and the press because he’s chronically late. Apparently, he has a long history of tardiness, and the Wall Street Journal reports: “People close to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio spent months in 2014 urging him to stop being late for events, worried the habit was damaging his image and overshadowing his accomplishments.”

Apparently it came to a head when he was late for a memorial service honoring the victims of the 2001 crash of American Airlines Flight 587, in which 265 people died. But he’s also missed the start times for so many other meetings and events that people have gotten into the habit of starting meetings without him.

Remember that being late communicates a leader doesn’t value other people’s time, thinks his schedule is far more important than anyone else, and doesn’t have his act together.  All it all, it says you don’t care, and your concerns are all that matter. Essentially, you’re telling people it’s all about you.

As a result, it’s not just his political enemies that are upset, but his friends as well – and even his own team. Can DeBlasio change the chronically late habit? It’s too early to say, but wherever you are on the career ladder, take note:

Being chronically late isn’t just an inconvenience to friends, co-workers, customers, and clients.  It can be terminal for your reputation and career.

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  1. Great point Phil. I try hard to be on time, to even be the first to an event. (Evidently newmanifest beat me). LOL I think an occasional late arrival can be excused, but chronic? No. It does say, “You are not important to me.”

  2. You posted this on Thursday and I’m commenting on Saturday. Sorry I’m late. Seriously, Love respects other people’s time and honors the commitments we make to be somewhere at a certain time.

  3. When we lived in the USA if I was having a meeting I would no answer the phone. We had voicemail it could go to that. But my American colleagues were so programmed to answer phones they got stressed and some of them started answering it for me. From my culture I was honouring them by giving my attention to them above the phone caller. For their culture it was different.

    Time is also cultural. The logic you express is true, but if you are repeatedly having to curtail meetings to get to the next one then you are also expressing to those in the meeting they are unimportant.

    Years ago in an in-flight magazine there was an article about timekeeping in Europe. It gave advice on when was appropriate time to arrive for a meeting. In Germany, absolutely to the minute on time. In Switzerland 15 minutes early. In Spain up to 30 minutes late. In Italy up to two hours late with a bottle of wine and a good idea. Then they came to the UK. Brits they said were like Spaniards who thought they ought to be Germans.

    I now live in Cyprus. Most people are up to 30 minutes late for meetings. It’s not dishonour, it’s a flexibility on time. Cypriots don’t worship the God of efficiency like some cultures. I’d love a clock that said ‘Early morning, late morning, early afernoon, late afternoon etc… ‘ I long for a way we can give each other time and not try to fit 36 hours into each day: A culture that doesn’t focus on time and time management.

    1. You’re right about the cultural implications Richard. However, if you’re “repeatedly having to curtail meetings to get to the next one” then your problem isn’t being late, it’s bad scheduling. 🙂

      1. Yep. Actually the scheduling issue is not normally a problem if I am doing the scheduling — I always try to schedule only one meeting morning, one afternoon and one evening. But I experience it when others are scheduling and they allow only one hour (sometimes less) for a meeting. This works for western business meetings where there is little human contact (aka fellowship) but is a disaster for Middle Eastern or Meditteranean meetings where relationships are the core and business flows out of relationship.

        Scheduling and timekeeping is also very personality related: I’m ENFP and tight scheduling and timekeeping causes immense stress. So for us fitting in with other personality types in the west means we live with this stress on a daily basis. In the Near East/ Middle East it’s less stressful but very much more stressful for those with a personality (eg ENTJ) that requires tight scheduling and timekeeping.

        A friend of mine, Stan Nussbaum, wrote a book for foreign students studying in the USA entitled ‘Why are Americans like that?’ ( ) Even though it’s in simplified American for foreign students I still find it interesting comparing and contrasting values on time.

        1. Great idea for a book. I work with clients from a variety of cultures, and you’re absolutely correct – you have to be flexible in those cases. My concern was here in the United States where business has it’s own set of expectations. Thanks so much for you thoughts Richard. Very helpful!

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