Creative LeadershipStrategy & Marketing

The Damage of Showing Up Late – Even a Little…

I met a producer the other day who was really frustrated. He doesn’t perform well at meetings, he continually gets turned down for jobs, and his career is suffering. I met with him because I know he’s talented, has great energy, and good people skills. I was baffled at what his problem might be until he showed up for our meeting….late. For some reason, I couldn’t get his being late off my mind so I started to probe. I found out that being late for things is pretty much a constant in his life. He won’t admit it of course, but I started to ask around, and sure enough – others had the same experience as me.

The opportunity came up for me to go with him to a meeting, so I took it and observed him very closely. Here’s what transpired:

He was late picking me up, so I asked him what happened. He said he wanted to get plenty of rest, so he slept late as he could, which admittedly threw him off his schedule. Then, just as he was walking out the door, he remembered he needed to make a couple of quick phone calls. Then, he cleaned up a bit around his apartment. Then, he decided to “just quickly” organize his desk. I asked if doing all that was a good idea before such an important meeting. He said it wasn’t a problem, that he’d get there fine, and it was good he got those things out of the way.

All of those things may have been legit, but here’s what they did:

1) While rushing around doing all those less important tasks, he didn’t have any time in the morning to think about his meeting, get in the right mind-set, and consider what he would accomplish. So he really wasn’t prepared.

2) The later he got, the more frantic he got. He almost forgot to pick me up, then he drove like a crazy person (which made his emotional state worse).

3) In the car, I tried to discuss the upcoming meeting, but he was too flustered. He snapped at me – mostly because he was embarrassed.

4) He engaged in what we call “magical thinking.” Because one day about 3 years ago, it only took 25 minutes to get to the meeting, he somehow still thinks that way – in spite of more traffic, the rush hour, and the possibility of delays. I knew there was no way we could get there in 25 minutes, and I was right.

So sure enough, we walked in late. He did his normal song and dance, but the executive was offended because we had disrespected the value of his time. Plus, in my friend’s flustered mind-set, he didn’t perform well at all. Add to that the shorter time he had to pitch his project because of being late, and the executive’s other schedule commitments.

The bottom line? Being late does more damage than you think. It tells the other person you don’t value their time, doesn’t allow you space to get your thoughts together, and hurts your performance.

I told all this to my friend, but did he listen?  Absolutely not. He refuses to consider it. Which is fine with me. We can’t change everybody, and some people will never change.

Change only happens when the pain of not changing becomes greater than the pain of change.

I wonder how many jobs he’ll have to lose before being late gets his attention.

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  1. Excellent post.  All of us know "this guy" or are "this guy".

    I know "him".  He is the guy that when I have eight highly paid people in a room for a meeting, we are all waiting for him.  The clock ticks and the money meter runs while he makes copies he needs for the meeting, gets a cup of coffee, goes to the bathroom.

    Meanwhile, eight people have wasted 15 mintues of valuable time.

    Yes, and I have fired that guy before.  He was always late for work, and since he had to sign off on projects before they went to the client, his co-workers missed deadlines.  Everyone looked bad.

     And when the meeting happened when I handed him his walking papers, he was clueless, even though it had been written up a dozen times.

    This guy never learns.

  2. I am this guy, although I'm getting better.  😉

    There's Type A and Type B personalities in this world.  Three's also industries that are more driven and time sensitive than others.  There's also a huge variation as to how different cultures and countries address time.

    You take the time sensitive driven type point of view of time to Southern Europe or Africa for example and you'll find that type of mentality and expectation of promptness will land you on the outside looking in.

    That said, most of us live in the US and especially in the Media industry, I understand time is very important especially when you multiply it by many different people who become dependent on others and for whom "time is money."

    Good advice to remember for those of us who tend not to naturally place emphasis on these things and important.  We're not going to change something as big as an industrial culture, so we need to learn to get with the priorities and program or we'll get run over by that bus.

    I still think however, there will be some time in heaven in the future where some of the high pressure driven personalities may just have some "time" to spend waiting on God and to fellowship and worship and enjoy the moment, without driving for the next important place to be and thing to do.

  3. Ouch…. Ouchity ouch. Wow. Conviction sets in once again.

    I'm that guy exactly.

    Thanks, Phil. I really needed the wakeup call. Please pray for me that God gives me the power to change. 

  4. Great blog! I have often thought of using a "money meter" at meetings. I think it would be worthwhile even for organisation that use volunteers (i.e. this is the hourly rate i would be earning if I wasnt giving my services for free – so please respect my time).

  5. Hey, Phil! do me a favor?


    Yes, I concur with Mrs. Nancy R. thanks Phil..

    -Minister Mason

  6. I guess I am the odd man out…er…woman out?! lol

    I hate to be late for anything just for the very reasons you mentioned. You might even say I'm pretty anal about it.

    One thing I hate more than being late, however, is rushing. It uses up way to much brain power and energy! I'd rather be sitting waiting for 10-20 minutes than racing to get somewhere, knowing that I won't make it.

    In addition, a lot of other people get to see an ugly side of me when I am rushing because I yell at them for driving too slow when all along it was my fault for not being prepared! Not that makes rational sense! ha ha



  7. Thanks for this blog Phil…
    I remember a time when I scheduled a meeting for a biola student, in a time when you were extremely busy. This guy didn't show up or even call to cancel. After a period of about 3 months had past, I got a call from him to ask for another meeting with you. Needless to say, we had a come-to-Jesus meeting and he lost his opportunity to meet with you. He was totally oblivious…
    I don't think people realize how much this type of behavior hurts them and the opportunities they lose because of it. I know so many people who are so talented but I cannot recommend them for this very reason. These are usually the same people who don't return calls, emails or RSVP for major events.
    We can say it's a personality type but there are many people with the "Inspirational" personality that HATE to be late. Phil is a great example… I personally think it's more of a character issue.
  8. No excuses for such behavior intended.  Bad manners and inconsideration is one thing, but the fact is as well that there's a cultural element and some personality elements to some of this that requires some awareness.  That may have been a painful lesson for the young man you mentioned and an appropriate one.  The environment at a college is one thing and in the professional world is quite another.  It's not unusual for young people making that transition to make a mistake like this and get burned.  Hopefully the light comes on that, "Hey, being late or inconsiderate carries a higher cost out here than at school."

    Phils example relates to someone who has a chronic problem.  It's not an awareness issue in that situation and the age old adage, "You snooze, you lose" applies.

    I'm just saying to be aware there are other explanations on a case by case basis and don't be so quick to assume that the problem is as we are tempted to see it or to make snap judgments and apply them to everyone.

    It sounds to me like in the media industry if this is an area that a person can't overcome or is not willing to change, then the answer is to find an industry where this element is not as necessary.  They are out there.

  9. Great post.

    I helped a guy learn this lesson once. He had a job interview with me, was late. After waiting 15 minutes with no call or any contact, I left. He showed up, rescheduled, yep, was late again. I waited and did the interview. He was good. I would have hired him, but told him the reason I wasn’t hiring him was because he was late twice.

    I ran into him a year later. He thanked me, because he learned, the hard way.

  10. Isn't there a famous televangelist who keeps showing up late to the network telethon funding events he is invited to?  If I am not wrong there are usually a dozen or so pastors and Christian leaders on the program who after they show up on air at the start, wait for this fellow just about every time.  Usually he shows up about an hour after the program begins… with no apology, it's just his way of making entrance.  Is his action damaging or not?

  11. What a wonderful post. I was raised by a mom who was always late. When she dropped me off for dance classes, I was the last kid there, usually sitting in the dark waiting for her to come get me. Once we missed an entire wedding because she was so late. Got there in time for the reception. Thankfuly, my husband is like me–always early, but our daughter seems to have taken after her grandmother. Wonder if this trait can be inherited?

  12. There's some comfort in knowing that I"m not the only one who has this problem. But painful to see how it is reflected in the eyes of others. It's also shown me how prioritizing items in day to day life can help me to get around being late. Can you show further how you yourself stay out of this rut? Some of us have been doing it so long that it almost looks like we'll have to get to that painful place. But I'd much rather change:)


    Thanks again

  13. Definitely needed to read this cause I too am in the entertainment industry and even when something honestly happens to me, like my car breaking down on the way to set, production is not happy!

    So I will keep this as a worthy reminder that it ain't about me but other peope's time;>

    Thanks and god bless 

  14. Does he repeat that morning routine often before meetings?  Because this sounds like classic OCD in association with Apserger's Syndrome.  I have AS, and for years I wondered why, facing a stressful meeting or event, I often filled my time with pointless, control-related tasks, and then found myself pressed to be prepared and punctual.  I later found out it is connected with the way my brain works.  In order to function properly, certain established routines have to be completed.  For example, I need to have checked my email, eaten a yogurt, watched an episode of the Simpsons, and spent 10 minutes in the bathroom making faces in the mirror before I can go to bed. 

    I have begun changing this habit, but for many who thrive on routine and order, it's a long term process.  It can take months, even years, to successfully re-establish routines.  And, to be honest, my concept of time is completely aschew of the rest of society's.  The "Time is money" paradigm makes little sense to me.  I am very upfront about it, too.  I tell bosses in advance at interviews, and make special arrangments for my timing issues.  And I know that any job not willing to work with me on this is not the place for me. 

    I know this concept may not be so popular in the career-driven world of showbusiness, the nownownow idea of the world we live in, but I felt compelled to offer another side to the story.  In a world where we fill every minute of the day with things we deem important, it's easy to get lost in the process.  Sometimes I am on time.  And others I am 10 minutes late.  If 10 minutes means so very much to you, then perhaps our priorities are so different it's best we each look elsewhere.

  15. Aaron – while I feel for your condition, and can't imagine what a struggle it must be, the solution seems to be to simply start earlier.  I you have OCD or AS, or anything else, and must go through routines before leaving the house, I'm not for fighting the routine, but couldn't we get started on the routine a little earlier?  It was my problem with the producer.  Ultimately, if he got his butt out of bed 30 minutes sooner, his problems would be solved.  Your condition is much more challenging, but the solution might be similar….

  16. Hi Phil,

    What you decribed is a typical scenerio for a person that is constantly late!  I have been around several people that are always late and they display the same behavior. You are right when you say that they can't see it! The only thing that will help them change is praying for them.

    Thank you so much for sharing this is such an elegant way!

    Your friend from OREA — Harriet

  17. Aaron,

    My situation is different so I don't know if this will work for you or not.

    I have some elements of OCD.  What I've learned works for me is to realize that the habits and routines i will get into are usually in response to stress and a need to establish some form of control.  The irony is that the time I waste usually just adds to the stress.

    Cognative Therapy techniques work for me.  Addressing the thinking patterns that add to or amplify the stress allows me to move past whatever it is that I'm upset about and usually the event itself is far less stressful than the worry I build up before it.

    It takes times to establish new habits and thought patterns but it can be done.  If not on your own than this is an excellent thing to see a counsellor for help about and usually it's a short term thing, not a long term one, so maybe 8 – 12 weeks of working to establish the new patterns and then it's easier to maintain moving forward.

    I realize Aspergers may be a different situation, but for what it is worth that's what worked for me.



  18. I have worked some with Cognitive Therapy. My wife is a psych major studying specifically behavioral therapy for people with Autism Spectral Disorders (Asperger's is part of the spectrum). She and I have developed several tools to cope, and, since I found out about it late in life, I am still unpacking what problems I have are related, and which ones are completely unrelated.

    There is no direct thinking behind why I do many things. Part of it is simply impulse. The Army looked into recruiting a tactical unit of all Aspies for this reason: we are unpredictable and are thus impossible to create strategy against. The only problem is that we are unpredictable. There ARE several aspects of OCD that cross, and I do make every effort to work with them.

    However, it is less OCD and more a simple coping mechanism for a world we are always at odds with. First of all, please do not misunderstand and think this is some curse. AS is considered by many not to be a disorder, but a deviation from the norm capable of thriving completely on its own. Now, on to coping, it is like needing a hug or a word of encouragement in a tough time, or having a cold Coke on a hot day. Does it really serve an essential purpose? No. However, it serves as a tool to help us better focus on the tasks at hand.

    I am droning on now (another AS trait- over- and under-communication), so I will get to the point. My goal here is to help the "normies" to overcome their lateness issues (Lateness is a silly word…). If OCD helps deal with stress, instead of attacking the root (because when you do that, you can often damage the root worse), why not look at the thing as a whole. Obsessive fiddling, chronic tardiness, and dillusional thoughts are all means of coping with stress. What I am learning to do is to find coping mechanisms that work well. For example, one of the things he did was organize his desk. Every creative person knows that a clean space can lead to stagnation. We thrive, creatively, off of chaos. However, this is a bad thing for life in general. The six weeks you are locked in the basement or office finishing a script or working out a story, can easily be filled with mess, disorder, and carelessness. Once you open that door and re-engage society, you have to tidy. I see what he has done as a positive. To focus on a business meeting, he reorganizes which adds structure and such comfort.

    Where I think he makes his mistake is the rest issue. Rest is something that should not be crammed in during the last 20 minutes of the sleep-time. And it is indicative of a life lived in the fast lane. Rest takes a back seat to long hours, which is a strange base of reasoning, since I always get twice as much done when I get a full 8 hours as opposed to the 5-6 I sometimes let myself get. As I said before, perhaps the problem isn't in starting earlier, perhaps it's in a lifestyle change, one where rest is actually important, and we don't obsess about time and schedules as much.
    Okay, that's the end of a very non concise response.

  19. First of all, I want to point out my purpose is not some crusade for AS and it certainly isn't some awful affliction.  AS has many, many positive elements, and several key figures in history, some of our brightest minds, are believed to have had AS.  Albert Einstein is a classic case, as are Lars von Trier, Werner Herzog, Alfred Hitchcock, and Vincent van Gogh.  What I am attempting to do is offer a different perspective on things in hopes that "outside-the-box thinking" will lend itself to a solution.

    To answer your question, I think perhaps you should go back farther.  He got out of bed late because he wanted rest.  What if he'd gone to bed earlier?  What if he'd cluttered his life less, so he might enjoy more rest without the need to cram 20-30 extra minutes in every time he needed it.  My mother always told me that sleep is something that you can't catch up on; and it was more than some idiomatic advice.  It's medically true.  We, as people, need rest at set intervals.  Our bodies getting tired isn't a simple part of the Fall, it's a signal that our often fragile bodies are undergoing a problem that needs to be dealt with.  

    I know a lot of industry folk (especially young ones) who push it.  They try to do as much as they can, forfeit sleeping, often eating, and always rest just to do their job.  And it seems to make sense: the axiom given to them is "Work more, do more".  However, in retrospect that is very untrue.  Many very successful people have had the mindset of "Do less, Do more", which almost makes no sense, but it IS true. Ford pioneered the assembly line, and boosted productivity, but he is also credited by several sources as introducing the quitting-bell (or whistle).  FDR HAD to rest, because Polio left him weak, and in order to do anything at all, he had to spend most evenings and weekends doing little more than enjoying a relaxing day.  Yes, he did a little work, but he did it without stress.

    As I said, the go-go, now-now mentality of Western culture is moving from a quirky way to succeed to an obsession.  Coffee is a booming market, and there are more energy drinks on the shelves than there are juices.  Our nation is fat not because it doesn't work, but because it doesn't take the time to eat right and be healthy.  I am not advocating mandatory siestas for everyone, but perhaps a reallignment of values. 

    I am a big fan of hard work.  I love working hard as much as I love sitting in the shade sipping lemonade, but perhaps we mistake over-scheduling as hard work.  I was told right after my high school graduation, by my great-uncle that he always schedules for people to be late, and gives himself time to rest.  He told me to give myself an hour every day.   30 minutes for people who will be late, and 30 for myself to take a nap.  And it works out well on my end.

    So perhaps the problem isn't the 30 minutes late he gets up. Perhaps it's the clutter he adds to his life, the things he prioritizes for no apparent reason.  Maybe he spends too much time on the internet reading blogs, who knows.  To me it's apparent that the issue isn't with his mornings, its with his ability to prioritize his needs. 

  20. Aaron,

    Thanks for the further insight.

    All that might be relevant personally to the person struggling and again, my experience is limited.

    What Phil is saying however, and I agree with him, is that in the bigger picture, if you continually are late, you're sending a message about yourself and about your respect for others that over time gets louder and is heard clearly despite what you think or wish others would think about it.  It's a message of disrespect for other's time and a message that establishes you as unreliable.

    As I pointed out, some of this is tied to our culture in America and some of this is tied to the needs and norms of the industry.  The truth is, it's there and this is something we need to recognize and adapt to, as we cannot change that element.  There comes a point on an issue like this where you either have to conform to cope and succeed or if you are incapable or unwilling to do so, you have to realize that you don't have the power to determine the consequences for such ongoing action.  You either toe this line professionally or you pay the price in terms of job loss, no promotion, loss of opportunity elsewhere etc. etc.

    It's an expected norm.  If we can't meet it we're better off finding another niche where it isn't as great a handicap and other's aren't dependent on our promptness.



  21. Phil,

     I saw you today on Rod Parsley and ordered you book "Branding Faith". I am ready to read it. I just went back to college in Jan.08 to finish what I quit in 1988, obtaining my BA in Business. This article about being late really hits home with me because I have problems in that area. Reading it made me see why I get the respones I do from people. Even though I make about 45% of my appointments on time, these are not the ones that count. Scheduling my clients are a challenge for me. I would like to know how to service them better, in a timely manner without losing money. I am limited on my payroll so I can't get the help I need. Can anyone help? Did I mention I am a salon owner. needhelpnow!

  22. Being on time is a sign of courtesy and respect.  Both of which are valued in every culture / country I have visited. 

     Meetings may not start on time, but it will never be because I wasn't there and ready.  Call it a punctuality fetish if you like.  But do not penalize people who are on time by not being on time yourself.


  23. Well Phil this is a great time for an experiment. I have been late way too many times. It does not bother me when others are a few minutes late so I assume my being late is seen in the same light. I am rarely actually late but am so right-on-time that I feel late and those who are riding with me to a meeting are also stressed. So here is the experiment. I will not wait for God to change me, I know he could but I see that he wants me to work hard to overcome sin in my life. I will pray for him to remind me and to be my strength and since He was able to rise from the dead I assume the same power can overcome this. I will not try to do better; I will change for the glory of my Lord. When I fail, I will get up and go again. I will let you know in a year how we did. Thanks for the nudge my brother. Affection, Mike

  24. I wish my pastor would understand this and start church on time. He’s constantly starting 5 or so minutes late. And when he disrespects the starting time, so does everyone else.

  25. I think your friend’s story is a metaphor for life. Most people are not comfortable with change. Even when it is obvious that our current ways of acting are not helping us, we are often unwilling to change. Then as a dear friend of mine often says — Th Universe turns up the volume.

    When we are invited to move forward to make some change in our life and we are not willing to do so, we usually find that things get worse — and worse — and worse, until the circumstances we find ourselves in finally get our attention.

    You are so right. Many people will only be motivated to try to change, when the pain of not changing is unbearable. And then it can be a long and difficult road.

    I have worked with many people who are trying to make their lives work more effectively. Even when they want to change, they find that they often fall back into old patterns of thinking or acting. It is often the continuous decision, made over and over and over again, that leads to lasting change.

  26. Great word, Phil!

    I literally try to start my cinema classes at least 2 minutes early to bash the concept of timeliness into every student that walks in on-time, not to mention a couple of minutes late.  You can’t possibly enter the doorway just before “the bell”, find a seat, and get your notes out, etc. 

    BTW, I have this same conversation with my wife about getting to church BEFORE the music starts, but that’s another matter.

    Having working in the advertising world, late is like finishing last. You only get that one chance to make a bad impression…after that they won’t call on you again.  Talk about self-inflicted economic downturn.

  27. It doesn’t matter if you are actually meaning to be discourteous… but if you are late on a consistent basis, you are sending the message that your time is more valuable than the people that you are meeting.

    People being late to my meetings is a big pet peeve of mine IF they are reoccurring offenders. I totally understand that there are traffic jams… or the alarm doesn’t go off… or sometimes people just have a bad day. I have grace for that because sometimes I need that same grace if I get stuck in traffic… or my alarm doesn’t go off; however, I can now tell you who will be 5-10 minutes late to my morning production meeting and who will be on time the majority of the time. No matter how many times you say something, they fix it for a few days and then they are back to their old ways. It’s annoying because I have to repeat the information I covered in the meeting for those people who decide to show up whenever they please. That means I’ve covered the same info 4 or 5 times in 10 minutes because people want the info when they show up.

    It’s not that hard to leave the house 5 minutes earlier.

  28. I have a tendency to be late. But here in the Middle East it happens a lot. It stressed me out living in the USA and Western Europe where time is adhered to so accurately, particularly the USA!

    It’s rare for a meeting to start on time here; we talk about ‘Cyprus time’ which means up to 30 minutes after the agreed time. In other parts of the Middle East it can be a lot more than that. In Africa even more so.

    I don’t like being discourteous and indeed found a different cultural thing discourteous when we lived in the USA: Answering the phone in the middle of a meeting! Haven’t you heard of voice mail in the USA?

    I had a friend who was extremely prompt with meetings. He worked in the Middle East but hated the different approach to time we have here. His schedule was to arrange a meeting every hour and rush from meeting to meeting, getting increasingly angry with other people being late or traffic problems. I traveled with an American in Africa and he too planned a schedule that would work in the west but not there.

    So… I have a tendency to be late. I’ve learnt a coping technique. My coping technique? I plan three meetings a day maximum. One morning, one afternoon and one evening. It gives me time to prepare myself and although people usually arrive late in the Middle East arriving early is not a problem and gives longer to socialise before the meeting proper, which culturally is very important.

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