Leadership and Punctuality: Must Leaders Always Be Late?


I can’t remember the last CEO, Managing Director or General Manager i met that was actually punctual to our meeting. Senior managers are sometimes on time, but usually only when their boss is attending the meeting.

Must leaders always be late? Their lateness stretch from 15 minutes to sometimes an hour. I’m intrigue by many leaders’ sense of timing, and frustrated by the inconsideration towards everyone else that are waiting. The leader would sometimes call to have the meeting proceed first, but what happens when he arrives? He will ask the question that has been answered 15 minutes ago and the meeting is rewinded back to the top. Does lateness equal importance?   Do busy executives leading big companies have the right to be late because of their crowded schedule? Must leaders always be late?

I found a story on George Washington on this topic written by Brett and Kate McKay (The Importance of Punctuality | The Art of Manliness) really reassuring and here are excerpts from the article.

The life of George Washington was characterized by a scrupulous regard for punctuality. When he asked a man to bring by some horses he was interested in buying at five in the morning, and the man arrived fifteen minutes late, he was told by the stable groom that the general had been waiting there at five, but had now moved on to other business, and that he wouldn’t be able to examine the horses again until the following week.

When he told Congress that he’d meet with them at noon, he could almost always be found striding into the chamber just as the clock was striking twelve.

Washington’s promptness extended to his mealtimes as well. He ate dinner each day at exactly 4 o’clock, and when he invited members of Congress to dine with him, and they arrived late, they were often surprised to find the president halfway done with his meal or even pushing back from the table. To his startled, tardy guest he would say, “We are punctual here. My cook never asks whether the company has arrived, but whether the hour has come.”

And when Washington’s secretary arrived late to a meeting, and blamed his watch for his tardiness, Washington quietly replied, “Then you must get another watch, or I another secretary.”

Being punctual strengthens and reveals your integrity. If you tell someone that you will meet them at a certain time, you have essentially made them a promise. And if you say you’ll be there at 8:00, and yet arrive at 8:15, you have essentially broken that promise. Being on time shows others that you are a man of your word.

Being punctual shows you are dependable. A man can always be found at his post, carrying out the duties needful for that time. People know they can rely on such a man – if he says he will be there, he’ll be there. But if a man is not punctual, others cannot depend on him — they do not know where he will be when they need him. His associates will begin to feel he cannot organize his own time, and these doubts will seep into matters beyond the clock, as it naturally raises the question: “If he is careless about time, what else is he careless about?”

Benjamin Franklin once said to an employee who was always late, but always ready with an excuse:  “I have generally found that the man who is good at an excuse is good for nothing else.” So if a President of United States can keep to his time, i wonder what excuses can the rest of us come up with for not being punctual? So let’s keep to our time, show respect for others, and build credibility to leadership.

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