Being on time – is this how to lead?

The Clock of Life

Does being on time, every time, assure success?

According to a recent post by my friend Chuck Rylant, it does:

When considering hiring someone for example, if they say they will call at 3:00 PM, when they call at 3:10 PM, I terminate the business relationship immediately.

It is interesting that Chuck chooses to be so black and white about it. I mean, what if he was hiring Donald Trump to speak about investing… if Donald showed up 10 minutes late, would that be it, finito?

This highlights an issue that drives me bonkers about our modern society. We expect it to run like a big clock.

Live by the clock, die by the clock. Really.

I don’t wear a watch anymore. I try as hard as I can to forget what time it is because I enjoy life more when I’m not focused on the clock.

For all of the millions of years of human development, we’ve had accurate handheld clocks for about 20 of them. That’s a tiny, tiny little slice of history. And suddenly, these little devices are making the BIG decisions for us, like whether to have a business relationship with someone?

When you’re hiring, it pays to be picky

I get it. When someone shows up late for a job interview, that is a really bad sign. There better be a very good reason. And, it better be clear that the person making the excuse is not just an excuse-maker in general.

However, just this one thing doesn’t say anything about whether that person is the best for the job.  I’ve employed many people throughout my life, and some were more punctual than others. This was not always a direct correlation with who was more productive.

Clocks kill creativity (mostly)

Creative thinking is nonlinear. That means it is not predictable exactly when or where it will happen. It means that, even if you’re working around the clock, you may not get that idea you need to move the project forward. You may only get that idea when you take a day off and go to the beach.

When we try to box our creative thinking into little slices of time that are available during the working day, we limit it, we contain it, we corral it.

Maybe that’s why so few people call themselves “creative!” It may be that they’re simply doing things – like living and dying by a clockwork model of our lives. If they loosened up a bit, maybe the creativity would start coming, naturally.

Do what you say you’ll do, and do it with excellence

If I’m faced with a choice of whether to delay a project and make it far better, versus being exactly on time but delivering something sub-par, the automatic answer is not to always be on time. If someone needs something by a deadline, then being on time is more important. But in most other cases, actually taking a bit of extra time (a few hours or days) to do something that’s higher quality is always better.

The best of both worlds is, of course, to deliver on time and with excellence, every time. This is the gift of masters. There are very few of them who truly exist in our world – and they can charge insanely high prices because of it.

But for the rest of us mere mortals, let’s not try to live our lives exactly by the precision of the clock. We do not live in a precise world, no matter how much we want to try to slice and dice it into one.

6 thoughts on “Being on time – is this how to lead?

  1. I think meeting someone is the one time a clock is relevant. (and catching the train..but that’s a meeting too ;)) 10 min late is extremely rude where I come from. Especially in times of cellphones, call ahead if you are late. heck, I call if I am 5 min late. I would never be caught late for a business meeting! (I’d rather be standing in front of the door for 5min, at my last interview I was 1h early and had a coffee at a nearby coffee shop)

    1. Hey Guest, I respect your opinion but disagree.

      Here’s why. When you say “I would never be caught late for a business meeting!” you are implying that THEIR time is far more important than YOUR time. And this is a problem for so many people I work with. Always worry, worry, and more worry over what “they” think (to an extreme), and not enough self-care and self love.

      Do not misinterpret. I am not advocating being late as par for the course. There are some situations where being late is very bad news. In general, it is better for everyone to be on time (or ahead).

      But to put a blanket statement on it like you have, that’s a sort of absolutism that I just can’t condone.

      Life is not here for us to run like clockwork robots. We are too spoiled at things “running on time” except when they don’t. If you’ve ever traveled in a not-so-clockwork society, you know what I mean.

      Being on time is just a social expectation, nothing more and nothing less. It is not a God-wrote-it-in-stone proclamation that as soon as you violate you’re whisked off into Hell by Satan’s puppies.

      Many of the people who’ve climbed the ladder very high in life are often a bit late. If I’ve got Bill Gates coming to meet me at my office, and he’s 10 minutes late, you think I’ll excuse him? Sure will!

      I know several VERY successful businesspeople who’ve been late before – both for one on one meetings and even group meetings. Did their empires collapse as soon as they were late? No. Not even close.

      Methinks that too much worry about being late shows where you see yourself on the ladder… i.e. that the most important thing you feel you have to offer is being on time. I’m sure you have more to offer the world than that, and if you focus on offering so much value that they’ll excuse 5-10 minutes of lateness (on occasion), I think you’ll be far more successful in life. Then, combine that with being on time most of the time, and you’ve got a winner!

      1. no, as I said, being late is ok if you let people know. But at the same time (e.g in Germany) being late without telling people is rude. It’s not about assuming their time is more important than mine, I am assuming their time is as important as mine. Since not living in Germany any more, I don’t care that much about 5-10 min (because in NA it’s a normal thing), as long as there is a mutual understanding (and/or call/text). If you are being stood up for 10min, based on your argument, would you assume the late persons time is more important or would you still assume your time is more important? Sending a quick text won’t hurt but will let your business partner know that you value their time. Call it social norm, I call it not being a jerk.;) (BTW: love your blog)

      2. Morgan, I think you’re off-base on this one. Courtesy and civility go a long way towards lubricating any social exchange, and you’re usually quite astute at recognizing the impediments that pretty much all forms of non-cordiality introduce into relationships.

        Not being late is pretty much the antithesis of valuing someone else’s time more than your own. Not being late (and I’ll freely admit that I’m occasionally late – as you know – with sometimes humorous results), is about not being able to expect from others, considerations that I’m not willing to give them myself. I expect people not to waste my time, and if I have any hope of them meeting that expectation, then it’s incumbent on me, to not waste their time.

        This becomes even /more/ important if my time really is more valuable than their time. If my time is more valuable, and I opt to reduce waste in my schedule by moving the waste to theirs, I may have optimized the immediate cost function, but I’ve given someone with less valuable time, license to waste more of mine in the future by being equally inconsiderate. That’s simply not acceptable.

        Of course, accidents happen, schedules slip, and being late is practically always excusable, if there’s a reason that goes beyond disrespect. However, yes, if Bill Gates was 10 minutes late for a meeting, and his only reason was because he valued his time more than mine, we wouldn’t be having a conversation. My time is too valuable to waste on rude people, regardless of who they are or what they offer.

        1. Hey William, good to hear from you.
          This whole thing has been misinterpreted.
          The reason I wrote the post in the first place was as a response to a colleague of mine who wrote a post that essentially stated that leadership was all about being on time, and that if someone was 10 minutes late for anything, it would end the business relationship then and there.

          I DO NOT ADVOCATE BEING LATE. let’s set the record straight on that.

          What I do advocate is understanding that leadership is FAR MORE than just being on time.

          That being on time is important, but there are other factors that are often as important, if not moreso.

          For example, I was at a scientific conference where one of the headline speakers was 20 minutes late due to travel snafus. Were people a bit disgruntled? yes. Did it prevent him from being ever invited to give a talk again? Hell no.

          I am not saying that Bill Gates’ time is inherently more valuable than yours (or mine). But IF you need something from him (a piece of information, a connection, money, etc) – then it shifts the equation to one where you need to be willing to wait for him if he’s late.

          At the end of the day, this whole debate has been blown way out of proportion, which is what I get for writing a blog post reactively (I even got unfriended by the original blogger over this!).

          I believe that THE MOST IMPORTANT thing is mutual respect. And mutual respect means that if you make every effort to not be late, and if you are going to be late, that you make even more efforts to reach out and let them know that’s the case, and then apologize profusely and don’t repeat the mistake.

          1. Greetings Morgan,

            I was mostly reacting to the “implying that THEIR time is far more important than YOUR time … not enough self-care and self love” suggestion. I know the “love yourself enough to not kill yourself for other people” message is a foundational theme in many of your messages, but here, it seemed misapplied.

            I agree wholeheartedly, the “throw the baby out with the bathwater” mindset of the person advocating terminating a relationship just because someone is late, seems tremendously misguided, and while I don’t really believe in offering many excuses myself, I am usually willing to accept just about any. Accidents happen, even sheer stupidity happens, even to the best of us – almost anything is forgivable, other than premeditated disrespect. That shuts down conversations pretty quickly.

            By the way – I need to catch you up with a bit of a science update one of these days – it’s been a weird year!

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