We all know them.
The tardy people.
They keep us waiting.
Late to meetings.
Excuses in hand.
Resistant to change.
Who are they? Why are they the way they are? What can we do about them?
Who are they?
They are your boss, your coworker, your spouse, your best friend and perhaps they are… you. They will often tell you they have been this way as long as they can remember. They speak of lateness as if it was part of their makeup—like their eye color or toe size.
They will tell stories from their childhood of being marked “tardy” in school. They will recall family members warning them to “hurry up or be left behind.” They will often speak of this characteristic with a sense of resignation noting that’s just the way they are.
These are not the people that arrive five minutes late. These are the people that seem to operate not in another time zone; they seem to occupy another time universe.
Why are they the way they are?
The short answer is they are that way because people let them be that way. As a general rule when people know lateness will not be tolerated, they are as punctual as the next person. For example, most people are not late when they are flying. They know the plane is not going to sit on the runway and wait for anyone. Most people are on time when they go to see a movie. They know the projectionist is going to start the film with or without them.
Lateness is often about power. People will wait for me. Meetings will be restarted. I will be the center of attention. It is at its core a selfish act.
What can we do about them?
Stop rewarding late people’s behavior and punishing the people who are considerate of other’s time. “How are we punishing considerate people?” you might ask. We punish considerate people when we don’t start meetings on time. We punish considerate people when we make them sit and listen to information they already heard. We punish considerate people when we allow their projects to be held up because someone is late with their contribution.
Want to get late people to behave?
Vow to never again repeat the contents of a meeting once the late person walks in the door. Unless they have a true emergency, start the meeting without them and don’t change anything when they arrive.
If they are driving with you and repeatedly show up late, leave without them.
Make being on time a condition of employment. Get them help if you like. Teach them how to anticipate and schedule their time better if you like. If, however, in spite of your best efforts they continue the behavior, the next step may be to fire them. (I promise you will not have to do this more than once or twice.)
Ah, but what if the person is my boss?
Leave a copy of this article on their desk.
Leave it anonymously if you need to.
ATTENTION ALL BOSSES:
YOUR TIME IS NOT MORE IMPORTANT THAN OTHER PEOPLE’S TIME.
LEADERSHIP IS ACCOMPLISHED BY SETTING A GOOD EXAMPLE.
“DO AS I SAY, NOT AS I DO” IS NOT LEADERSHIP.
THE ONLY EXAMPLE CONSISTENTLY BEING LATE SETS IS THAT POWERFUL PEOPLE DO NOT HAVE TO BE CONSIDERATE OF OTHERS.
As you can easily conclude, lateness is not one of my favorite behaviors.
When it comes to the tardy people, many of us act like we’ve lost good common sense.
For too long we have worked around late people tolerating their behavior and altering our own in order to accommodate them. A change in our expectations and a change in how we reward this behavior will go a long way to finally changing it.
In doing so, we will help create a workplace marked by consideration and mutual respect.