By Tim Hayes

Call it a personality quirk.  One of hundreds, in my case.  I cannot stand to be late.

Where this comes from, I have no idea.  It may be genetic, it may be just some self-imposed standard that has calcified into a rigid, unbending, inexcusable bright red line that exists only in my mind.  But there it is.  I cannot stand to be late.

And it goes even further than that.  If there’s a meeting or event or presentation that I’m responsible for leading, forget being late – I will be there well in advance of attendees showing up.  Setting up equipment, testing slides, troubleshooting and knocking down as many variables as possible.  When clients arrive, that event had better be buttoned up, looking good, and completely ready to accommodate everyone.

Naturally, this unalterable expectation has been challenged, and challenged monstrously, on occasion.  Computers will malfunction, A/V equipment will conk out, traffic gets backed up, prior meetings run late, hotels will lose control of their ventilation and make a meeting room feel like the third ring of hell.  Someone told me a long time ago, “Technology has no conscience,” and it is with that warning always in mind that I am sworn to get there early enough to overcome those issues, or at least call ahead to warn that I may be a little late.

Of course, not everyone in the business world worries about this sort of thing.  I can remember driving to an appointment one day, listening to a business talk radio show in my car, and becoming increasingly furious at the host.  He went on and on about how it made him so proud to never be on time for anything.  His business had reached such a level of success that he was totally overbooked, every day.  He wore it as a badge of honor to keep his clients waiting, guessing, wondering where he was – because they were so lucky to have him as their consultant, a guy in such demand that he could not be counted on to show up when scheduled.

Well, if I had been paying that dude to help my business, he would get one strike, not three, before he’d be out.  What he touted as a wonderful proof-point of his value, in my mind was nothing more than disdain for his clients and a magnificently swollen head.

Clients are not honored to have consultants work for them.  Consultants are honored to have clients willing to hire and pay them.  Those clients deserve respect and the highest professional standard of performance and gratitude.  And in my book, that means showing up on time, even ahead of time, every time.

I just finished reading a biography of George Washington, and he believed in this same standard.  In fact, it was his unyielding adherence to punctuality that very well may have saved this nation.  The Constitutional Convention, where delegates gathered to replace the original, and weaker, Articles of Confederation with a new Constitution of the United States, began on May 14, 1787, and Washington was there that morning, ready to chair the debate.  A quorum did not exist, however, until a week and a half later, on May 25.

Yet Washington was there, first thing, on time, every morning for a sweltering, fly-ridden four months in Philadelphia, until the new Constitution was ratified on September 17, 1787.  But it almost didn’t happen.  On the date when ratification was scheduled to take place, a late amendment came from a Massachusetts delegate.  The anticipated vote was tenuous to begin with, and this last-minute change threatened to blow the convention apart.

Washington rose and made a brief comment asking that the amendment be accepted and the Constitution be ratified. And because Washington had been virtually the only person that long, difficult summer who consistently displayed diligence, tenacity, and honor, the delegation voted unanimously for ratification. Was that entirely due to his commitment to showing up every day to perform his duty without fail, without question, and without delay?  Maybe, maybe not.  But it sure didn’t hurt.

When you say you’re going to be somewhere at a certain time, do it. When all is said and done, we’re only due the respect and honor that our word represents.

Copyright 2012 Tim Hayes Consulting