When I was a teenager I kept my father and a few of his friends waiting for an event I was meant to be at. My father took me to one side and quietly said: “Is your time so much more important than everybody else’s here, that you can so casually be late?” I don’t believe I’ve ever been late to a meeting since when it was at all in my control.
If it becomes impossible to arrive on time, I make sure I absolutely let people know and apologise. But before that, I do everything possible to get there on time. Last year I was stuck in traffic in New York and realised I wasn’t going to make it to an interview about climate change at the agreed time.
I jumped out of the car and ran down the sweltering Manhattan street as fast as I could go, running 15 blocks to Rockefeller Plaza. We made it a few minutes before our slot. I was sweaty – but I wasn’t late! Another time, visiting the UK, I found myself sprinting across Westminster Bridge to make a meeting at the Home Office.
There’s very little that annoys me in life, but people turning up late really does irritate me. It certainly reminds me of my dad’s wise comments.
Thomas Chandler Haliburton said that “punctuality is the soul of business”. I wouldn’t say it is the soul, but it’s an important part of the package. It shows you are serious, and it shows you are organised. But, most importantly, it shows you are respectful of other people’s time and their value.
(The author is the founder of the Virgin Group. Excerpts from the author’s blog)