We had been greeted and escorted into the interior waiting area outside the office of the new SVP.  My colleagues and I had a 4:00 PM meeting, arranged behest of his team, who had worked with us on successful leadership training projects. He was certainly a busy guy; scheduling the appointment had been challenging, but we were finally able to make it work late on a Thursday afternoon.

The sofa and chair were positioned twenty feet from the inner office, so we had a direct view to his desk. Door flung wide open, we could see him seated in a generous leather chair, phone cradled against his ear. The time was about 4:03. His assistant offered coffee, we said no thanks. Sitting within earshot, we didn't speak, except for occasional whispers about the agenda for the meeting. 

Around 4:15, he looked up and gave a brief wave, as if to say, "I'll be just a minute." We smiled back, still friendly, and returned to our silent vigil. There were no magazines or newspapers, and we couldn't make noise, so we sat there shifting around uncomfortably in our chairs. 

At 4:25, he was still on the phone. At first I had assumed that it must be some type of critical personnel issue, since he was the head of Human Resources. No one would keep visitors waiting this long unless there was a crisis. However, as I tuned in (I couldn't help but hear drifts of his end of the conversation) I noted there wasn't a shred of urgency in his voice. Several times he actually laughed out loud.

Finally, at 4:30, I stood and walked over to his assistant's desk.  "If this has turned out to be an inconvenient time for Mr. X to meet, we would be happy to reschedule," I said.  "Oh, gosh, he is behind today," she replied.  "Let me go in and give him a note." I sat back down, reluctantly.  She entered the inner sanctum, returned and advised us it would just be a minute or two more. 

At 4:45, he was STILL on the phone. I stood and walked back over to the assistant.  "Let's reschedule," I said politely but more emphatically. "Yes, I'm really sorry," she replied with a hint of pain.  "Great," I said, "we'll give you a call."

We had already picked up coats, bags and briefcases and stepped toward the hall, when suddenly Mr. X appeared. "I'm sorry to keep you waiting. I was talking with (I will call them) Chris and Maureen. Please come in." The two individuals to whom he referred were people that reported to him. My suspicions were confirmed. There was no crisis, a fact they later confirmed. He had decided to keep us waiting. 

You can imagine how the meeting went. We rallied to plaster on our best professional faces. He mostly waxed about his considerable achievements. Let's just say it wasn't exactly a two-way exchange of ideas. At 5:15, we thanked him and left. Maybe a year and a half later, I heard he was gone.  A year or two after that, the company slashed its US business by two thirds.  The huge campus of offices now appear mostly dark when I drive by at five on a winter afternoon.

I'm just sayin'.

I've often reflected on the reasons people keep you waiting. Whether they do it because they can't manage their time, or because they are arrogant and self-important like Mr. X, I am certain they have no idea how this behavior reflects on them and their companies.  The impression lingers, well, FOREVER.

This is all about how you treat the people who you THINK don't really matter. I had a similar experience with that company's previous CEO. I don't believe it was a coincidence that they were unable to compete in their industry. Arrogance in the way you treat "unimportant" people is just a symptom of what is happening behind closed doors as decisions are made that make or break a company.

To every boyfriend I ever kept waiting in my parents' front hall when I was a teenager, I wish to apologize.  It was inconsiderate.  No excuses. I have tried never to do it since.  To every business person over the age of 22 who keeps people waiting in the foyer of their office? I like to say that this isn't high school. You're not that cool.  

Add a Comment: