By: Suzanne Bates

I arrived at the office of an executive at 10 AM for an 11 AM appointment, so that I could have coffee with the manager who had arranged it. He kindly answered my questions and then dropped me at the door of the department’s executive suite. He had no sooner left me than the assistant to the executive informed me that her boss had been detained in another internal meeting (just down the hall), and would not be available for another hour and a half. Did I want to wait? 

It was obvious there was no emergency. The woman was practically rolling her eyes, though I give her kudos for maintaining an appropriate and professional demeanor. It didn’t take a mind reader to interpret what wasn’t being said. She apologized and walked me to the front door. It took me 45 minutes each way to get to the company’s offices so I had wasted a precious morning. I later learned that this behavior is SOP, not only in this executive’s office, but across the company.       

One should never take an incident like this personally, as it reflects only on the other person’s character, not yours. However, I share it as a cautionary tale for leaders who may suspect they are falling into bad habits. I feel like I’ve seen an uptick in leaders being called out for canceling meetings, especially one-on-ones with their own team members. While it may “just be a one-on-one” to them, the impact is profoundly negative.

An executive’s habitual lateness and tendency to cancel or postpone is not only bad for organizational productivity, it damages fundamental credibility. If you don’t care about me, why should I care about you? In the ExPI it comes up in reference to qualities like Concern, and Resonance, as well as Intentionality and Inclusiveness, and of course, Integrity.          

A simple rule is that if a meeting is worth scheduling, it is worth keeping. If a routine meeting often gets canceled, maybe you shouldn’t have it. But if you should have it, then you should honor it. No one blames anyone for being late or having to reschedule because of extenuating circumstances or life events. But when people come to expect it, they come to disrespect the leader. Whatever the intention, it is not calculated into a rational evaluation of the leader’s fitness for the role.   

The “gentleman” I told you about?  He never wrote or called to apologize.

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