“John is always coming to the meeting late”. Sitting, having breakfast in an Indianapolis hotel, I overhear the conversation in the next booth. The tall woman dressed in a red turtle neck and black jacket is sharing her observations with the petite woman in a beige suit sitting across from her. The petite woman does not probe, simply listens to the tall woman as she shares her proclamation. “He just does not seem to care or to be interested in the project.”

Quickly, the petite woman goes to John’s defense. “I think that John is late, just because he is late by nature. I do not believe he is not interested” she says. “If you notice, he is always late, not just to the last meeting. His internal clock seems to be off.”

The tall woman listens; it is evident she is not impressed by the explanation. She holds her ground. It is clear, she does not see how the petite woman can defend the actions of someone on her team.

While this may not the traditional boss-employee relationship, it does remind of me of situations in organizations. The habitual late person – what’s really going on? Why does that happen? Why do we tolerate it? When someone begins to moan about this kind of behavior, my typical response is begin by explaining my philosophy. There are two kinds of people, those who are on time, and those who believe the meeting starts when they arrive. At this point I usually get a chuckle.

The person could be just late by nature, or the truly believe the universe revolves around them and that nothing important is being discussed until they arrive. They usually operate with the premise that if something is discussed; the meeting will stop to catch them up.

As a manager, when I was faced with this behavior, I made it very clear the meeting was continuing and it was up the individual to find out what they missed after the meeting. Why should I penalize those who are on time? The late arrival sends a message to others in the group and the manager is responsible for either condoning or demonstrating it is not an acceptable behavior.