Is Being On Time A Leadership Characteristic?

Anyone who has worked with me, or has crossed my path, will immediately experience my energy, drive and passion for getting the job done- on time. No, this is not a self- promotion piece. It is fact. The reason I share this is because my roots are Caribbean however British born and have worked in North America for over 30 years…. and have a perspective on “time”.

I made my first trip to Trinidad in my 20s. I walked, talked and did nearly everything faster than everyone else on this Island. I have a tendency to run my life by the “C” word.

The Clock.

Punctuality and time is very much part of what I do, how I live and is part of what defines me. Now dare I say it; these characteristics are not so much a priority in the Caribbean.

I was a totally anomaly to my extended relations on the Islands where time is an indicator, not a means to plan one’s day or even week. In my experience, the pace is much slower; people put more emphasis on the journey versus the destination. Not a cliché – they really do. A trip to the market would take all day. Why? Well how can you possibly walk to the market and not say hello to every person along the way? And when you arrive at the market , the appointment you made may no-longer be important and the produce you had ventured to get -is now sold out. No problem. You can just repeat the entire process and journey the next day. Perplexing to someone like myself; Normal to my related Islanders.

So what has all this got to do with leadership? Well, culture has a lot to do with how we see and relate to time. Let me expand.

In many cultures, timeliness is not of great concern and in others, being late could be internalized as being disrespectful. In Germany and North America, for example, one normally schedules a meeting for a specific time. Arriving late would not go down well in these countries. But in some countries such as in Central and South America, Thailand, Indonesia and elsewhere, some delay is to be expected.

In some cultures, time is to be managed as if it was a limited resource. In others, not so much~ it is a limitless resource, a constant that is always there where managing it, would be thought of as on the borderline of being futile. Why manage something, where you have no control and is infinitely there?

So what does that mean? In cultures where time is seen as a limited resource, punctuality becomes a virtue and so it is seen as  disrespectful to waste someone’s time. These countries are often referred to having a monochron culture ( sequential tasks, on time, a ridge and structured time-sense). In cultures where time is seen as limitless such as in the Caribbean, India and parts of South America, making people wait is a way of life. The journey is far more important. These countries are referred to having a polychron culture (multiple tasks at any given time – time is an indicator not a dictator – a very flexible and a more relaxed-view point of time).

Polychron cultures tend to rely on trust to do business. Monochron cultures, where time is seen as limited, don’t have time to develop trust and so create other methods to replace trust ( or at least they think) such as long contracts and meticulous laws. Because of the way polychrons see time, they are often late as they don’t see exact times and dates as being  really meaningful or important. Whereas monochron cultures, time is everything. Time is money.

Of course these are extreme definitions. However, with this knowledge, you can immediately seen potential conflict with these two very different values as it relates to time. I have attached two interesting posts by Harley Hanh (Time Sense. Polychronicity and Monchronicity) and Hans Bool (Time Sence and Culture) that describes scenarios in the workplace and at home where the two views can easily be at odds at each other.

Now, I believe we are somewhat products of our environment. I personally can relate to both cultures. I tend to juggle many, many interesting tasks at any given time ( polychonic) however driven by the clock which is dictated by my birth country and having lived in North America for 30 years (monochronic). As I reflect on my first visit to Trinidad, I totally understand why I presented such a curiosity to my relations and vice versa! LOL!

So perhaps it is not punctuality that is a leadership characteristic. Perhaps it is more what you do within the time, that reflects leadership qualities that counts?

What do you think?

Let me know.

Thanks for stopping by!


About Shirley Williams

I have a passion to create, resolve and build.I have had a pretty dynamic career that some say has led to a solid reputation as a visionary, result-driven and passionate leader. I say, simplify the complexity, work WITH people and you have a formula that not only deliver results but forms bonds that will stand the test of time. I have led numerous initiatives with a geographical scope that has included Canada, US, The South Americas,Europe and Australia. My professional career spans Biotechnology, Brand & Generic Pharmaceuticals, IBM Business Consulting Services, Healthcare, Retail, Electronics, more recently Mining and now Social Media. I am a biochemist and have a Master of Scence degree in endocrine pharmacology. I am a certified practitioner and professional in Change Management (Prosci), Project Management (PMP/PMI) and Social Media (OMCP, Online Marketing Certified Professional). So that makes my full title to be: Shirley Williams, MSc. PMP. CMC. OCMP. Having spent many years in the LifeSciences (you can check my career profile on Linkedin ) I have now directed my attention to bridging strategy and goals with social media. Loving it! In fact I am passionate about it. I have also produced and currently host my own internet radio show. My programs to-date have included Rise Of The Patient and Give Startups A Chance. I consider myself as an Experience Enabler. I facilitate and advocate for improved experience from the consumer perspective. Thank you for stopping by to check me out!

14 Responses to “Is Being On Time A Leadership Characteristic?”

  1. Shirley, You write that you “personally can relate to both cultures. I tend to juggle many, many interesting tasks at any given time ( polychonic) however driven by the clock which is dictated by my birth country and having lived in North America for 30 years (monochronic).” I think you’ve hit upon the solution. These two approaches to time need not be antagonistic but can reside in the same person. Could entire cultures morph to become more inclusive, synergistic, and dynamic as to time paradigms? Why does time have to be either a flowing river or the ticks of a clock? Could a hybrid approach to time have strengths that neither opposite extreme could imagine? “Monochron is monochron and polychron is polychron, and never the two shall meet” to paraphrase Kipling! How narrow minded is that? Paul

    • Shirley Williams Reply May 21, 2012 at 4:37 pm

      Hi Paul!
      Thanks for not only visiting but sharing your perspective. Love that!
      I think hybrids can exist- I think my style represents that personally. As we travel more or immigrate, we adopt some of those cultural aspects of our community – a hybrid is born ;). A bit like food but we call that fusion! At the same time, they is something to be said about “awareness”; understanding these cultural components so we can best act or facilitate a path we hope to deliver upon or travel.

      Thanks again Paul. Enjoyed the dialogue

  2. Time has so many dimensions. My business tends to be deadline-driven: newspaper columns have to be submitted same time every week, clients want articles, web content written, edited and proofread yesterday and so on. Some deadlines are justified, others are not. I urge clients to leave time to get things done properly rather than rush them.

    Then there’s meetings/events. I like them to start on time to make good use of it. Sitting around in a meeting is not my idea of fun: I could be taking my dogs for a walk instead.

    When I lived in Windsor, not long after starting working from home, I used to take my dog for a walk in the morning and watch the traffic jam. I realised how much time these people were wasting, sitting in the cars, stop-start for two miles until they reached the motorway and their real journey could begin.

    So I feel how we use time is very important and that deadlines should be applied with care.

  3. I posted before adding my final thought that I agree with your suggestion that what we do with time is more important as leadership characteristic than simply punctuality.

    • Shirley Williams Reply May 21, 2012 at 4:41 pm

      Hey Robert!
      Thanks for visiting and also sharing your perspective! You point is well take and I get it. I do understand the different extremes I shared here especially because of my heritage. I also believe ( which I didnt express in the post) our time as a human being is not limitless. We have a lifespan of some many years. So I do try to make the most of each day. Like you, I live to many deadlines and try to balance them accordingly.


  4. Every such kind of question depends on situation. In general, the answer is yes and no. Yes, being a leader, it’s a good to be on time most of the time. However, in certain situation, a determined mind take priority, which would re-arrange schedule and put punctuality in the back.

  5. Shirley,
    As usual, your question and challenge requires more than a quick and superficial answer, and that is good, except it could conceivably cause me to be “late” for something (LOL). Seriously though, it is often stated that we are products of our environment, and I believe the time issue is no different. I too have developed a habit of being on time, and somewhat impatient with those who are not. One of the issues I have with tardiness is that it can result in a domino effect, whereas waiting for someone else would cause me to be late for my next obligation. The world I am accustomed to is often unforgiving to those whom are tardy. For example, a late arrival at the airport this past April 8th would have put more than a dent in my plans for a relaxing Caribbean Vacation. The plane would not wait for me, the ship would not wait for the plane, and I don’t run or swim fast enough to catch either. I also find it difficult to imagine showing up late to lead others who may have been gathering the facts, analyzing the possibilities (and eating the snacks) without me.

    • Shirley Williams Reply May 22, 2012 at 12:44 am

      LOL! Henry that is too funny.
      I can totally relate to what you are saying. I live by the clock and like to be on time.
      As you brought up the example of travel, I must share a recent story I heard with you.
      A relative recently shared an incidence they experienced traveling from one Caribbean Island to another. My relative phoned the domestic airlines to confirmed the flight departure of the airline and she got the response “ I don’t know yet, as the pilot has not decided when he will actually leave”. This left me speechless. Apparently this response was and is not uncommon and reflective of their cultural norm.
      I recognize that it is their cultural norm. I also recognized given my own preference, I choose to live in North America or Britian. LOL!

  6. I do like the way you have framed this specific issue and it does indeed offer me personally a lot of fodder for thought. Nevertheless, because of everything that I have seen, I really trust when the reviews stack on that folks remain on point and not start upon a tirade of the news of the day. Still, thank you for this superb point and though I do not agree with the idea in totality, I respect your perspective. Harvard Business Review

    • Shirley Williams Reply June 10, 2012 at 7:20 pm

      Thank you for sharing your perspective. I totally appreciate a good debate and conversation! I would like to encourage you to expand on your points. The “pearls” are in the dialogue.


  1. What Are Your Business Meetings Expectations? Are You Culturally Aware? | William Pearl - June 10, 2012

    […] Is Being On Time A Leadership Characteristic? ( […]

  2. What Are Your Business Meetings Expectations? Are You Culturally Aware? - Shirley Williams | Shirley Williams - September 9, 2013

    […] Is Being On Time A Leadership Characteristic? ( […]

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