A reader asks:
My boss’s boss is the director of my department. I usually have to attend one or two meetings per week that include her. In my nearly five years in this department, she’s never been on time to a meeting. Sometimes we have outside vendors in these meetings, and we just sit around until she gets there. Or if we do start the meeting, when she comes in, we have to stop and get her up to speed on what we’ve already talked about. It’s very frustrating and disrespectful. It’s as if she’s saying, “My time is more important that your time.” And to top it off, she’ll sometimes come in (15-20 minutes late) then say “I have to leave early to go to another meeting.”
I’m always in the meetings at the start time, and the fact that they’re wasting my time really annoys me. What’s the best way to deal with this situation?
Well, it might help to change the way you’re looking at this. The reality is that she and the company probably do see her time as more valuable than your time. That doesn’t mean that she’s more valuable as a person – but her role, and the way that time in her role is allocated, is more valuable. That’s the nature of higher-level, higher-paid positions – by definition, she has a broader role with lots of competing demands, and sometimes that leads to what you’re describing. Sometimes simply understanding that can make this type of thing easier to deal with.
Now, if you happen to know that she’s simply sitting around socializing with someone rather than showing up on time to your meeting, of course that’s frustrating. But if you don’t know that to be the case, then assume that it’s her prerogative to judge whether something else is more important to take care of at that very minute, even if it means that she can’t start your meeting right on time. And assume that the nature of her role probably means that things do come up at the last minute that she needs to handle.
However, that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing you can do to minimize the impact on the rest of you. For instance, one option would be for your own manager to talk to her and say, “I’ve noticed that we often end up waiting 20 minutes or so before we can start meetings, because you get caught in other things. I’d like to have us go ahead and start anyway, so that we don’t have five people sitting around not doing anything. Is that okay with you?” Alternately, she could ask if there’s another time that would be easier to hold these meetings – such as first thing in the morning, before other priorities have intervened.
But ultimately, it your manager’s manager’s call as to how she wants to handle this. She might judge that, as inconvenient as it is to the rest of you, it’s important for her to be fully involved in these meetings and that means that they get delayed if she’s sidetracked with something else. And she may decide that it’s more important for her not to cut short a conversation with a major customer or to be able to take care of something else important, even if it means that others need to wait a bit longer for her. And that’s her call to make. Ideally, she’d explain that explicitly so that you’re not left to draw your own conclusions, but she also might assume that the need to make these trade-offs is obvious to you.
You’re going to be best off if you look at it in that light and see it as part of a larger web of decisions and trade-offs that she’s making, instead of taking it personally as a slight against you.