My Boss Is Always Late for Meetings

A reader asks:

My Boss is Always Late!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.

 

Alison Green

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.

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  • Taylor

    I’m curious as to how the OP should address this problem with outside vendors who, if they show up fairly often, may already have formed a negative opinion about the company if they’ve been subjected to this “hurry up and wait 20 minutes” problem several times already. Would the OP ideally address this at the next meeting by saying something like “we’re going to go ahead and get started but [boss] will be joining us later”? In the worst case scenario the big boss’s time remains paramount and they keep showing up 20 minutes late all the time because there *are* no good times to switch the meetings to — is there some way to minimize having to catch the boss up on what’s been going on? 5-10 minutes isn’t much, but 20 minutes into a meeting can waste a *lot* of time trying to catch someone up.

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    Alison Green - Ask a Manager Reply:

    The OP’s boss should really raise this with the boss above her (the late one). She should ask how she’d like it handled — if the boss says she’s fine having the vendors wait (bad decision, but her call), then that’s what they’ve got to do. But she might say it’s fine to start without her, etc.

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  • Hopeless

    The question is, to what extend can you ignore this sort of thing?

    The owner of the company I work for is terrible at managing his time and has absolutely no concept of respecting other people’s time. As in: No meeting with him ever starts or finishes on time.

    When you book an appointment with him, you can pretty much count on the fact that he will be at least half an hour late. Usually, it’s more like booking an appointment for 8 a.m. and end up having a rush working lunch with him at 2 p.m. (not that he will push the meeting to 2 p.m., he’ll just keep you wondering and then suddenly show up in your office to demand a lunch meeting right now).

    A meeting that is scheduled to run for an hour can easily turn into 3 hours. It’s not unusual to find a whole department (15 people) waiting for half an hour for a meeting to start because the boss wouldn’t let the department manager out of their meeting.

    Whenever you travel with him, you end up racing through airports. Meetings with customers generally start at least 15 minutes late. Seminars with whole groups of customers start even later. It has actually become a running gag: Whenever he announces something will take just one minute, whole groups of customers will start cracking up, knowing that it will take at least 15 minutes.

    I hate being late. I generally tend to be 5 minutes early. I start feelling guilty when I am more than 5 minutes late. I can deal with the situation when it is just internal stuff. I bring stuff to do when going to meetings so I can keep myself busy in the meantime. I try to plan a buffer into my schedule so meetings with the boss don’t interfere with anything else. But I absolutely cannot come to terms with the fact that we keep disrespecting our customers’ time in such a blatant manner (even though, at least the ones we’ve been working with for a while seem to accept this as part of the cost of doing business with us).

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    Alison Green - Ask a Manager Reply:

    You could certainly try talking to him about it and proposing different ways of doing things (an option that isn’t really available to the letter-writer since it’s not her direct manager — she doesn’t have standing to have that conversation with her manager’s manager). But if that doesn’t change anything, then your basic options are to decide to deal with it or to look for a job elsewhere. You can’t make your boss change if reason doesn’t work.

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_7EPJQJCJLPXK6PGL6ZCQTUMJ4E Jennifer

    I wonder if the old trick of “schedule a meeting at 3:30, tell the boss it’s at 3″ would work here? Okay, probably not, but that’s the one thing I can think of that could adjust the situation.

    In my experience, chronically late people just don’t have any inner sense of time and how it passes, or how long it will take them to do something. Like driving across an entire city is gonna take five minutes–well, it does in their brain, not in reality. Unless you seriously start riding your boss’s butt about these things, which you probably can’t…well, yeah, it’s boss’s prerogative to be late. If they’re the boss, they get away with it. Period.

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  • http://twitter.com/_Ashley____ Ashley

    This is pure disrespect. She sure can drop a note saying that she’ll be late for .. mins rather than having everyone wait indefinitely. her time may be much more valuable, but that doesn’t mean she could waste others’. And so constantly. If nothing else, it is staff’s time from some useful work they could be doing and is bad management. Not to mention the annoyance she’s giving.

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  • jane

    The reader’s time is not wasted – it is paid for by the organization. She is paid, and it is part of her job to be in these meetings, whether they start on time or 20 minutes later.

    So attitude adjustment is needed: she gets a 20min break once or twice a week, to hang out with her colleagues, and network with outside vendors. Relax and enjoy!

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  • McGregor

    Probably not going to get her to change. Suggest you be sure to take short item tasks, or professional reading material with you an at least utilize the time well if the meeting is going to be delayed or to work on during the catch up period (and that will send a message – particularly if everyone starts doing that). Other option is to get your boss to pony up and offer to debrief the upper boss at the end of the meeting – that would work if the meeting is FYI for the upper boss rather than her needing to make a decision (but then, why would she even need to be at the meeting?)

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  • Guest

    So I’ve had a few months to

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