A Zero Tolerance Late Policy Makes You Feel Like A Roman Emperor.

Confessions of a recovering people pleaser.

A Zero Tolerance Late Policy Makes You Feel Like A Roman Emperor.
Photo by Ingo Stiller / Unsplash
“I was in the military for 20 years. I was literally never late. Anytime. For anything.”

-Jocko Willink

For Too Long I Was A Pushover

If you’re like me. The idea of cancelling on someone who is running late makes you very, very uncomfortable. For years I was a people pleaser. No boundaries. . Oh, you’re 45 minutes late to dinner! No problem! No self-respect.

“Oh, no it’s fine that you’re 2 hours late for our meeting. You’re busy!” No dignity.

Then one day, I decided I wasn’t going to live that way anymore.

My new mantra became:

If I can be on time. They can be on time.

Since then:

  • I’ve cancelled virtual coffee calls.
  • I’ve cancelled client calls.
  • I’ve cancelled coaching calls.
  • I’ve cancelled dinners.
  • I’ve cancelled nights out.

And I will not stop.

Two Common Objections

1. Compassion

"But James," you might say, "what if they have a good reason for being late?"

I hear this one a lot. I try and give people the benefit of the doubt and deal with infractions on a case by case basis. These are the criteria I use and the actions I take in various situations:

  1. Have they been late before? If not, I’ll be patient.
  2. Is it our first call? If so, I’m cancelling.
  3. If I can be on time, they can be on time.

I am a compassionate person. To a fault.

Compassion is precisely the reason I accepted this kind of crappy treatment for so long. Now I extend compassion to myself first.

If someone is late and blames you for holding them accountable, I would advise getting far, far away from the person.

2. Objection Two: What If I’m Late Myself?

"How can you judge someone else for being late?" you might say, "haven’t you ever been late?"

Of course I have. I think about this all the time. I’d say it’s the #1 reason I feel a hesitation around following through at this point.

Here’s what I tell myself: If I am late I accept full responsibility for the consequences. Not holding someone else to a standard of punctuality because I’m afraid I’ll need to take advantage of that leeway in the future is a crappy reason. I've a working theory that our desire to not be held accountable is the very reason we fail to hold others accountable.

A zero-tolerance late policy is polarizing.

I have really not met many people who support it, outside of ex-military and veterans. Most people respond with this weird sheepishness because if I followed my rule I’d have cancelled on them already.

When they act this way:

  • I notice.
  • I take a mental note.
  • I’m not in a hurry to set up a meeting with these types of people.

I Respect Your Time. And Mine.

I bill my time in excess of $200/hour. I don’t play around. I’m an adult.

I prepare for calls. I do research on the person I’m speaking with. I rehearse. I practice. I have a standard of quality I want to bring into the call to show the other person I value them and their time.

I don’t want to lower that bar of quality and just “not prepare” — instead I will simply cancel on those who obviously do not meet that standard.

Confession: I Feel Amazing After I Do It, But Nervous As Fck Before I do.

All the old patterns and doubts go to the front of my mind before I cancel. The rage of someone being late locks horns with the self-doubt and shame I feel at the idea of enforcing this boundary and being called out.But when I feel my stomach tighten and my heart starts pounding, I just go for it. What’s the worst they can do?

The Upside Feels Incredible.

There is a visceral joy when I cancel on someone.I feel like 3 decades of living a boundryless life is corrected with a single action. When I cancel on them, I assert my dignity, my self-respect and my standards for myself and for other people. By saying: “I’m not giving this person any more of my time,” we can reserve our most precious resources for those who actually value them.

Everyone I care about, including you, wins when I take decisive action to protect my own time.