Always Late? 3 Tips To Save Your Personal Brand


How do you feel when someone turns up late for a meeting with you?

Or doesn’t deliver by the agreed deadline?

Or takes so long to respond to your email, their answer is no longer relevant?

If you can feel your dander rising just thinking of those scenarios, I’m guessing you view lateness as a form of rudeness. The message being given, loud and clear, is ‘My time is more valuable than yours.’

That used to be my view 100%, until I had my ingrained perceptions seriously challenged – and altered – when I heard this podcast by Chalene Johnson containing research into why people are late. As she says, ‘It’s not that late people are trying to be rude or challenge authority; their brain, skills and personality type simply differ’.

So much so in fact that it can alter someone’s perception of time, as well as their ability to make rational judgements, which affects their behaviour. (It’s well worth a listen.)

That’s not a ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ card

Even with valid physiological reasons for why some people are late when others have no problem being on time, there’s no getting around the fact the vast majority of people see lateness as a negative trait. It’s even been said to me by people who themselves are regular offenders.

Now, you may be someone who is late on only the very rarest of occasions (feel free to have a smug smile on your face – I certainly do). But if you read those three opening scenarios and thought, ‘If I’m honest, that’s exactly what I do’ then I have another question for you:

How frequently are you late?

Here’s what I’m talking about…

I was due to kick off a workshop and one attendee was still to appear. As a rule, the most I’ll wait is five minutes (10 if I know there are travel problems). As that time passed I asked those in attendance, “Has anyone seen Joe Smith today?” [not his real name]. Everyone rolled their eyes then one person piped up, “I’m not surprised it’s him we’re waiting for – he’s late to everything.”

Joe eventually rolled in almost 20 minutes after kick-off, then proceeded to lounge in his chair, eating the snack he’d brought with him and generally exuding his casual attitude.

I was less than impressed.

The funny thing is I was in the same building nearly a year later when this guy got into the lift with me. He said, “You won’t remember me,” to which I replied, “Yes I do – you’re Joe.” He was surprised and, as he said, impressed I knew his name. But what I didn’t tell him was he was memorable for an entirely negative reason.

Now comes the personal brand bit

If your answer to that question ‘How often are you late?’ is ‘Pretty much all the time’ then, just like Joe, you’ll soon find your lateness becomes the #1 thing you’re known for – regardless of how well you do your job or the value you bring when you eventually turn up.

Your whole reputation will be for a single, negative thing.

If you’re reading this blog I’m guessing you want to make the most of your personal brand – in a good way – so to help you out I’m offering three top tips to stop the rot:

Tip 1 – Stop shooting yourself in the foot

The obvious way to stop people forming a negative impression of your lateness is to stop doing it.

I appreciate (especially since listening to that podcast) that this may be easier said that done. But saying “It’s not me – it’s how my brain’s wired” won’t cut the mustard with others. So make every effort to turn up on time, deliver on deadline and answer emails promptly.

And if you want some practical tips on how to do that, here’s a link to part 2 of Chalene’s timekeeping podcast.

Tip 2 – Manage expectations

Although being late is never going to be met with a round of applause, it is possible to save some face by how you handle the situation to manage people’s expectations.

The golden rule here is: the millisecond you know you’re going to be late (for a meeting, a deadline or responding to an email) inform the people who will be affected. Even if that’s well in advance and you think, ‘I don’t really need to do anything yet’ believe me – it’s the best course of action for lessening any annoyance.

Tip 3 – Apologise…and mean it

In the early days of my business I once waited 25 minutes for a client to turn up. (I was in need of the work, so was willing to wait – not something I’d put up with these days.) The guy eventually arrived and walked into the room with the words, “Sorry I’m late – but, you know me,” accompanied by a shrug of his shoulders.


Not only was he creating a negative impression of his personal brand with his actions, he was reinforcing that with his words. More to the point though, the tone of those words let me know he wasn’t actually sorry, which exacerbated my annoyance.

I’m not saying he should have prostrated himself on the floor and begged my forgiveness, but if you’re going to apologise (and I suggest you do if you’ve kept someone waiting) you have to mean it.

Are you bad at timekeeping? Do you ever think about what it might be doing to your personal brand? (Or do you already know?) And if you’re a good timekeeper, what’s your take on people who turn up late? You know I’d love you to add a comment below! Thanks

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4 responses to “Always Late? 3 Tips To Save Your Personal Brand”

  1. Jeff says:

    If you want to encounter people arriving late or not turning up at all then Brixham is the place to be. Most people down here are still devotees of pounds, ounces and fahrenheit if not gills and quarts, mentally dipping into virtual pockets for the odd half crown or threepenny bit, so catching up with time is for some not a priority. There are exceptions, of course, and they are to be nurtured.

  2. Tony O says:

    Excellent post, Jennifer. You are entirely right in saying that one bad trait- poor timekeeping- can distract and dominate people’s entire view of you and your worth. In many people’s minds, if you cannot manage yourself to get somewhere on time then it creates doubt as to whether you can deliver on anything more complicated than that. All your otherwise good work might go unrecognised as a result.

    • Jennifer Holloway says:

      Bingo – that’s the rub. Not having your work recognised because your bad timekeeping is getting in the way.

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