Punctuality: An Elementary Principle?

First of all, sorry for the delay on this week’s post.  It was a rough week of illness and other spontaneous craziness.  So, without delay, let’s move on to our lesson.


Film: The Great Mouse Detective

Release Date: July 2, 1986

Situation: Basil and Dawson (our mouse heroes resembling Sherlock and Watson) have followed Fidget, the bat-henchman for the evil Dr. Ratigan, to Ratigan’s secret lair in hopes of finding little Olivia Flaversham and her father who were kidnapped as part of a diabolical plot.  They quickly find themselves caught in Ratigan’s trap, though the evil mastermind comments that it took Basil 15 minutes longer to arrive than he’d expected.  Ratigan has his goons put our detective and his colleague in a Rube Goldberg-esque machine (which is somewhat reminiscent of a deadlier version of the famous Mouse Trap board game) and explains how it will kill them.  He had planned to personally witness the final demise of his arch-nemesis, but is now behind schedule due to Basil’s tardiness and must depart to complete his master plan to overthrow the Mouse Queen.  This departure allows our deducing duo to interfere with the machine’s chain reaction, causing it to free them instead of kill them.

Leadership Lesson: Sometimes, being late is okay.

What made Basil late was trying to get his comrade, Dawson, out of a seedy bar in the middle of a brawl.  Dawson had consumed a drink that had been drugged, and was therefore not aware of the danger around him.  By placing the immediate safety of his friend over the need to follow a suspect ultimately resulted in their ability to survive Ratigan’s death trap and, ultimately, save the day for British mice everywhere.

As leaders, we are always aware of time: deadlines, meetings, etc.  Most of us have had it ingrained from a very young age that we must be punctual to be successful.  There is much truth in this, as those people we are meeting or completing a service for are often very pleased when we show up or complete our work at the agreed upon hour.  If we are punctual, it is easier for us to be seen as responsible, trustworthy, and dependable.

But is punctuality the only way to show these traits?  And is there ever anything more important than this?

Most of us are dealing with many obligations at once: meetings, projects, and managing a team being just a few examples.  It is our job, then, to continually re-prioritize where we are needed most and when.  Not just daily, but virtually minute-to-minute.  At every turn, we have to ask ourselves, “What is most important RIGHT NOW?”  Is it more important that we get to our daily business meeting on time, or that we spend time checking on a team member who was involved in a fender-bender on their way to the office today and is obviously shaken?  Do we turn in our monthly report on time with known errors, or do we place more value on accuracy than timeliness?  Is it better to take the time now to answer a team member’s questions about a long-term project, or put them off until later in order to be on time for our preliminary project meeting?

Some of us may want very much to do the things that will make us late in order to deal with what we feel is most important, but we struggle with the fact that our tardiness will mark us as unprofessional.  If this becomes a habit, that could indeed be true.  However, there is one crucial thing that keep this from happening: communication.  If we communicate with those who are expecting our presence that we will be delayed, including a new estimated time of our arrival and (if possible) a brief description of what has caused the delay, this step of responsibility will far overshadow any thoughts of our being inconsiderate toward others.

It all boils down to this: if we can be on time, we most definitely should be.  However, we can’t always let the ticking clock dictate our priorities.  If we determine a delay is necessary, we should make every attempt to notify those involved as far in advance as possible.  Who knows?  Our delay could lead us to finding information that proves useful for our appointment, and we wouldn’t have had it otherwise!


“I learned that we can do anything, but we can’t do everything… at least not at the same time. So think of your priorities not in terms of what activities you do, but when you do them. Timing is everything.”

– Dan Millman

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