Many things act as telltales of a person heading for success: Commitment, passion, discipline, a willingness to make sacrifices, energy, and creativity all play a role. However, in my experience--looking back at building my own businesses and the hundreds of people I've hired--the single most obvious habit that speaks to someone's potential for success is something that's much easier to observe. It's something I wouldn't have predicted 30 years ago, but it's proved to be consistently true.

When I started my second business, Delphi Group, I put in place the practice of a companywide meeting every Friday. That began when companywide meant it was my partner and I meeting at my house, and it continued until we had an Inc. 500 company with employees on four continents. These meetings were a strong part of the company's culture. They allowed us to share openly and freely without agendas, to celebrate our successes and to collaborate on our challenges.

When my company finally moved out of my second bedroom and into "real" offices, we decided that downtown Boston was much more fitting for the image we wanted to get across and would help us attract the talent we needed. The downside was that commuting into Boston could easily be 60 to 90 minutes during rush hour. My own commute could be up to two hours long. As with many entrepreneurs, I got into the habit of being the first one in the office each morning. So, naturally, I saw nothing wrong with having the Friday-morning meetings start at 8.

Admittedly, that wasn't the most convenient time of day for the rest of the team--not to mention the havoc it wreaked for team members in time zones around the world. The pressure on me to change the meeting time was pretty constant. But I soon realized that the people who complained about showing up at 8 a.m. were the same people who were late to most meetings, no matter what time of day.

As I look back now at the success of the people I then worked with, I realize that punctuality has been an incredibly prescient way to identify the people who would go on to succeed.

Here's the thing about punctuality: You can't convince people who don't see it as important that it is important, and those who believe it is important hold onto it like a religion. There's also science that points at why that may be the case.

Studies have shown that people who are punctual are typically Type A personalities who perceive time differently than Type B, or more laid-back, personalities. According to research, people who are Type A perceive a minute passing in 58 seconds whereas those who are Type B perceive it to last 77 seconds. That may not seem like much, but it's about a 30 percent delta. So, if we extrapolate, that means a difference of about seven hours over the course of a day. That may explain why Type A personalities rarely waste time and always wish that there was more time in the day.

What that means in terms of punctuality is that the value placed on time can vary widely from person to person. Yes, it's just perception, as there's no Einstein-like relativistic time warp being created, but that perception definitely shapes our attitudes about time.

Clearly, I'm simplifying the behavior of punctuality. There are other factors that can account for being chronically late, for example, feelings of superiority and a lack of empathy for others. Or it may be an inability to focus, being easily distracted, forgetful, and otherwise absent minded. But I'd add all of those to the list of behaviors and habits that undermine success--further making the point that punctuality is a great indicator of future success.

So, does that mean you won't be a success if you're constantly late? While it's a great indicator of success, its absence doesn't guarantee failure. As with any other behavior, punctuality can be modified if it becomes an impediment.

But that doesn't mean it's easy to change. Of all our behaviors, punctuality is one that I've found to be among the hardest to modify. It seems that we are each hardwired at a level so deeply embedded in our psyche that permanent modification is nearly impossible without the constant external input of reminders and alarms. This is probably where you'd expect me to offer some advice about how to become more punctual. The best advice I can offer is to look carefully at how your ability to be on time is supporting or undermining your future success.  

I'd offer more, but I have a meeting I need to be at in 30 seconds.   

Published on: Jan 17, 2020
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