How long is five minutes?

It depends. If you’re the one rushing to make a meeting, five minutes flies by. If you’re the one who showed up on time — and you’re waiting for someone else to arrive — five minutes is a really long time.

Every organization has timeliness standards. I usually can tell pretty quickly if a company is an on-time culture, or a sliding time culture. In on-time cultures, 8 a.m. means 8 a.m. In a sliding time culture, 8 a.m. means 8-ish.

The difference impacts every aspect of the organization.

Imagine an 8 a.m. person leads a meeting that’s supposed to start at 8. Five people show up on time or early. At 8 a.m., they’re ready to go. Then, they wait. Two people come in at 8:03; do we have everyone yet? No, we’re missing three people.

We wait some more. While waiting, people get on their phones, check email or step out to make a call. Between 8:05 and 8:10, the other three people show up, it takes five minutes for everyone to get back engaged; now we’re at 8:15.

Sound familiar? Ten people have wasted 15 minutes. That’s 150 minutes that could have been spent making decisions or thinking strategically. Multiply that by a few meetings a week, and you’ve spent hours simply waiting for people to show up.

The wasted hours are not the worst of it. The deeper issue is the impact on the people waiting. They quickly get the message: Being on time is not important. It’s OK to keep people waiting. It’s more common in creative fields, where idea sessions expand and contract. But in my experience, organizations that are routinely late with meetings are late in other areas, too. Fire drills become the norm.

If you’re someone who is late often, it might feel like being five minutes late to a WebEx meeting isn’t a big deal, But to the person who raced to their desk to be on time, it feels like a lot longer.

Sit and stare at your computer for five full minutes, or listen to conference call music on hold.

If someone is waiting for you, they’re not sitting there pondering about your best qualities while they count the minutes.

This is a particular challenge for senior leaders. When you’re the boss, the meeting starts when you arrive. Subordinates will be quick to tell you it’s no big deal. But you weren’t there when 15 people were waiting for you.

A leader who is routinely late sends the team a message: It’s OK to keep subordinates waiting. You also send the indirect message: Deadlines aren’t real.

I confess; I struggle with time. It feels more open-ended and malleable to me than it is. I used to be late a lot because I tried to cram too many things in. Got five minutes before the meeting? There’s time to make a phone call. The call lasts six minutes; you’re dashing in. I forced myself to change a decade ago when I realized, an effective leader is consistently on time and prepared.

People who are late a lot justify it because they’re so busy. That’s what I used to do. But are you really busier than anyone else?

Everyone is late sometimes. But if you’re the one who’s always rushing in at the last minute, you’re costing yourself and your company, a lot.

Lisa McLeod is an author and business consultant.

Copyright, Telegraph Herald. This story cannot be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without prior authorization from the TH.