I realize that there are times when true crises arise, decisions need to be made, urgent action need to be taken, and so on --so a group leader must keep a meeting running after the scheduled ending time. But I have been in a number of situations over the years-- with meetings inside and outside Stanford, in classes, conferences, and dozens of other situations -- where the meeting stretches on well-past the appointed ending time for no good reason. I also occasionally hear stories from my kids about how they are late to their next class --and get in trouble -- because one of their teachers insists on holding them in class after the bell rings for some ridiculous reason.
Keeping people later that scheduled is, to me, rude because it means they are often late to their next meetings, late for after work activities (I recall a meeting that made me late to one of my kid's plays years ago), and it infringes on their individual productivity.
There are at least four reasons that this seems to happen, none of which are very flattering to leaders:
1. The Leader is Clueless. This is when the leader doesn't realize that it is well past ending time or doesn't know when the meeting actually ends. I am disorganized enough that I have kept students later than I should because I didn't know the ending time, but when it happens, it is clearly a failure of my management skills. Those of us who lead routine meetings have an obligation to know when they are supposed to end, and to stick to it.
2. The Leader Lacks the Courage -- or Perhaps the Power -- to Stop Overbearing Blabbermouths. I've seen this happen when a leader with good intentions realizes that it is past the appointed ending time, but can't quite bring him or herself to stop one or more blabbermouths from droning on and on. In some of the worst cases, the blabbermouths KNOW that they are holding everyone hostage, the leader tries to stop them, but they keep insisting that on talking and talking -- in other words, they, rather than the leader, is suffering from an exaggerated sense of self-importance.
3. The Leader has an Exaggerated Sense of Self-Importance. Unfortunately, this happens all too often. Although the meeting or conference is about a routine or trivial matter, the leader believes that he or she is such an important person that nothing else in the other participants' lives -- their next meeting, their individual work, their friends and families -- could possibly be as important as ME.
4. The Leader is Doing it as a Power Move. This is related to 3, but is a more vile form. It is when the leader keeps people late to show that he or she CAN --to demonstrate he or she has the power to screw-up your next meeting, undermine your other work, make you late to see your friends, lovers, and families, and generally run roughshod over you. By the way, research on commitment suggests that if you continually allow your boss to run roughshod over you in this and other ways, and you believe you are doing it voluntarily, your commitment to the leader will increase: to reduce cognitive dissonance, you will need to explain two thoughts to yourself, "I am screwing-up the rest of my life as I wait for this meeting to end" and "I am doing this by choice." A good way to reduce this dissonance is to convince yourself that the leader and the group are more important than everything else -- even if they are not.
If you are a leader, I would ask you to start thinking about if you have a habit of keeping people late. Why are you doing it? Is it really worth screwing up people's lives, and in the case of people who have individual work to do, really worth stealing time from their individual projects to make one more point?
If you are constantly subjected to such treatment, try walking-out. Even better, do a little "pre-work" with others who feel similarly oppressed and all work out together -- that is a great way to show an overbearing boss that he or she can't push you around. This may be impolite as well, but I think that leaders who continually disrespect people in this way deserve to get the message.
I also think that there is something about the way our schools socialize us that brainwashes us to believe we have to stay in our seats and can't get-up until the teacher dismisses us -- indeed, this is so ingrained in many of us that we don't even THINK about getting-up. There are many times in adult life when you can just walk out, and you and everyone else might be better for it.Views: Defending Collegiality - Inside Higher Ed
P.S. As I wrote when discussing Microcosmographia Academia a few months back, if you really want to please people at a meeting --whether you are the leader or not -- move for early dismissal! As F.M. Cornford put it so well "Motions for adjournment, made less than fifteen minutes before tea-time or at any subsequent moment, are always carried."
Upadate: Thanks to Chris Young over at The Rainmaker group for picking this as one of his Fab 5 picks of the week.