Karin’s Leadership Articles

Getting there early is one of the simplest ways to get ahead of the competition. And yet this simple leadership tactic is often lost in the frenzy of overbooked schedules. Getting a fast start gets work done. Getting to the race before others positions you for a fast start. Getting to the show early gets the best seat.

When Early is the New Late

“I think we consider too much the good luck of the early bird and not enough the bad luck of the early worm.” –Franklin D. Roosevelt

Sebastian (then 3) and I were waiting in the daycare parking lot for them to turn on the lights at 7 am. The big operations review was scheduled for 8 am in our headquarters building across the street. At 6:58, my phone rang. It was my bosses’ secretary whispering into the receiver. “Karin where ARE you? The corporate jet arrived early and everyone’s in their seats ready to start, but YOU. John asked me to call.”

“Doesn’t the meeting start at 8 am?” I asked wondering how in the world I could screw this up.

“Well, that’s what’s scheduled. But it starts when the C-levels arrive.”

I explained my situation, did the fastest “kiss and go” I could muster and bolted across the street. This was my first ops review in this organization, and clearly, I’d missed the memo.

Sure, technically I had done nothing wrong. After all, I was there in plenty of time. But the big guys were frustrated and I was embarrassed. It was a big wake-up call for the benefits of getting “there” early. It turns out “early” has some beautiful side effects.

3 Times It Makes Sense to Get There Early

1. To the Meeting

Arriving early to the meeting gives you time for casual conversation, build relationships, and to trial balloon your ideas. Yeah, an hour ahead of time is ridiculous in most scenes, but 10 minutes can go a long way in showing eagerness to engage. Plus it gives you time to show up calm and organized. Scrambling in out of breath to a meeting does nothing for your executive presence.

2. To the Conversation

Paying attention to the conversation at the idea stage of a new project or idea can position you well for deeper involvement. Also if you’re the leader and have a vision, it’s better to share your thoughts early than to come in late in the game and explain why it’s not what you wanted.

3. To the Office

Not necessarily always, but sometimes this sends a strong message that you’re “skipping to work” and ready to go. Plus, most execs I know get to work before the rest of the team.  So if you’re there, and they’re there, chances are greater for a casual chat while pouring a cup of coffee. I’ve used this technique more than once in my career to casually “bump into” an exec I needed to talk to on the way into the building. Don’t be a stalker, but used every now and then, this approach can work to your advantage. I know such an early morning chat was a key factor in one of my most significant promotions.

A bit of strategic early can make a big difference in your career and your personal success.

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Steve Borek

    Getting there early gives me time to relax and visualize the outcome.

    • Karin Hurt

      Steve, Yes! Another great point.

  2. Terri Klass

    Great and fascinating topic, Karin!

    There is a saying that the real meeting takes place before the actual meeting. I have found that connecting with people before a networking event or a presentation is far more insightful than the actual event. People open up more readily when there is a smaller interaction and it is easier to foster deeper conversations when the setting is more private.

    Looking forward to your series Karin!

    • karin hurt

      Terri, Thanks so much. That before the meeting stuff is so true! I so agree, “casual” interactions are often the most vital.

  3. Jimmy Collins

    Karin, Getting There Early is an important and practical discipline for those who are serious about advancing their career. However, the rest of the story is Stay Late. I found the relaxed atmosphere after the clock watchers had gone was when many of the most important conversations and casual meetings took place. No matter where your link is in the chain of command, you are most likely to find easy access to the movers and shakers after the mass departure. Jimmy Collins

    • karin hurt

      Jimmy. Thanks! Totally agree. Staying late is the rest of the story. You don’t need to come in early and stay late every day, but working the peripheries of the day can be very valuable.

  4. LaRae Quy

    I’ve also used the “showing up early” technique to establish significant relationships, Karin. This a great tip for everyone!

    Not only can you chose your seat at the table wisely, you have the freedom to interact with those in the room in a more casual way. Waiting until the end of a meeting to snag someone’s attention is fraught with difficulties—there are other places for people to go and the chatter will focus around what happened in the meeting instead of what you need to say.

    Since people are usually creatures of habit, most folks tend to always sit in the same area so you can be strategic about who you want to get to know better!

    • karin hurt

      LaRae, GREAT add. Seating matters. Perfect.

  5. Bruce Harpham

    I’ve been thinking more and more about success in the mornings. This is another reason to emphasize getting up early. I’m working on getting the morning routine at home – it puts me in a good frame of mind for the rest of the day.

    • karin hurt

      Bruce, Another great add! Yes, what you do BEFORE work matters too.

  6. Mirko

    Love it! I wish I was able to wake up early easier than I am currently doing! Any tips? The bed is sooo comfortable, and then, at the end of the day, I get frustrated for not having all the work done.

    • karin hurt

      Mirko, Oh I know… it can be tough. I think it works best if you establish a committed wake up time, even if you dont have somewhere specific to go. It can be hard at the beginning, but gets easier as the routine seeps in.

  7. Tammy Sellers

    Thank you for this posting! This is on my list of to-dos for 2015.. to plan and organize enough to get places early enough to breathe and focus…getting there early, instead of flying around the corner on two wheels! Hard to do as a working mom of 2 very busy children, as you already know! But what I love about getting to work early – just 15 minutes even – is the quiet. I can plan my day, do last minute follow-ups, and more importantly, connect with team members with whom I don’t typically get a chance to interact. The same is true for staying a little on the later side too – I try to balance my weeks to have a couple of early days and offset them with a couple of later days to interact personally with different peers and projects, thus jump-starting my much-needed networking! (OK, if the truth be told, this was an accidental discovery based on my carpooling schedules with my husband’s schedule, but I really started recognizing the benefits! But, shhh….but no one has to know that but us 🙂 Looking forward to seeing more from you!

    • Karin Hurt

      Tammy, Excellent. Thanks so much for sharing your journey.

  8. Terry Barnett

    Hi Karin, just wanted to report that I took this advice to heart and scored a huge success almost immediately. I was invited to a Steering Committee meeting regarding a huge strategic project we are starting this year. As I went to board my flight, several key team members from the project wished me well and said that they were coming on the next shuttle flight 30 minutes later. They had decided to take the flight that gave them the minimum of “wasted time” between wheels down and the meeting, but they wound up 30 minutes late when the flight was delayed. I used the “wasted” time to network with several VP’s and the lead consultant on the project, and to score a great seat at the table (not back against the wall) in the very full meeting room.

    • Karin Hurt

      Terry. EXCELLENT! Thanks so much for sharing your story!

  9. Derrick Denny

    Love Karin’s writing style and how she reminds us of truths we’ve forgotten or taken for granted! I’m all about confident humility. I’ve thought about this concept a lot, and think I understand the secret to it.

    Derrick Denny
    Delta Air Lines

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