by Matt Thomas

If you lead an organization you’ve been there. You get an email introduction from a friend or colleague encouraging you to carve out some time to meet so and so with nothing but ambiguity circling around the purpose of the meeting. You glance at your calendar, never ending to-do list, backlogged inbox and anxiety starts to build. You don’t want to be a jerk and blow the person off, but you have so little margin as it is that making time for a new connection feels impossible. Maybe even unwise.

Depending upon your personality type you likely navigate these types of situations in one of three ways.

  1. Terrified you would let somebody down you reply immediately, and enthusiastically, with options for getting together, accepting that you will always be behind and productivity is for the birds.
  2. Paralyzed by the quandary you find yourself in you star the email, promise to get to it later, but your subconscious knows this is your way of letting it drop into the abyss of your inbox.
  3. You reply immediately with something to the effect that the demands of your schedule and workload make it impossible to meet (hello fellow enneagram 8’s!). Maybe you suggest some options 3-4 months out, because you’re absolutely “buried” right now.

Are the above three paths healthy, viable options? Not really. In scenario one, a leader runs the risk of not prioritizing mission critical tasks and projects, spreading themselves even thinner, and dropping the ball where it matters. In scenario two, some will resign themselves to the reality that you are extremely busy and thus hard to get time with, but others will believe you are disorganized, aloof, and unresponsive. No bueno. In scenario three, you may come across as a jerk, pompous, and unwilling to extend a hand. Meaningful introductions will soon dry up.

So, how do you know if you should take that meeting and how do you respond when the answer is no?

Here is a simple framework I use that helps me navigate these opportunities:

Is this a potential “A” client?
Take the meeting. Sure, in a strong economy the sales team can handle new client introductions, but if you’re introduced to a decision maker that can generate revenue for your organization you need to be there. If it’s a “B” or “C” prospect kindly make an introduction to your sales rep.

Is this an individual I’ve looked up to, wanted to meet, and know I could learn from?
Take the meeting. Access to those farther down the path than us is worth more than gold. Take advantage of every opportunity to sit down in person with someone whose past experiences can shape your future trajectory.

Is the person making the introduction an investor, donor, “A” client, or trusted friend?
Take the meeting. Always go out of your way to honor the people who believe in you and are invested in what you are doing.

Does the meeting lack clarity around purpose and desired outcomes?
TBD. Whenever you are introduced to someone new (Hey! You guys should meet.) it is totally appropriate to respond with: “Thanks for the introduction. Could you help me understand the purpose of getting together? I want to make sure we maximize the time.” Get a clear response? Take the meeting. Ambiguous? Ask them to check back in in a few months.

Are the right people in the conversation?
Once you gain clarity around a new introduction’s desired outcomes it may be best to loop someone else into the conversation. For instance, if someone contacts me looking for help finding them a job it’s much better for them to meet with our Recruiting Manager who is up to speed on our 50+ open positions.

Is there an opportunity to help someone?
If we say yes to every opportunity we have to extend a hand we will run ourselves, and our organizations, into the ground. But if we are unwilling to ever help someone out we are too internally focused and are likely missing out on some great opportunities for impact.

A simple commitment I’ve made to myself is to take one meeting a week that doesn’t meet the above criteria. If I ever get too busy to meet new people I shut myself off from incredible learning opportunities and chances to make meaningful introductions. Some weeks this is harder to stick to than others but these “we’ll see” meetings often turn out to be some of my favorites. One hour a week out of 50+ isn’t too much in the big picture and it creates space for me to remember that budget planning, strategic planning, and all the projects I’m spearheading that are so important to our business are 100% dependent upon people. Every new encounter is an opportunity to learn and to give.

Leading an organization demands we have strong convictions and abundant clarity around stewardship of our time. It’s the most precious resource we have and should be treated as such. Don’t waste people’s time and don’t waste your own, but be as open handed as possible and good things will follow.

Finally, for those gifted in the art of introductions. You give those you’re introducing a great gift when you bring clarity to the reason for making the introduction out of the gate. A meaningful introduction is a special thing. Keep ‘em coming.