How many times have to opened your inbox and read, "I love what you do. I have an idea I would like to run by you. Do you have a quick minute to jump on the phone?"

This is the inevitable trap that creates conflict for many leaders. As you debate in your mind between a prospect and a potential waste of time, you go back to the old rule of thumb of "let's see where this goes."

It seems harmless to jump on a phone for 10 minutes and try to navigate your way through the conversation to find the value. By the ninth minute, you begin to realize that this is a waste of time. You have a day filled with meetings with shareholders, vetted clients and staff and this 10 minute disruption has the potential to throw your schedule off by an hour.

It's happened to all of us at some point. Receiving an email or inquiry that seems harmless, but has catastrophic consequences. We have all heard about how staff meetings, as we knew it, are slowly but surely becoming a thing of the past and now being replaced by agendas to guide a more meaningful conversation. Have you ever thought of creating the same for conversations?

As a leader, you must be careful about giving the wrong people direct access to you and your intellectual property. Everyone deems their problems and suggestions as "important," but it's up to you to determine the value of "jumping on the phone" is worth it for the value of your company.

Here are five things you need to do before making a decision:

1. Ask for clarity.

When you receive a vague request, be direct in your response. For example:

  • "What is the objective of this conversation?"
  • "Can we complete this conversation via email"
  • "My schedule is hectic, please provide as much detail(s) as possible here."
  • "I accept a very limited amount of unsolicited inquiries, so the most I can provide is 10 minutes for a conversation."

Don't explain yourself. Just allow the other party to recognize you have professional boundaries.

2. Create an agenda.

For those who commonly fail to get to the point, a bullet list of a two-minute Q&A will create a level of urgency to avoid small talk and get to the point. It allows you to be direct ahead of furthering the conversation if everyone accepts the terms. Try questions or statements like these:

  • "During our 10 minutes together, what are three outcomes you would like to achieve?"
  • "Provide 10 questions you are seeking advice on."

3. Say no.

There are moments when the best response to an unsolicited request for your time is "no." Remember, you can be flexible with your ability to shift perspectives--not with your time. Here's one way to do it without seeming rude:

  • "At this time, I only reserve time for existing clients and stakeholders. I must respectfully decline your request at this time in the interest of focusing on the growth of the company. Feel free to visit my website to learn of upcoming opportunities to connect."

4. Do your own due diligence.

My team and I receive several requests via email, social media and our website to "discuss" some level of partnership. If it sounds worthy of consideration, we conduct our own due diligence. Does their "ask" match their message or intention? Take one minute to view their work and gain a sense of comparable value.

5. Designate a member of your team to broker the conversation.

Do you think you can call Oprah directly in the middle of the day to ask her "one quick question?" Of course not. However, highly ambitious people are relentless at finding a way to get your attention.

In the past, I have had people waiting outside of events just to ask me a question or ask me to view a proposal after an event. In response, I give people information about contacting my team:

  • "I will put you in touch with a trusted advisor on my team and we will take it from there."
Published on: Sep 17, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.