It's sounds funny saying that out loud because most people would observe I am usually a) in meetings with people; b) at coffees, events or lunches with people; or c) with my loud and fun family.
What I mean is that I'm lonely for a sparring partner to talk shop with and think through the big work challenges of the day. (And it's not my husband -- sometimes you have to check work at the door.)
I think we all benefit from having a questioner who isn't afraid to ask things like, "Why?" "What if?" "Did you ever think about this?" as we do our jobs. These people force you to be honest with yourself and others and sometimes may cause you to hit the pause button before you move forward. Usually, they make your ideas better.
As a leader, having "those people" is mission-critical. I think leadership is lonely, especially when you are new. People are still trying to figure you out, and you are still trying to figure out the people. There is a natural tendency to be guarded around a new leader.
If you are an emerging leader, think about the role you play for your leadership. Do you ask Why? What If? Did you ever think about this? I know I value that immensely. I think so highly of staff members who walk in my door who take the time to question. It's not an easy thing to do with a new CEO. (Note: This will date me, but please don't go Jerry-McGuire-25-page-manifesto crazy and quit your job over a mission statement.)
So my advice:
1) Recognize that those people are in your organization -- and they don't have to have titles like vice president, director or chief. Find these people at every level of the organization -- on the truck loading dock, in the trenches of service delivery or in the mailroom making sure everyone gets their mail.
2) Seek out sparring partners and hire them. As a leader, you need strong peers, not servants or enablers.
3) If you can't hire them, identify ways to use them to help you work out a specific problem, make a connection for you, get them on your board.
P.S. When your bucket is full, return the favor.
Prior to being named president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of Central Iowa, effective Dec. 1, 2016, Jackie Norris spent more than 20 years managing strategic planning and corporate initiatives for a variety of organizations. Described as an "innovative and seasoned leader," Norris has spent her entire career working with individuals and organizations to succeed. Combining her experience in nonprofit and academia as well as a history with national and statewide political arenas, Jackie has worked with teams to create, develop, and manage numerous strategic campaigns and initiatives from inception to implementation, always with a specialization in service and volunteerism.