You create, build, manage, make, run and organize things – adding value to a multitude of stakeholders in a complex and volatile world. You are accomplished at what you do, recognized by your peers as a leader. But there is a lot on your plate – or more accurately plates – with the prospect of only more being heaped on. It’s a constant juggling act, and as good as you are, you admit to yourself that you don’t have all the answers – in fact more than you’d like to admit or show, you’re frequently stuck.
Sound like you? If you are like most senior executives that I’ve met through my my business career and coaching/advisory practice (including most especially -me), the answer is yes. In discussions with literally hundreds of accomplished individuals over the past year, from CEO’s (start-up to Fortune 500) to senior civil servants to NPO leaders to performers and artists, most report experiencing the pervasive sense of loneliness and uncertainty that comes from being an accomplished builder/creator/operator.
It’s tempting to look to the 180,000+ books on leadership on Amazon.com (just for example) for inspiration for the most current 5 or 10 step solution to your problem, but logic suggests that they ALL can’t be correct. In fact it all becomes ‘noise’ – the bleating of thousands of advice-givers more interested in advancing their agenda than in supporting yours. And in a world of exponential advances in technology, and of industries/societies impacted for better and for worse, the noise gets ever louder – even desperate.
Of course, the ‘answer’ does not lie without – with ‘them’ – it rests within you. It’s why so many of us engage in constructive self-talk – we are constantly discussing with ourselves our situational awareness, our ability to both understand our environment and to positively shape/impact it. It’s this self-talk that speaks to the need for a true partner that can offer a second-set-of-eyes perspective to your ever-changing relationship with the world around you.
Which leads us to the concept of Thought Partner. In a 2012 guest post in Forbes Magazine, Rania Anderson well defined the concept;
“A Thought Partner is one who;
- Challenges your thinking
- Causes you to modify your paradigms, assumptions or actions
- Has information or a way of thinking that provokes you to innovate or otherwise leads to value creation in your business, career or life.
Thought Partners are usually people who possess information, knowledge, or a way of thinking that challenges and provokes divergent thinking for you.”
I would add that a Thought Partner is a sometime coach, sometime mentor, sometime advisor, sometime connector of dots and resources, and sometime friend, who is above all else – often even more so than your business or life partner – your confidante alone committed to think with you, rather than for you. Safely, securely, in the greatest confidence.
Critically, the need for a Thought Partner is not a one-off, sequential exercise. We have all witnessed the demise of the five year business plan – now reduced far more appropriately to one year and ever more iterative planning cycles, due to the complexity and volatility of the exponential change noted above. Instead, just as planning is now an all the time, real time activity, so too is the need for your Thought Partner. As an oft-repeated quote paraphrasing Albert Einstein puts it “enlightened trial and error succeeds over the planning of the lone genius“.
As you contemplate this New Year, the question is – is 2016 the year you cease being a lone genius, and instead seek out your Thought Partner, or are you going to continue to talk to yourself to cross-pollinate, conceptualize and execute the initiatives and actions that determine your future?