A Curious Introduction

By Lyn Turknett

My mother was curious – super curious. She was born early in the last century, but she had a spirit and an intellect that would have fit right in in 2014. I wrote about leadership lessons learned from my mother in my contribution to the Women in Technology CLIMB book. She was a career woman and always juggling, but I will never forget her waking up every morning to watch a Physics course broadcast at 6 am on what is now PBS. She was not a scientist – she was at that time working on her Master’s degree in business and working in the business school at the University of Georgia. But she was curious, and, looking back, that was a big part not just of who she was but of what made her successful.

She lived in a world where curiosity was a plus – but just a nice-to-have. Today, for all of us, and especially for leaders, curiosity is essential. We can’t learn fast enough or change fast enough without it. I am not a fan of Steve Jobs as a leader, but his curiosity – and his passion – were huge factors in his success.

I remember how much I enjoyed reading an article about A. G. Lafley, then CEO of Proctor & Gamble, in the Wall Street Journal nine years ago. The article described Lafley sitting in the apartment of a Venezuelan woman whose monthly income, including that of her husband, was $600. But when asked to bring out lotions and skin products she owned, she brought out 33 bottles. Lafley came to understand that cosmetics were her entertainment, and he knew that P&G should pay attention. What I remember most about the article was Lafley’s empathy, his anthropological approach to consumer research, and his obvious curiosity. Lafley was the CEO of P&G from 2005 to 2010. He then retired, but his curiosity and understanding were so valuable to P&G that they brought him back in 2013 to serve as CEO once again.

Maybe it’s because of my mother, or maybe it’s because I seem to have inherited that curiosity, but I love curious people. Today, I am introducing a new member of the Turknett Leadership Group team, Bianca Wirth, and I am surprised and thrilled to learn that she is not only really smart but super curious. Her Bachelor’s degree is Journalism and Public Relations from the Grady School of Journalism at the University of Georgia. Bianca joined as an Office Support Associate, and has been with us for only about four weeks, but she is already contributing in ways that are pretty astounding. Interestingly, when she decided to write her first blog post about leadership she chose curiosity as the topic. Read it below…

By Bianca Wirth

As a newbie here at Turknett Leadership Group, I’ve been doing lots of learning – learning the models TLG uses, the programs for clients, how to do my job, and more! One of the most important things I’ve learned is the many components of leadership development. As I am familiarizing myself with this topic, I thought, “I volunteered to contribute to the TLG blog, why not write about this?”

Reading tea leaves
Reading tea leaves

It was tough to find something to write about regarding leadership development – it’s a vast subject. However, with a quick glimpse at my tea (yes, my cup of tea), it became clear that almost everything can relate to becoming a better leader! Not wanting to ignore the sign from my tea leaves, I decided to discuss the ever-present temptress, curiosity.

Studies have shown that people who are more curious live longer, are happier, and find more meaning in their life, but how does curiosity make one a better leader?

For starters, being curious about those around you creates empathy, even if you don’t notice it. If Sally arrives at work half an hour late every Thursday, you may be curious as to why instead of defaulting to annoyance or anger. If it turns out Sally has to drop her three kids off at different places every Thursday morning, you could reach an understanding with Sally that she can come in later on Thursdays as she tends to work late a couple evenings a week. Curiosity can lead to understanding, and understanding and empathizing with others are leadership qualities many strive for.

As history has shown us time and time again, curiosity leads to innovation. From the days of the cavemen wondering how to stay warm to companies like Google trying to craft an innovative work culture and product, curiosity has the power to create. To develop leadership skills, you could focus on creating a positive work environment, creating a product people can stand behind, creating teams that work effectively – the possibilities are infinite.

While focusing externally on curiosity can be incredibly effective, there is one kind of curiosity that is the most powerful in leaders – the curiosity about yourself. In order to become a compelling leader, you need be constantly introspective about how you can grow and improve your leadership skills. If you let your anger get the better of you one day, don’t punish yourself for it, but figure out how you can react differently going forward. Did you miss deadlines because you were too focused on the details? Admit it, and find ways to focus on the big picture. Curiosity about yourself can be your best tool as a leader. Nurture your curiosity, and great leadership will follow.

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