Everyday SHEro – Lyn Turknett: Lover of Learning, Leadership, and People

Everyday Sheroes Lyn Turknett

By Susan Hitchcock

Founder & Host Emerita of Women in Leadership Susan Hitchcock

It’s hard – make that impossible – not to be inspired and challenged to be a better person the more time you spend with Carolyn Turknett, or Lyn as we know her. She’s widely known and highly respected in Atlanta and beyond for co-founding and leading Turknett Leadership Group along with her “other half” – husband / life and business partner, and equally honored, Dr. Robert (Bob) Turknett.

However, not too many people know Lyn’s story, her personal journal or how she came to be the person she is – kind, generous, humble, caring, focused, open minded, etc. Not to mention curious, courageous, constantly learning, intellectually top of any class and an introvert who gravitates to groups, enjoys engaging and sharing ideas and learning from people from different backgrounds. If you want to know more about this amazing human, read on. You can also listen to and watch a video clip from this interview.


Rural roots – firm foundation

Lyn and her two siblings, an older brother and younger sister, grew up on a small farm at the end of a street in a tiny town of 500, 8 miles from Athens, GA. “I feel that I had an unusual upbringing and place to live and parents that were quite different both from each other and from other parents. My father had a high school education and loved being a small-town cattle farmer. My mother had a college degree, was a working mother, and was always interested in learning. Had the internet existed at that time, she’d never have gone to sleep!

Although Lyn’s parents seemed very different, they respected and supported each other and their children and both were involved in the community and their church. “My mother was completely committed to the church – she was there every time the doors were opened – but because she could hold two ideas in her head at once, she was also slightly agnostic as well. Very interesting thread in her life, I think.

Another interesting thread in her mother’s life was working at the University of Georgia in Athens. While her mother was working at the university in the Bureau of Business Research, Lyn entered kindergarten there and attended through first grade. However, for second grade, she moved back to her hometown of Winterville and her early school experience changed significantly. “I was supposed to repeat the first grade (I wasn’t old enough for second grade in that system) but was put in the second grade. I was teeny and almost a half year younger than everyone else. Because of that and for several other reasons, I didn’t feel I fit in. Overall, my years from second to seventh grade weren’t particularly pleasant.

Looking back now at that time of her young life, Lyn said she clearly learned some valuable life lessons. “In class I always knew subject and verb agreement when we were doing grammar because I had heard the right way at home, and I could get the right answer easily. A lot of the others didn’t and not knowing was treated rather harshly at times, including paddling. I remember thinking that the world is not always fair and that’s an enduring memory. And because I didn’t quite fit in, I developed a sort of sense of separateness – an ability to step back, look at my life and figure out how I should handle this. I think that’s been useful throughout my life.


A role model for life

Another vivid memory Lyn shared involved a family car trip to South Georgia. Stopped at a gas station for a restroom break, they saw a car parked close by with a black family. Lyn’s mother turned to Lyn and her sister who were in the back seat and said, “I feel sorry for that Mommy and Daddy,” she said. “They’re on a trip too, but their little children don’t have a place to go to the bathroom.” What a powerful memory and clearly one that had a lasting impact on Lyn.

To really understand the trajectory of Lyn’s later life, the choices she would make, her lifelong thirst for learning and perspective, you must appreciate the unique role model her mother, Clio Crosby Norris, really was. While Lyn and her sister were growing up, their mother not only worked at the university in the Bureau of Business Research, but she also went to business school and earned her MBA. “In the 50’s she had to be one of the first,” Lyn pointed out. “And she immediately started working on her doctorate while continuing to raise a family.” After earning her MBA, she became a faculty member and the Assistant Director of the Bureau of Business Research. She was the long-time editor of the monthly publication – Georgia Business.

To complete high school, Lyn went back to Athens and had a much more satisfying experience there. Her mother went on to receive her doctorate at the age of 62. She remained at the Bureau until retirement at 67. Not surprisingly, her mother played a key role in Lyn’s choice of colleges. “I had good grades and test scores, but had it not been for my mother, I would probably have gone to a state college, never considering all the other possibilities.” Instead, Lyn got catalogs from all the “Seven Sister” colleges – never setting foot on campus of any of them. As it turned out, she liked the Mount Holyoke catalog the best, made a decision to apply, was accepted and got a scholarship to cover almost everything.


Early adulthood experiences

Lyn’s college experience in the early 60’s had its positives and negatives. She found Mount Holyoke to be a wonderful experience. She liked meeting students and faculty who came from more diverse backgrounds and that was appealing to her from a learning standpoint.

For a self-described introvert, Lyn nevertheless calls herself a “joiner” and she truly enjoyed her involvement in the college chapel choir and the Fellowship of Faith among other things. But Lyn and her peers were also living in turbulent times – e.g., the Cuban Missile Crisis and the civil rights movement.

One remarkable experience I had in the middle of this was a visit to the campus by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. He gave the sermon in chapel and as a member of the choir, I walked the campus with him singing ‘We Shall Overcome.’ In addition, my friends and I followed what was happening with the Freedom Riders and considered whether or not to join them. What I think I took away from that period of time and my overall experience was the opportunity to gain a perspective both in the northern part of the country and in the south when I went back home.

After completing two years at Mount Holyoke, Lyn’s life took a major turn which she now describes as a “mistake.” She decided to return to Athens and marry her high school sweetheart. While her first choice of husbands wasn’t the right one as it turned out, and they divorced, she did attend UGA and received her bachelor’s degree in math. “I was considering philosophy and math at Mount Holyoke but the only way I could finish at the University of Georgia in four years was to major in math. I enjoyed it completely and I’m glad that I did.

Serendipitously perhaps, while pursuing her master’s degree at UGA, Lyn attended a party where a rather significant introduction would take place. “Somebody had told Bob that I would be there, and he should meet me. Was it ‘lightning in a bottle’ – not really – but we had similar values even though we have also made us good in business together.

Lyn went on to say, “I made the decision to get married again very quickly, but over time, Bob and I have developed a very strong, very close, and very loving relationship – in all ways – that has withstood the test of time.” To the outside world, that relationship is evidenced on both the personal and professional side.


Early life as a Turknett couple

Married in February 1969, Lyn had her master’s in sociology and was a doctoral candidate when things again took a turn. The young couple moved to Florida where Bob worked while completing his dissertation for his doctorate at UGA. It was during their three years there that their first son, Rob, was born and Bob worked as a school psychologist. The young family of three later relocated to Kentucky and Bob became chief psychologist at a group of mental health centers.

Columbus, Georgia would be the next stop on the early Turknett journey, and it brought them closer to Lyn’s sister who lived there and to Bob’s in Florida. Their second son, Josh, was born in Columbus at the same time Bob continued working in the mental health field. In January of 1979, Lyn and Bob made what would be a permanent family move to Atlanta. As parents, they were eager to enroll their sons in DeKalb County, one of the best school systems in the state.

It was about this time when Bob started in private practice and Lyn was helping out part time, doing the books, filing taxes, etc. “Because of the background I had, a lot of assessment training and some experience in family counseling, we started seeing families together, couples together, and doing testing together.” By the mid 80’s they had leased office space in Decatur and hired a front office person.

1987 was a pivotal year for the Turknetts. They attended an American Psychologist Association conference in Atlanta and while visiting different booth displays, they saw one called “So You Want to be President.” There they met Dr. Richard Hagberg, an organizational psychologist who was doing leadership development and what is now called executive coaching in his West Coast practice. He had developed software and several proprietary assessment tools which he used with his clients very successfully.

With Lyn’s blessing, Bob visited Hagberg in California. After his second trip, he returned with a signed contract to partner with Hagberg, to share software, assessment tools, business strategies, etc. It was an extremely beneficial business relationship that lasted over 20 years and helped Lyn and Bob grow their own brand of leadership development and executive coaching.

The transition from private practice to the new business wasn’t easy, according to Lyn. One thing that certainly helped was their son Rob being a computer expert. He set up their first computer and over the years, Rob has shared his expertise during a few other transitions. In 1992, another person joined the Turknett team to do business development and client relations – and whatever else that was needed in a small, upstart of a business. (Editorial note: that person was Susan Hitchcock, the interviewer, who worked in the business with the Turknetts for 25+ years and has maintained a close relationship ever since. It has been a very beneficial and valued collaboration for all parties with many shared accomplishments along the way.)


Lessons learned – shared wisdom.

Lyn has spent much of her adult life as a wife and working mother. In the latter role, she’s an excellent person to provide personal and professional insights. “I had the opportunity to grow up with a working mother as a role model,” she said. “It wasn’t easy for her and there was constant juggling. I know there’s no such thing as perfect balance or a perfect way to do things, but my mother was a good role model for managing family, community, and career – moving in and out of all of it. We as women must continue to see what works for each of us, and it does seem easier for men. But based on what I see in my sons as fathers, I believe the younger generation of men are becoming more supportive.

From a career standpoint, it’s particularly challenging for women in senior leadership roles to manage the demands of work and a family. That’s why many either don’t have children or have full-time help. Lyn added, “I’ve always said, ‘Everyone needs a wife!’”


Most rewarding experiences

Anyone who knows Lyn and Bob is keenly aware of their many accomplishments – a combined lifetime of TLG business success, awards, honors, contributions, and accolades. Given this extraordinary legacy Lyn reflected on what is perhaps the most satisfying or rewarding to her. “I think creating the Leadership Character Model – and just thinking about leadership that we did before that together to create the model was really rewarding and exciting.

The Leadership Character Awards were also very rewarding – conceived in 2002 and the first of 13 ceremonies in 2003. It started after Enron and WorldCom and all those times when ethics and business seemed so challenging. I think we all knew there were many ethical leaders of character and we felt we could lift those up and influence other people, especially younger leaders. Over time, the awards took on a kind of life of its own and there’s a lesson in that too. When you create something like that, it felt a bit like a movement in how you get other people involved and committed to it too.

In addition, having advisors or judges who were outstanding leaders themselves – Frank Skinner, Betty Siegel, Oz Nelson, Ann Cramer, Conchita Robinson, and Ann Stallard who were willing to support us was huge! Being able to recognize each nominee every year was also very special.

Lyn went on to acknowledge that even with all their success, there have been challenges and mistakes made along the way. “Taking our eye off something and periods of time where I felt we lost a valuable employee because we weren’t paying enough attention. But overall, neither of us were businesspeople and I’m really proud that we’ve made payroll since 1983 every single time! We’ve managed to stay in business even after the financial crisis, but there were definitely tough times.

I don’t think you can second guess your decisions too much. You just sort of do the best you can and keep going and be grateful for what happens.” Speaking of being grateful and proud too, Lyn mentioned the support TLG has provided for women’s leadership and the creation of the long running – 20 years this year – Women in Leadership series, first under the direction of Susan Hitchcock, and now Anne Quiello. Over the years Lyn and TLG have coached and helped to develop hundreds of early, mid, and senior level career women – and along the way, received rave reviews and incredibly positive feedback.


Lasting impact, legacy, and magic wands

One aspect of the lasting impact Lyn has made is not actually just about her. It’s a Turknett “combo.” Or, as she so aptly expressed, “We’ve become ‘Lyn and Bob’ – almost a single entity – even though that was never our plan.” Others would likely agree that any talk about a legacy for one is a legacy for the other since it’s been largely a joint venture.

But if Lyn were given her own magic wand, she has definite ideas. “I’d love to do something that helps. I worry a lot about our teenagers and young people now and the levels of anxiety and depression. I wish I had a way to impact that. What is super exciting to me right now is something we talk about with our two sons, i.e., what’s happening with large language models and AI. It’s going to change the world in ways we can’t even imagine. This is bigger than the dawn of the internet. So, if I had a magic wand, I’d do a ton of things, but right now I just love learning about that.

As one of our sons said yesterday (Dr. Josh Turknett, neurologist, brain expert, banjo guru, entrepreneur etc.), ‘There’s such an inflection point right now. We don’t know whether it’s going to be utopian and wonderful for humanity, or completely dystopian and destroy our society. Nobody knows.’”

When asked the title for a possible biography, Lyn hadn’t thought about that, however she does have a favorite quote from Ann Voskamp that represents her own thinking extremely well. “No amount of regret can change the past. No amount of anxiety can change the future. But any amount of gratitude can change the present.

Lyn also mentioned a recent podcast hosted by her son Josh. It was called “Survival of the Kindest.” She explained, “Josh interviewed someone from the UK who’s been a compassionate care, palliative care physician. He’s created communities that help people connect with each other. Through his work they’ve shown that this kind of kindness and human connection makes people healthier, and it’s more effective than most drugs, exercise, or diet.

Finally, the “Lyn Turknett Everyday SHEro story” cannot end without a few more highlights. First, she and Bob’s most important personal legacy is found in their two sons and their three grandchildren – Jules, Tucker, and Rowan. If intelligence, character, and good values can be passed down, and they sure can, then Lyn and Bob have done a phenomenal job as parents and grandparents.

Secondly, Lyn is the perfect example of what this writer / interviewer means by an “Everyday SHEro.” She’s a humanitarian by nature, a person who makes others in her presence feel better and even special, seeks always to learn, and understand – and for all that she has accomplished and been honored for in her life – she remains 100% authentic and humble.

Editorial note: Everyone who knows Lyn sees her as the personification of the attributes of the Leadership Character Model – Integrity, Respect and Responsibility. She’s certainly achieved SHEro status, or is it Sainthood?)


Interview and profile by Susan Hitchcock – December 2023