The Outward Mindset
"I seek to understand the world and those around me. I am hungry for knowledge and new insights. I am committed to learning from new inputs, interactions, and influencers. I am curious, an inquisitive listener, and question-asker."
The Outward Mindset
While the Inward Mindset is a focus on understanding yourself, the Outward Mindset is a focus on understanding the world and those around you.
The women leaders we met display a deep interest and curiosity beyond themselves. They have a hunger for knowledge, new insights, and a commitment to learning from interactions with others and influencers. They have commitment to ongoing learning and broad-based knowledge acquisition, even if it is not necessarily related to their role, industry, or organization. They are inquisitive listeners, question-askers, and self-described 'perpetual students.'
For example, Betsy Myers discusses seeking to understand the person behind the work and displays relentless curiosity about everyone who crosses her path. The women we interviewed use their focus on self and their inward understanding as an anchor for their outward facing exploration. Their lives and careers are shaped by their spirit of inquiry. Curiosity is the cornerstone of their leadership approach, resulting in ongoing opportunities for new learning and ideas.
Outward Approaches & Actions for Aspiring Leaders
Be Curious About the World.
When Harvard Business School's Linda Hill was a child, her family frequently relocated. She often felt lonely when she arrived in a new place, but she always made fast friends with the local librarian. "I have always been intellectually curious," she explains. Today, Hill conducts research all around the world. When traveling, she is quick to get a sense of the place, culture, and people. Katie Taylor takes a similar view. "I have always loved September because it reminds me of the start of the school year and cracking open a new textbook," she says.
The women we met often described themselves as curious. They are relentless learners. They explained their need to grow, otherwise they fear they will stand still. They ask questions, are openminded, invest time reading about their industries and other news, and take on new initiatives so they can learn. "What inspires me is learning new things," explains Baker McKenzie's Constanze Ulmer-Eilfort. "When I became Managing Partner, I learned to tackle new challenges. I gained the confidence to stand up in front of 500 people and speak freely. Being in new positions opens up doors. You see things which you would have otherwise never seen. I find that very inspiring."
The women highlight the importance of being curious about the world.
"When you are curious, you start asking questions. This is when you can expand on and improve on things that you know. Curiosity will make you grow."
- Hamidah Naziadin
Karen Brown has a similar viewpoint. As a child, her family often moved due to her mother's job. "We had a nomadic way of living. What this taught me is a sense of wonder about the world," she says. Brown, who was born in Jamaica and has traveled to over fifty countries, has a curiosity about other people and cultures. When she visits a new location, she goes to the schools to discover how people learn. She goes to Parliament, where power lies, to see how decisions are made that affect the local citizens. In her career, she brings this curiosity to each new role she assumes. As a diversity and inclusion expert, Brown has worked for companies across many different industries. Whenever she is joining an organization in a new industry, she reads everything she can find about the industry, asks her boss for a male and female mentor to help her understand the business, attends earnings calls, and reads the company's quarterly reports. "Doing this research builds my confidence so that I can connect with others in large and small settings and can ultimately create relevant solutions for business leaders," she says.
Baker McKenzie's Jennifer Trock partly attributes her curiosity about the world to her childhood. Like Hill and Brown, Trock's family frequently moved. She attended thirteen schools before graduating high school. Surprisingly, she enjoyed it.
"It pushed me to embrace change, which has been helpful professionally. We are always adapting to change from our clients and re-thinking the way our practice works. Being adaptable to change is such a critical part of keeping pace with a fast-paced industry."
- Jennifer Trock
In her current role, Trock often leads committees, where she puts her natural curiosity to use. "People want to do the right thing but they need direction. What has not worked is to ask the group, 'what does everybody think we should do?' What has worked for me is going to people individually and getting their input on a one-on-one basis. Then, I incorporate it into a vision for the committee with tasks and milestones that people can achieve. There's no one-size fits all; find a person's natural talent and try to hone in on that," she explains.
The lesson from these executives is clear. Ensure that you are always learning. Seek out opportunities inside and outside of work to learn something new. When considering taking on a new position, consider how much the role enables you to grow. Attend events and talks even if they do not directly relate to your current job. Read every day. Ask questions and seek input from others. Remaining curious about the world around you will not only make you a more interesting person, but it also will prove valuable in advancing your career.
Be a Student of People.
Katie Taylor is the former President and Chief Executive Officer of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. When she retired after 24 years at the iconic global company, the luxury hotel chain had 90 locations in almost 40 countries with a staff of 35,000 people servicing millions of guests. How did Taylor succeed at running a highly decentralized, geographically dispersed business?
"I have an ability to learn from and get along with lots of types of people. I am defined by the positive elements of my relationships with people from different walks of life."
- Katie Taylor
Taylor's leadership approach is rooted in her humility and connectedness. "One of the things that I used to spend time on was making sure that if I were out in the field visiting a property, I would meet and say hello to as many Four Seasons employees as was humanly possible in my time available. This was a hallmark of my leadership style. In the end, what came out of it was a better customer experience, a better employee experience, and ultimately a better business that we were building," says Taylor.
Taylor has an overall approach to and philosophy on crafting meaningful and productive relationships. "I am a student of people. One of the things I tell young executives is to build time into their schedules to become students of people and masters of relationships. This is a roadmap for how you can turn relationships into improved business results, stronger leadership, and enhanced productivity. I spend time thinking about the needs, wants, desires, and irritants of the people around me - customers and colleagues alike. I devote time that a lot of people would say 'wow, what are you doing sitting around talking to people for hours on end?' The reason is I want to learn and understand what problems they have that I can help solve," she says.
Su-Mei Thompson, CEO, Media Trust, takes a similar approach. At one point in her career, she was working on a change initiative and received the feedback that she was not taking enough time to get to know people. She was so focused on achieving results that she was not investing enough effort in cultivating ties with those around her. "I was too focused on the business agenda - on spreadsheets, timelines, and action points instead of really taking the time to nurture the personal relationships with the people whose lives were going to be affected by the program," she says.
The Global Head of HR at the company suggested that Thompson start handwriting notes on notecards to people on her team, wishing them happy birthday, congratulating them on a job well done, or saying have a great vacation. It worked.
"As a senior woman leader, I learned the hard way that people are looking for signals that you can be a leader, but you're still warm, humble, and nurturing."
- Su-Mei Thompson
Leena Nair also invests time in visiting and getting to know what matters to the people who work at Unilever. This is not simply a nice thing to do. She explains that growing your relationships is directly linked to growing your business. "You need to know what happens in the day-to-day life of the person who works in your company. Then, you know the labors of how growth happens in your business. The big thing in establishing myself was that I really knew how the business ran."
By taking the time to reach out to Unilever's employees, Nair knows what matters to the people who work in her business. She spends 2 weeks of almost every month visiting every cluster and country that Unilever operates in globally.
Being a student of people requires seeking to better understand those around you and leaving time for connectivity and conversation. Some leaders label it as the new humanistic way of working. Others, such as Betsy Myers, highlight the importance of "seeking to know the person behind the work." Why? Relationships are at the core of the human experience both in and out of work. Building a trusted network infuses work with different viewpoints and insights that will inform your approaches and decisions, while simultaneously helping those around you feel heard and understood. Understanding your people is essential to understanding your business.