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Getting better at reading the room with Kirstin Ferguson

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23 October 2023

Kirstin Ferguson: Head & Heart

Kirstin Ferguson is a company director, columnist, keynote speaker, and executive coach. Beginning her career as an officer in the Royal Australian Air Force, Kirstin has held roles that have included chief executive officer of an international consulting firm, and acting chair and deputy chair of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. She has sat on boards of both publicly-listed and privately-listed companies for more than a decade.

Kirstin has a PhD in leadership and in 2021 was named one of Thinkers50’s top thinkers to watch. In 2023, she was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for her significant service to business and gender equality. She writes a weekly column on leadership and work in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, and is also a contributor to the Australian Financial Review and to Forbes. She is the author of Head & Heart: The Art of Modern Leadership*.

It’s often apparent when someone else doesn’t a read a room, but much harder to see it in ourselves. In this conversation, Kirsten and I discuss how we can do a better job of either literally or figuratively reading the room. Plus, we explore several of the actions leaders can take to do a better job at being more proactive at moving beyond their own perspective.

Key Points

  • Memory is different than perception. A study by Adrian de Groot shows that chess grandmasters reply more on the former for reading things quickly.
  • Perception is an ongoing process vs. something any of us arrive at.
  • A study of medical residents shows four ways we tend to approach situations: stalled, fixated, adaptive, or vagabonds. Vagabonds in particular look at a wide range of possibilities, but don’t fully explore or rule out paths forward.
  • Zoom out to seek broad input. That’s especially important when the stakes are high. Also important is to get perspective outside of your industry. Reading books from different disciplines is one starting point.
  • Leaders needs to also recognize that people in the room are reading you as well. There’s an element of partnership that shapes how the room moves forward.

Resources Mentioned

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