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Dr Kirstin Ferguson on the opportunities a board career offers

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This episode, Catherine interviews Dr Kirstin Ferguson. She is an award-winning leadership expert and shares how opportunities in board careers can drive change. She is the Deputy Chair of ABC, and a Director at SCA Property Group, EML and Hyne Timber.

Valuable Discussion Points

[03:37] What were the skills needed on Kirstin’s first board role?

For Kirstin, one thing that became clear to her is that on a board you are not the doer, but rather you are there to ask the strategic questions and look at things with the bigger picture in mind. Kirstin’s first board role allowed her to utilise her technical knowledge from having built her own business, however it took her a couple of years to hone the skill of applying that strategically. Whilst it was tempting for her to always look at

the detail, the role was about asking the right questions and finding the right ways to help guide executives.

[05:53] What Kirstin thinks about the advice of sticking to just one particular area?

Looking back Kirstin can see that her own career has not been a linear one however she enjoys doing different things make her a much more well-rounded director. For Kirstin every single experience she has allows her to bring mistakes and lessons and apply those learnings to what she is doing now.

[07:29] How important are mentors for Kirstin?

Having mentors, advisors and sponsors is incredibly important for Kirstin. She recommends that board members, regardless of experience

seek mentors out and value the time they give you. Mentors are really important because there is a lot of experience out there to draw from and it can enhance your own skills and understanding when sitting on a board.

[08:17] How does Kirstin select mentors?

It’s not always as easy as simply picking someone and saying ‘I’m going to have you as my mentor’.

There needs to be a natural connection that you have with a potential mentor so it’s important to select people that you find easy to talk with and that seem to be willing to offer you advice.

[09:46] What can Kirstin say about her proficient use of social media?

Kirstin recalls having directors tell her to stay away from social media as she wouldn’t be taken seriously because social media is not a place for directors to be. Whilst she is glad to be given that advice, she chose to find a way to use social media that is beneficial for her as director.

Social media is incredibly important to understand what’s going on in the world around us. You hear views outside your bubble of people that you might sit in a boardroom with. You can hear about your industry or about the company. You also hear everyday perspectives that are important to forming a judgment and a view on certain topics, particularly social issues. These are all increasingly important for directors.

[16:32] What advice can Kirstin give to those considering moving into a board career?

Kirstin recommends having as many diverse boards as you can. Her current makeup of boards is two listed boards, two private companies and a government board and that works really well for her. Listed boards are wonderful companies but have a whole different set of pressures. Private companies are also good because there is generally a smaller distance between the board and the executive. Kirstin also likes to ensure she sits across at least one government board in order to give back and find ways to contribute to the community in society.

[28:27] What is the one thing Kirstin wishes she had known when she set out on her career?

She wished she had known there was no reason to rush, to trust herself and relax throughout her early board career. Once you do that you can enjoy what is to come and make choices that feel right for you personally and for your career.

Key Learnings

Every single experience you have, you can bring mistakes and learnings and lessons from those periods to what you are doing now.

The use of social media is important for directors. It offers a whole wealth of networks that a director can tap into to find strong contacts and advocates.

Do your due diligence when considering a board position. Looking over at financials, strategy or reading board papers can only get you so far. Much more important is understanding the chair, their decision-making processes, the makeup and the dynamics of the board.

Leadership is being authentic, empathetic, having EQ and technical expertise.

Quotable Quotes

“I’m really glad that my tool kit might look a bit like Mary Poppins because there is a whole bunch of weird stuff in that bag but all of it together combines to give me a really diverse range of experiences to draw on.” – Kirstin Ferguson

“I tend to think of all my mentors and advisors a bit like a buffet, go to them for different things but I’m very grateful for them and I highly recommend you really value and appreciate what they can provide.” – Kirstin Ferguson

“Every woman is a role model.” – Kirstin Ferguson

“Board meetings are your bread in a sandwich so they sort of frame what you’re doing. There needs to be something in the middle as well and I’m someone who needs to be doing more..” – Kirstin Ferguson

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Kirstin is a highly sought after keynote speaker who has opened dozens of conferences and events across Australia and NZ, as well as around the world.

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