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Future leaders must have Emotional Intelligence: Dr Kirstin Ferguson

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Thankfully, Kirstin Ferguson believes we can all extend our intellect, especially when it comes to knowledge regarding our industry sectors or professions.

But when it comes to leadership — particularly the kind that will be successful in the future — she says emotional intelligence is and will be vital.

That means leading others with humility, having the self-awareness to understand your impact on those around you, and empowering others to be the best they can be.

Kirstin is a leading non-executive director and the creator of #CelebratingWomen.

She is also the chair of the judging panel on the Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards.

Kirstin answers our Q&A on future leadership below.

You can catch Kirstin at our awards luncheon on the 6th October in Sydney, along with a panel of excellent female leaders. Tickets available here

How do you lead others every day?

Now that I am a professional company director rather than in an executive role, I have the privileged ability to lead through influence rather than in a formal capacity. While I loved being a leader of people and teams, I also now love leading others through asking questions and influencing others to develop their own leadership capabilities.

I have also spent this year becoming an ‘accidental’ leader of the #CelebratingWomen movement simply by sharing profiles and making role models of incredible women around the world visible. The #CelebratingWomen project has reminded me that any one of us can be, and are, leaders regardless of whatever our position title may say. It is a matter of setting a vision, communicating that and bringing others along with you.

Has there been a career turning point that’s put you on this leadership path?

I was always one of those ‘bossy’ girls growing up, so really I think that now means I was always someone who gravitated to leadership roles. I can’t remember ever not being a leader in a professional capacity but that said, being a good leader is a constant and never-ending journey that I am still on (and happily so!).

I really do believe that every single one of us can and does demonstrate leadership every day in our own way, whether at work or in the home. Having the emotional intelligence to understand the impact you have on others around you is a critical part of that leadership role.

How have you worked with mentors or sponsors during your leadership career?

Always. I have had my own mentors and sponsors throughout my career and I have been a mentor and sponsor for other women as well. Cultivating, contributing and developing relationships with mentors and sponsors is an essential part of any successful leadership career and I don’t think that changes, regardless of your seniority.

What key skills and attributes do you believe successful leaders of the future will have?

Emotional intelligence first and foremost.

I believe intellect is relatively easy to build. I don’t mean that in a flippant way but we all know we can come to understand a new industry, a new field of expertise, a new process or initiative.

But having the emotional intelligence to lead others with humility, to empower others to be the best they can be, to know the right questions to ask and when to help others share in your vision and frankly, to have the self-awareness to understand the impact you have on the people around you all takes emotional intelligence.

What do you look for when attempting to spot a ‘potential’ leader? 

I look for their ability to listen. You would be amazed at how many people feel the need to fill the space with their words, their thoughts, their long list of achievements. There is a time and a place for that of course, and a job interview would be one! But that is a formal setting and I am often observing leadership potential in every interaction I might have with someone. Some of the strongest leaders I know understand that listening is equally, if not more important, than demonstrating how much you know.

What needs to change to get more female leaders?

We have fantastic female leaders around us every single day ready, willing and able to step up into leadership roles. There is no pipeline issue in my mind, and where there is in some niche professions within a particular sector you can usually always go back to schools and universities and find many, many women wanting to participate and rise through leadership ranks. So it is finding the systemic issue or blocking point at that prevents women that needs fixing, not women themselves.

What tools do you use to stay-up-to date as a leader?

I use social media every day to keep up to date with what is going on in the world around me and to stay connected with other leaders.

I find it an invaluable tool. But I also read it with a critical eye and balance what I read on social media with reading and writing for industry publications, attending and speaking at conferences and pursuing further education, both formal and informal.

I am a strong believer in lifetime education and recommend it for all leaders since you simply never stop learning.

Any book you’d recommend that has aided your leadership career?

I read a lot of books, journal articles, blogs and anything else I can get my hands on relating to leadership since I genuinely find it interesting. But one book I really enjoyed is called Authentic Leadership by Bill George. It really summed up how I like to lead and gave some excellent examples of being a strong, values based leader whilst also being yourself. The most important thing I have learnt through my almost 30 years in leadership roles is that leading authentically, whether in times of challenge or when things are going well, encourages trust from those who follow and is the style of leadership people look for today.

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International keynote speaker

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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