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The Art Of Modern Leadership: Balancing Head And Heart with Dr Kirstin Ferguson AM

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Welcome to the We are Human Leaders podcast, today we’re talking to global leadership expert, Dr Kirstin Ferguson AM about the impact of leading from the Head and the Heart. We delve deep into the attributes that empower great leadership, why everyone can be a leader, and what changes for us and those around us when we lead from the Head and the Heart. Dr Ferguson also turns the tables on us and asks about our leadership styles, revealing some uncomfortable and important truth.

Dr Kirstin Ferguson AM has had a multifaceted career, ranging from the Air Force, to corporate law, to a PhD in organizational psychology and multiple prominent board positions. Her latest book, Head & Heart: The Art of Modern Leadership, is a testament to her wide ranging experience and her capacity to make important, complex concepts around leadership not only digestible, but relatable and fun.

Dr Kirstin Ferguson AM is an author, columnist  and company director. One of Australia’s  most prominent leadership experts, Kirstin  is also making a global impact, with UK based Thinkers50 naming her one of the  world’s top 30 “Thinkers to Watch” and she  was shortlisted for the Distinguished Award  in Leadership in 2021.  

Kirstin’s career includes three decades of  leadership experience including a previous  appointment by the Australian Prime Minister as Acting Chair and Deputy Chair of  the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.  

Kirstin has previously been the CEO of  a global consulting firm, was a senior  executive at a leading corporate law firm  and spent nearly 10 years as an Officer in  the Royal Australian Air Force.  

Kirstin’s second book, Head & Heart: The Art  of Modern Leadership has been described by  #1 NYT bestselling author, Adam Grant, as “A  timely, actionable book on the virtues that  every great leader needs to learn.” 

Kirstin writes a popular weekly column for  The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age  called Got a Minute? answering the nation’s  work, leadership, and culture questions. She  also contributes to the Financial Review. 

A passionate advocate for women, diversity,  and inclusion, Kirstin was responsible for  sparking a viral social media campaign  called #CelebratingWomen, and is the co-author of award-winning book, Women Kind:  Unlocking the power of women supporting  women. 

Reach out to Kirstin:

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Get your own Head and Heart Leadership score right here: 

Episode Transcript:

Spk0 Sally Clarke Spk1 Dr Kirstin Ferguson AM Spk2 Alexis Zahner

[00:00:08] spk_0: Welcome to the We are Human Leaders podcast. I’m Sally Clarke and today Alexis Zahner and I are talking to global leadership expert, Dr Kirstin Ferguson about the impact of leading from the head and the heart. We delve deep into the attributes that empower, great leadership, how everyone can be a leader and what changes for us and those around us when we leave from the head and the heart. Dr Ferguson also turns the tables on us and asks about our leadership styles, revealing some uncomfortable and important truths for both Alexis and me. Dr Kirstin Ferguson has had a multifaceted career ranging from the Air Force to corporate law to a phd in organizational psychology and multiple prominent board positions. Her latest book, Head and Heart, The Art of Modern leadership is a testament to her wide ranging experience and her capacity to make important complex concepts around leadership, not just digestible but relatable and fun. Let’s delve in.

[00:01:17] spk_1: Welcome to the We Are Human Leaders podcast. Kirstin. It is an absolute pleasure to have you here with us today and before we dive a little bit more into your work and your newly published book, we’d love to get to know you a little bit more. First, can you shed some light for us on your own personal journey and how you’ve come to do the important work that you’re currently doing? Well?

[00:01:39] FERGUSON: Firstly, thank you for having me. It’s a real thrill for me to be here with both of you. My journey’s been really bizarre really over the last 30 years. So I’ve had a really diverse career and I think it’s a good advertisement for reminding people that you don’t have to go in a straight line. Thank goodness because I started my career in the military. I was only 17 when I went off from a private girls school to the Australian Defense Force Academy or ad a and studied there, did a history degree and trained to become an Air Force officer. So completely different to what I’ve ended up doing now. But I really loved it and I was fortunate enough to be posted to an F 1 11 squadron. I’m a walking cliche. I met my then husband who was flying and was all very impressed with his, you know, flying suit. I think I’d watched Top Gun too many times, but that wears off. Let me assure you 25 years of marriage later. But that’s how I ended up living in Queensland initially. And so I was in the Air Force for about eight years. But at the same time I was studying law, went into a law degree, ended up working in a corporate law firm, then completely changed again and became CEO of a global consulting firm, mainly of psychologists working in the mining and resources sector. And then I started my board career. And so for more than a decade, I’ve been sitting on completely different kinds of boards from quite a high profile ones where I was acting chair of the ABC through to sitting on sports boards and theater boards and listed companies, tech companies, all sorts of different things. And at the same time, I did a phd in leadership and culture and that sort of has led me to where I am now. Um And I’ve written a couple of books and I write a column every week in the Sydney Morning, Herald and the age. So I’ve had a really different kind of career, but I wouldn’t trade any of it. And I think every single stage has given me tools in the tool belt to use for the next thing I

[00:03:32] spk_0: love that you mentioned that Kirsten, I think that’s been a little bit my own experience having been a lawyer in a past life as well and a few other things along the way. And it’s interesting how I think one of the great things that I love about getting older is seeing how all of these things that seem quite disparate at the time. I didn’t know how it was all gonna weave together and then later in life, you realize. Oh, wow. You know, these are all very handy tools that work really well together. So thank you for sharing that personal journey that you’ve been on. And you mentioned the books that you’ve written, including your latest head and heart, the art of modern leadership. And we know a lot of research went into that, you know, in the leadership and culture space. As you mentioned, I’m just curious what really stood out to you. What surprised you about the research that you conducted going into writing this book?

[00:04:16] FERGUSON: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think what surprised me most was that for me leading with your head and your heart and being what I’ve called a modern leader and practicing the art of modern leadership isn’t difficult at all. So it doesn’t require any particular special skills. You don’t have to have gone to university. You don’t have to do anything to be someone who can lead with their head and their heart. Yet, I think a lot of people feel it’s a little scary, you know, they don’t quite know or they don’t feel they’re able to and yet it’s often those people who are the most humble or have the most empathy at home or in their community, but they don’t bring it to work. So I think I’ve been surprised at the level of, I don’t know whether it’s fear. I think that’s too strong a word. But, you know, this idea of integrating the leader that we are at home and at work, how big a barrier that can feel for some people. Sadly, because it really is the key I think to being the kind of modern leader that we want around us.

[00:05:16] spk_1: Yeah, we couldn’t agree more. And I just wonder on that point, Kirsten, did you find in the research? Did people need to be more head or more hard or more comfortable bringing one or the other to work? Was that something that emerged in the data at all? Well,

[00:05:28] FERGUSON: I’m so fortunate and I’m sure we’re gonna talk about this, that the actual quantitative data that’s come out of something called the head and heart leader scale. We’ve had more than 10,000 people do it over the last few weeks. So the data I’m gonna be able to pull from that over the coming months is very exciting. The first initial development of the scale only had 1000 people in the sample group. So it’s hard to say, but it’s not really kind of the point either only in the sense that we all need to have both. And while some people might have a tendency to default to being more of a head based leader or a heart based leader, we need as leaders to be able to draw on all of those skills. And so for anyone listening, I’d really encourage you to visit head heart leader dot com where you can take for free. It takes about five minutes and you’ll get a personalized report. It’ll test your own head and heart leadership and I know you guys did it and I’m sure we’ll get into talking about what that looked like later.

[00:06:24] spk_1: Yeah, absolutely. We’re excited to dive into our own findings. And before we do, I’d love to just take a moment to think about this concept of what a leader is. And in your book, you say that everyone is a leader and to quote your book here, a leader is anyone who can influence and impact others through their words, actions and behaviors. Yet even some of the most senior leaders that you spoke with shied away from the term leader, why do you think that is? And do we need to reclaim this term of what a leader is or what leadership is all about?

[00:06:57] FERGUSON: Yeah, I think we do. I think we’ve had centuries of having it ingrained in us that leaders are only those who sit at the top of the pyramid who you know, are at the top of the org chart or have formal authority and have followers. And even if you look in the dictionary, that’s how we define leadership yet. I just don’t think anyone would deny that a nurse, you know, caring for someone in their final hours and working out what’s best for them is leading in their own way in that role. And what I’m not saying is that everyone is the chief of the hospital or the Prime Minister or the CEO, I mean, obviously that would lead to chaos. But I think that in our realm of responsibility, whether that’s as a parent or a teacher in their class or whether you’re just working behind the counter in a shop or whether you are leading, you know, the whole supermarket company, we have different responsibilities and we are able to lead in that moment. And I really believe that leadership is a series of moments and every moment just gives us that opportunity to leave either a positive legacy or a real mess in our

[00:08:05] spk_0: wake. I love that, that’s a concept, you reiterate in the book as well. Kirsten, that concept of leadership being really a series of moments. And I think what I heard you say just now is also that, you know, leadership isn’t necessarily about job title or the number of people that answer to us, you know, he can really be on a very, a much smaller scale. And that some extent I think is just as important and can be just as, you know, radically transformative for our environment. And certainly in the in the human leadership framework, we often start with this concept of self leadership and that, you know, when we work on ourselves, when we do the work of, for example, even looking at questions like do I lead from my head or from my heart that work itself can have an impact, you know, a ripple effect on those around us. So I love that you really broadening this definition of leadership doesn’t dilute it at all either.

[00:08:52] FERGUSON: No. And I think for too long, we’ve thought of leadership as a bit of this scarcity concept. Like we don’t want to let everyone be a leader because it would dilute in using your word from those really formal leaders who we appoint to these very important roles. And I mean, it is a nuanced conversation because there’s obviously formal leaders who have specific responsibilities in an organization. And you know, the Prime Minister is a formal leader who’s obviously going to impact a lot more people than the parent at home. But it doesn’t mean that, you know, the way they conduct themselves, the way they treat people, the way they interact or role model themselves to others isn’t still having an impact, whether it’s on five people or on five million people. And so I think that idea of self leadership and understanding that there’s a difference between informal and formal leaders, but they’re both leading is what I’m really trying to encourage people to think about.

[00:09:48] spk_0: Fantastic. And I know you refer a number of times in the book also to the concept of the importance of leaders having a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset. Now we’re wondering if you could just briefly explain what this term means a growth mindset and why it might be so important for leaders to embrace.

[00:10:08] FERGUSON: Well, I think where I’ve used that brilliant concept that obviously Carol Dweck has really driven is around the definition of capability, which is one of the attributes of four attributes of leading with the head. And I think for me, it means that we have this growth mindset towards whatever it is we do. And I don’t care if it doesn’t matter if it’s profession or a hobby or a trade or whatever it is that we’re doing because being capable and having this growth mindset is not about just continually learning, learning a new endeavor and being capable, but actually believing we’re capable as well. And I think that self efficacy is really important obviously, for all of us in whatever we do, but being able to have a growth mindset and leading in this way also helps us use that expertise and mastery that we’ve developed to develop other leaders as well and to help them feel capable or have a growth mindset towards whatever they do. So I think this idea that we’ve never quite mastered something like we can always learn more, requires us to be a really humble leader. But it also allows us to navigate, you know, life and work in a way that’s continually challenging rather than feeling like it’s going to get the better of us in one of these days. Hm.

[00:11:27] spk_1: That’s so important. Kirsten and I love that you mentioned this concept of self efficacy and we speak about this a lot at human leaders as well. And in this concept of capability, we also like to talk around this idea of agency understanding or having the belief that you are in control of your life, of your environment, of the decisions you get to make. And I think do you feel like that becomes piece of that capability component as well there? Yeah.

[00:11:52] FERGUSON: And look at that, we’ve got your internal locus of control is obviously incredibly important. And while I didn’t use those terms throughout the book, a modern leader absolutely has an internal locus of control and they’re not a victim of, you know, anything that happens to them, they’re always looking inside themselves and being humble enough to know that they don’t have all the answers and are wise enough to know that life is fleeting and you know that we’re a small part of a very complex world. And I think also having that courage, you know, to accept that things are gonna go wrong and that’s OK. And it’s a matter of looking to ourselves to what our responsibility is and moving from that point.

[00:12:36] spk_1: Mm Absolutely. And I wanna dive more. Now, Kirsten into some of these head based attributes you’ve already mentioned capability. So the four head based attributes that came through in your research and in the book are curiosity, wisdom, perspective and capability. And I’d love to really delve a little deeper into these here. Which of these attributes do you think is the most underrated for leaders perhaps? And how can we start to develop those or that particular attribute perspective by far?

[00:13:03] FERGUSON: So curiosity, I think we understand generally what that is. And obviously as curious leaders, we’re curious about not just some things but anything wisdom in this definition was all around decision making. And in fact, it’s my lowest of the eight. Um it’s my worst. So I obviously jump into decisions and then weigh up risk and reward and searching for data and evidence later. So that’s important capability we talked about. So let’s focus on perspective. And this is for anyone who knows Carl Wick’s work around sense, making it something akin to that where you’re seeking to understand the environment or the context that you’re leading in. But in layman’s terms is being able to read a room and, you know, obviously it might be a physical room, but it’s probably more likely your company or the community or the world you’re leading in or the industry. And you can also see what’s happening outside the room and who’s missing from the room and people who can lead with perspective, the research that I did found it’s the most of highly correlated of all eight attribute to modern leadership. So if you have a high level of perspective, you’re more likely to have higher levels of the other seven attributes as well. So it has a real special quality to it. So I think that was an interesting outcome from our research. And, you know, when I looked at examples in the book I talk about at the start of the pandemic, the NBA commissioner Adam Silver in the US in March 2020 ended the basketball season after one basketballer was diagnosed with COVID. And you can only just imagine what that was like at the time because his president, the then President Trump was saying, COVID’S nothing, it’s all gonna blow over and there was certainly no travel restrictions or anything like that. And so you can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like for silver to go and tell stadium owners and teams and fans on the basis of one person with COVID, we’re gonna shut down the um season, but he did and as soon as he did, it had a domino effect on the hockey and the baseball and all of that, but that is leading with perspective. So he had very little data. He had to really read the room, you know, where is this going to go and try and anticipate what was going to happen. And in that circumstance, he obviously did so successfully and importantly, but I think we can all be doing that by understanding, you know, the cultures that we work in or understanding the dynamics at play in the industries that we work in or the family, you know, circumstances, what’s gonna be the most effective to communicate my ideas in this particular situation. So perspective is definitely one that we all need.

[00:15:39] spk_1: Hm, it’s fascinating to hear that you said that perspective also kind of indicated folks would score higher on the others and I can’t help but thinking as you were speaking there around sort of the descriptive of that, it sounds to me to be quite closely related to perhaps social or relational intelligence. Would you say that that’s at least part of the case.

[00:15:59] FERGUSON: I can’t answer that like an evidence based, I haven’t gone into tested the attributes of that, but I think it’s definitely close to adaptive leadership. You know, it’s that ability to know. OK, I’m leading in this situation now, I’ve read the signals I’ve taken all of those signals in and this is what’s gonna be the most effective in this particular circumstance. So it’s a bit of a mix and that’s why the sense making idea is really important too. But yeah, it’s a fascinating concept that, you know, I really didn’t perhaps expect was gonna come out as important as it did.

[00:16:33] spk_0: And it’s interesting that there is also that correlation between higher scoring, higher on perspective, giving to higher scores more generally because I can’t help but think that also in that situation, the need for courage, as well as empathy as well as you know, capability, all of the other sort of, yeah, exactly.

[00:16:51] FERGUSON: And so when you sort of think it through, of course, like I should have, of course, that makes sense. But, um, yeah, it was interesting to see the data bore that out as well.

[00:17:00] spk_0: Fantastic Kirsten. And just now to sort of look at having sort of delved into the perspective, shifting to the heart attributes which are identified in the book, humility, self awareness, courage, and empathy. And perhaps we can just reflect for a moment, which of the these do you think is most underrated for leaders? And what can we do to start to develop that particular attribute? I

[00:17:23] FERGUSON: Think, I mean, the one I want to focus on is humility because again, there was one question that stood out so of the scale that everyone can go and do. There’s 24 questions and one is about knowing your limitations, if you know your limitations or if you score highly that you do that again was the question that correlated highly with everything else because it means, you know, you’re more curious because if you know your limitations, you just know you don’t have all the answers. It also indicates quite a high self awareness. It means the courage that you know, you’re gonna have to ask for help. And so there was a whole range of things that flowed from that. So I think humility is really important because it means in the concept of a modern leader that we’re willing to seek out the contributions of others. And we know that not knowing the answers is a relationship builder, not a relationship destroyer. And you know, this whole smartest person in the room syndrome is a real killer for a lot of leaders who think that that’s what it means to lead, that you have to have all the answers. And it takes up so much space and it prevents other people from being able to build their own capability as we spoke about before. So I think humility for me is one that we give lips pay lip service to perhaps because, you know, we understand if you just say our humility, people know what that means. But I think it’s rare to see it practiced in a modern leadership setting and yet it’s so critically important for all of us

[00:18:56] spk_0: just to sort of zoom in on that person. Can you give us just a simple example of what that might look like to practice humility in leadership?

[00:19:04] FERGUSON: Well, I think, you know, some of the times where I, I do some executive coaching with senior leaders and they’ll be very frustrated that, you know, they go into meetings and they’ll ask for ideas and noone speaks up and in the end, it’s just easier to sort of talk about what they’re gonna have to do and off everyone goes and everyone’s happy and so humility in that context where I get people to practice is going in and you know, not having a preconceived notion, being curious about what others might do. And then, you know, actually just ask questions, see if you can have an entire meeting where all you do is ask questions. And even if you know the answer, a modern leader doesn’t need to prove it. So then ask really great questions that help other people come to that answer without you telling them. And it takes longer, obviously, because you know, it’s way quicker to just walk in and go. Here’s the answer. Let’s get on with it. But the value in being humble and being prepared to appear as though you’re open to others suggestions for how things are done that is going to build so much trust in relationships. And I think it’s just something that our leaders don’t practice enough because they’re busy and rushed and they’ve seen it before and it’s just quicker. But chances are you’ll get a better outcome anyway, when you open the door to others to have ideas because frankly, you don’t know everything, you have got limitations. So you can’t pretend otherwise.

[00:20:35] spk_1: I love that. And I can’t help thinking two things there. Firstly, that humility to me in a way as a leader feels like it could be a really liberating concept when we actually embrace that. And we allow others to help us perhaps co create solutions and find answers. And another personal reflection, I can’t help bringing into that humility case, I’ve been on the fortunate receiving end of a leader who did exactly what you suggested earlier, Kirsten. And that is guide a room to the solution that I’m very confident they already had perhaps in their mind. However, as an employee, I can honestly say when I’d sat there and been part of the process of co creating the solution that we would take forward, you feel a sense of energy, of engagement, of empowerment and frankly then motivated to go and carry out that solution or action or whatever it is when you feel like you’ve actually had agency over the decision process

[00:21:28] FERGUSON: Absolutely. And I mean, the leader who is doing this, the coaching really needs to be authentic too. So, you know, for Alexis, you make a suggestion and you know, I may have of course known that that was possible. But just saying Alexis, I think that’s gonna a really important contribution to this, you know, are you happy to drive that you’re going to feel brilliant and off you go. But the difference had I walked into that meeting as your leader and said, Alexis, I want you to do X Y Z, you’re immediately disempowered, you’re just doing tasks. So it seems so obvious yet, unfortunately, most leaders forget that this is something that’s really important. And I think it’s because of that in idea that leaders are this heroic, all knowing all powerful person who have the answers to everything and that appearing or even being perceived to not have the answers is somehow going to make you less of a leader. When in fact, it’s probably one of the most powerful things you can do.

[00:22:33] spk_0: Absolutely. And I’m thinking of a time when, when I was a corporate lawyer and, you know, I’d say 97% of the time it was literally just taking orders and executing them night and day. But, you know, there was one of my superiors in particular who would ask us questions as junior lawyers and get us to be thinking about it and really seeing that intrinsic motivation that we had to reflect on things and then to carry them forward. And it was such a unique, almost weird experience at the time, but it really has stayed with me. And I think that’s a really to my mind, a great example of having that humility. He had all the answers and more honestly been a brilliant person, but being able to let the junior lawyers that have come to it themselves was, I think for all of us, quite a transformative experience.

[00:23:14] FERGUSON: Absolutely. And you think about, you know, if you’ve got Children, I know with my kids, part of teaching them is you don’t necessarily tell them the answers to everything. You get them to work it out and ask them what they think it’s no different. And clearly, we’re not going to treat the people that we work with. Like Children. But the concept is the same, you know, that patience, that coaching, that will, you know, genuine care to help that person learn this independently and for themselves. That’s what I mean about being the same kind of leader, you know, at home and at work, it’s the same skills.

[00:23:50] spk_1: Yeah, absolutely. And so Sally and I have taken the head and the heart leader scale. I wonder Kirsten, would you indulge us in reflecting with us for a moment around our scores. We were talking about this before we went live and we were deliberating whether we were excited to do this, nervous to do this. And we’ll say up front that I scored lowest on humility. So I’m feeling very aware of that having discovered how important

[00:24:15] FERGUSON: it is that no, you’re lucky. So I scored highest on humility. But the research shows that we are terrible judges of our own levels of humility. And in fact, people who score highly are like to be scored much lower by those that they lead quite, I’m quite jealous of you to have humility, you know, lower down. Well, firstly, you know, you’ve both come through one as a head and one as a heart face leader. So maybe Sally, you could say, what did you think it was gonna show? And then were you surprised?

[00:24:53] spk_0: Oh, great question Kirsten. I thought it was gonna show heart. I think that’s been something, you know, I grew up in a very intellectually sort of focused household. It was very science driven, it was very fact based. And I think part of my journey has been to really, probably leaning in a little bit more deeply to the heart based leadership side of things. So I’m not surprised that I scored a little higher there. But also, yeah, it was, it, yeah, I think reasonably balanced but definitely almost a little glad to know that my heart takes the win there.

[00:25:22] FERGUSON: And what about you? Alexis?

[00:25:25] spk_1: Yeah. Look, I was not shocked at all by mine. So my first two were head number one, curiosity and second capability to me, head based leadership feels most comfortable, feels most natural. And I grew up in a household where emotions were probably less discussed. That was something that came less naturally to me. A lot of my life journey I suppose has been really focused around intellectual endeavors, achievement, accolades through educational pursuits. So I’m in no way surprised by that. However, I was encouraged to see that my 3rd and 4th were heart based. So humility and courage. And I must say, however, if I’d done this scale 10 years ago or even in my first leadership role, I suspect it would look great different. So I’m a little proud of myself in that as well. Yeah. Yeah. And

[00:26:18] FERGUSON: it could even look different next week. I mean, it’s obviously a point in time for how you’re feeling about things at the moment. And I mean, both of you, I’m not surprised given the area of work that you are in anyway, but you outperform, you know, the norm scores on both of you. I think on every single attribute that’s nice scale, which is pretty, pretty impressive. So for anyone who goes and does it, you’ll see there’s a light shaded color and that’s the sample group score. And so you guys, you can see your higher scores are doing very well there. So it’s hard for me to find areas where you might like to work on. But I was interested to see Sally, you know, your score very high on. And um obviously, that’s can be a double edged sword. So maybe how do you find, you know, leading with empathy because too much empathy is not a good

[00:27:12] spk_0: thing. It absolutely is test. And I think having been through a very, quite a catastrophic burnout as a lawyer and sort of having the healing process from that, a big part of my journey has been, you know, to really look after myself first and to be able to identify my values, what matters to me and live from that first rather than uh striving as I think, you know, a lot of us sort of automatically tend to do to meet the needs of others. And sometimes I do have to, you know, be careful with empathy in the sense of being quite affected by news and how it’s reported, for example, just being very mindful that a certain amount of information can help me as a leader. But sometimes I do need to be really mindful and judicious about what information I’m taking in. And when I need to maybe protect myself from being sort of overexposed to things that will, you know, create an overflow of empathy if you will. Yeah,

[00:28:00] FERGUSON: and it’s great, you’ve got that self awareness. I remember when I was looking at this, you know, there’s a terrific book called Against Empathy by Paul Bloom and I’d highly recommend it and it seems counterintuitive like, well, you know, obviously, empathy is the best. We’d really want empathy. But too much of it can also lead to confirmation bias because you empathize obviously with the position that was A person and then it’s very hard to make objective decisions outside of that. And then if you now notice on most charitable organizations they’re letting ever show a picture of one child in need or one person because obviously, psychologically, we’re more likely to relate to one child than simply being told there’s 800 Children in need and not seeing photos of who they are. So, yeah, empathy for me is a really interesting one, but I think we can’t lead without it. And in my definition of in this research, I deliberately include this ability to be able to put yourself in the shoes of lived experience and seek out the lived experiences of those quite different to our own. And I don’t think you can lead with around diversity and inclusion without having high levels of empathy. Because if you can’t, don’t even see that you need to seek out views different to your own, then it’s impossible to see the value of diversity and how to include people across the spectrum. So like empathy is absolutely critical, but it’s a tricky one and I think it’s just misunderstood generally. Like it’s not compassion or sympathy or pity or anything like that. So that’s a good one. And then what I loved about you, Alexis was your curiosity was almost off was that, I mean, you both have curiosity very, very high Alexis. What’s that look like for you? How do you approach things? And do you ever find your curiosity being dampened and frustrated?

[00:29:59] spk_1: Do you know that’s an interesting question. And I’d love to get your advice on this if I may because curiosity for me almost feels like an insatiable quest or like I’m constantly inquisitive about most things and I have been since I was a child. However, one thing I do note sometimes is that perhaps my curiosity is a barrier to action. I within that like to seek a lot of information. And I wonder if in your experience that there’s a downside to that because I do feel that my bias to action in certain circumstances, perhaps it’s stilted by my need for more information first. Do you think that that’s linked to that curiosity piece?

[00:30:42]FERGUSON: Yeah, there’s something I refer to in the book. I think it could be in the wisdom section actually around decision making, but the same sort of idea and some research is called the paper that something like the search for endless useless information or whatever. And it really resonated with me. But basically what they found is we can absolutely avoid action or decision making thinking. You know, we just need to get a bit more data, we just need to find a bit more information. But yet in their studies, they found that it’s often something that will make absolutely no difference to the final outcome anyway. But you become so fixated on whatever that piece of information is that you’re seeking it uh delays anything even though it rationally has no impact on the outcome. So that’s definitely something to watch. But curiosity is, you know, it’s sometimes it can be that insatiable pain, you know, the feeling of deprivation where if I’m watching TV, and I can’t remember what an actor’s name is or something or where I’ve seen him in or her in something. And I, I have to pick, got my phone now straight away and, you know, search and figure it out because otherwise it’s gonna drive me crazy. So that’s one form of curiosity. But then, you know, there’s social curiosity, which is what are the neighbors up to or what happened to that decision. I mean, that’s less what we’re talking about here than intellectual curiosity and intellectual curiosity is what I think you’re describing where, you know, we’re just fascinated by life and thinking. You know, as Adam Grant calls it, think like a scientist just approach everything as a hypothesis and you know, try and test well. What if and this, those two words, what if as a leader are so powerful? So I think it’s wonderful that both of you have such high levels of curiosity.

[00:32:34] spk_1: Thank you. And I don’t think it’s any surprise that we self indulge that if I may through our podcast by inviting guests like your cell phone. So we get to pick the brains of the geniuses around us every week.

[00:32:45] FERGUSON: Well, good. So

[00:32:47] spk_0: fun. And I’m curious, Kirsten just to kind of pause it perhaps. Do you? So what you talk even in the subtitle of the book about the art of modern leadership, I’m wondering, I’d love to hear a little more about how you would define modern leadership. And I’m curious whether the art is, is it something around being able to strike a balance of all of these eight different attributes? Because just listening to you both now is thinking, you know, this balance of perhaps curiosity, but also some courage. So I’m curious to hear a bit more about how you would define modern leadership.

[00:33:19]FERGUSON: Well, your spot on the art of modern leadership is knowing what is needed when so of all those eight attributes, you can’t just survive on some of them and we’ve got all of them, but I think we sometimes keep them dormant or keep them for some parts of our lives. The art is knowing that, you know, in this particular conversation, I might need a whole heap of humility to get through it and a dash of, you know, reading the room perspective to navigate through it. But then just as quickly the next conversation or crisis may actually just need a huge amount of wisdom about the decisions that we’re gonna have to make and perhaps some empathy for who it’s gonna impact. So knowing which attributes you need to bring to the fore and when that is the art of being a modern leader and a modern leader is simply someone who understands they need to lead with their head and their heart and that they’re, you know, rethinking what it means to be a leader and why we lead and that it’s a privilege, not an entitlement. So that’s, you know, really a way of thinking about leadership in itself.

[00:34:26] spk_1: Hm. And I think this notion of it being a privilege and not an entitlement is really, really powerful one because for us leadership, you know, at its foundation is really about being in service to other human beings. And that to me really encapsulates that and I wanna dive into one particular concept here around this word wisdom and something you mentioned in your work, Kirsten is the word to wisdom ratio. Now, can you explain a little bit more about this to us and why this might be important for leaders to understand?

[00:34:55] FERGUSON: Yeah. Well, that came about, I coined it, I don’t know, maybe a decade ago. And it was just for myself, really was when I started sitting on boards and I was brand new very green director and I felt I needed to contribute to, you know, every single topic, even if I knew nothing. And it took me a lot of words, I think to add anything of value. And meanwhile, I was watching other more senior directors around the table who said very little like they might only pass one question in a discussion yet that one question would completely influence the direction of the discussion and it would change outcomes. And I was like, whoa you know, it’s amazing. And so I coined this idea of this word to wisdom ratio and it’s obviously not an actual ratio. I’m terrible at those things, but just this concept that, you know, it was taking me a lot of words to add any wisdom. And yet it was taking these more experienced directors very few. And I think we can all think about our word to wisdom ratio and I still do when I’m in meetings or whatever it is just thinking really, you know, do I need to, to take this long to add value. What kind of space am I taking up if I am taking, especially if I’m leading that group, you know, how much am I talking as compared to the people that are in the room that I, you know exactly back to what we were talking about before that I could be asking questions of as opposed to talking. And it’s important to say modern leaders are not perfect like we get it wrong all the time. And that is absolutely OK, because we’re aware of that and we’re humble enough to know what’s gonna happen and we keep going again. And so I think, you know, this word to wisdom ratio is something I’m continually working on. But it’s just this yeah, neat concept for how we can think about our contributions.

[00:36:41] spk_0: And I have to say Kirsten, since I read that concept in your book, it’s really resonated for me and been quite confronting honestly to think about, you know, without overthinking it because then I’ll just go in circles. But I think it is something that’s very important for us, particularly those of us who have the privilege of being in a leadership position because it also speaks to the necessity. I think the importance of listening because I was thinking as you’re speaking about this, you know, amazing senior leader who asks just that right question. And my immediate thought is, oh, I’ll just get caught up thinking about how can I ask a really blisteringly cool question and get completely derailed from the actual conversation when I think what gives rise to the true, you know, wisdom in that moment is to actually just listen to what’s going on, listen, you know, in multiple different ways to what’s playing out in front of that person, the information that they already have and then being able to craft, you know, a question that really does sort of drive the conversation in the right direction. It’s, that is almost an art in itself.

[00:37:37] FERGUSON: And I mean, this is both of your strengths. If you listen with genuine curiosity to genuinely listen to think, I don’t know the answer to this or I don’t think I know everything about the answer to this and genuinely listening to the contributions. And I think that’s the same when we’re pissed off and we’ve got to go and have a difficult meeting and, you know, you’re going in there with a frame of mind instead if you can somehow have the self awareness to put that to one side and choose to listen with curiosity. And I, like there is no way I get this right all the time, that’s for sure. But it completely changes the way you do listen and listening is a skill in of itself and like everyone’s heard of active listening. But I don’t know that it requires you to do anything other than just genuinely listen. And I think those questions then without needing to preempt them will actually just come naturally.

[00:38:35] spk_0: Yeah, I think that’s a really great insight, Kirsten in the sense of, you know, we don’t have to. For me it’s a lot about presence and I’ve got a bit of a Buddhist meditation sort of past as well. So I think that concept of being able to notice when my mind is getting pulled in different directions. I’m trying to retain information because I’m saving up some again, some amazing blistering question that’s gonna blow everyone’s minds instead being able to sort of let go of that. And I think just stay present to what’s happening of itself, creates better conversations and connections and ultimately questions.

[00:39:04] FERGUSON: Yeah, wonderful.

[00:39:06] spk_0: So we’re wondering, thank you so much for your time. We have probably six trillion more questions. But in the interest of our words to wisdom ratio, we will leave you with just one more. So for the leaders who are listening now who are looking to integrate, you know, the attributes of both of the head and the heart into their leadership. What would you advise? What would be a first step that they can take right now on that journey?

[00:39:30] FERGUSON: Oh, it’s an easy one. Just choose to be yourself tomorrow. Whoever you are at home when you’re your most comfortable when you’re leading in an environment where you feel confident and safe and able to be yourself, bring that to work because keeping an armor of what you think a leader needs to look like is exhausting. but it’s also not the leader that people around you want to see, they just want to see you. So I think finding a way to be yourself, if your organization or your culture doesn’t allow for that or doesn’t let you thrive like that, then I’d say run, don’t walk to the place that is going to allow you to lead in a way that helps you be exactly who you are. I think

[00:40:14] spk_1: that is an important message for all of us. Doctor Kirsten Ferguson dropped the armor and I can’t help thinking that when we show up as our full selves that creates the space for others to do the same. So thank you so much for being with us today on the We are Human Leaders podcast. It has been an

[00:40:32] FERGUSON: absolute pleasure. Thank you. I’ve loved the discussion.

[00:40:41] spk_0: Thanks for joining us for this episode of We are human leaders. If you’re keen to do the same 24 question quiz that we did, you can find it at W W W dot head heart leader dot com. Learn more about Doctor Ferguson’s incredible work including links to head and heart and more in the show notes and let us know how you tested on our socials. We would love to hear and of course, feel welcome to join us as a human leader at w w w dot We are human leaders dot com to become part of the human leaders, global movement. See you next time.

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