11 October 2023
Janet Alvarez (00:00):
And joining us now is Kirstin Ferguson, bestselling author and award-winning leadership expert who has a new book, head and Heart, the Art of Modern Leadership. Kirstin, welcome to the Business Briefing.
Kirstin Ferguson (00:12):
Great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Your book was named as one of the top 10 best new management books of 2023, and I wanted to dig a little deeper into what the book discusses and some of the advice that it generates. First, I wanted to ask you, how do you define a modern leader?
I mean, how important is it that we are making sure we’re modern leaders in the world and not leading as we may have done in the past? I think after the pandemic, we’ve seen a different type of leader needing to emerge. One that really puts people at the center of their decision-making. And I think anyone who works with a more traditional leader, however they might define that, knows who those leaders are. They know they’re the ones who think you’re not working unless you’re sitting in front of them. They’re really reluctant to have people working from home and doing things differently, and they’re always focused on outcomes, and they find it harder to remember that we’re human, so modern leaders are all around us. They’re no longer just the people at the top of the organization chart, which we’ve always been taught is where we need to look for our leaders, but they’re amongst us, and I think we’re all leading in our families, in our communities, in our workplaces. So it’s an exciting time.
There has been such a revolution in the way we work in recent years as a consequence of the pandemic work from home has increased, remote work has increased, but also AI has ushered in new ways of working. What do these changes mean about the way leadership has evolved? How do we need to think differently about leadership?
That’s a really, really great question, Janet, and I think we’re at this incredible turning point. I’ve been in the states for five weeks on a book and speaking to her and speaking at lots of tech conferences, and there’s so much excitement about AI for good reason. It’s incredible technology, yet there’s very little discussion about, well, how will we need to adjust our leadership for this kind of fourth revolution? And I think that’s where we really need to focus our efforts because I believe that I mentioned before, modern leaders put people at the center that’s going to be more important than ever when we’ve got tools that are helping do those parts of our role that perhaps don’t need us to use our emotions like empathy or have self-awareness, humility, those sorts of things. And if we’re using those tools, how are we using them to make us better leaders and not to perhaps make us lazier leaders where we can use AI in place of us having difficult conversations, for example.
Have you seen that in practice, Kirstin? I mean, have you seen AI in any way impeding or changing the way conversations are occurring?
I think so. Yeah. I have. And one of the tools that’s available, there’s so many now and there, they’re changing every day as we know, but you can use AI if you’re a leader or a manager to pre-populate the forms in an annual performance review. So sometimes it’s been the paperwork dread of many people Every year you’ve got to fill in the forms and then have a conversation with people about their performance. Imagine if you’ve got leaders who now have AI can do their entire team in five minutes. The forms are done, you send them off and you may or may not have a conversation. I think that’s going to be a really challenging way to build a culture in an organization. Now, I’ve got no doubt that really great leaders won’t let that happen. They’re going to know that those performance discussions and hearing from the person and understanding what feedback they’ve got and all of those kind of great ways we’ve seen people lead in the past, those people are going to keep doing it. But the leaders who are going to love the idea that they don’t have to fill in performance forms and they can send them off and avoid some of that work that they perhaps haven’t valued, I think are going to get worse. And so we really need to start setting some parameters for how do we want to use AI in a way that makes us better leaders, not worse, and how are we going to let it dictate what our cultures look like in our organization?
So segwaying off of that AI discussion, you mentioned in your book that some of the most important attributes of leading or leading with the head and heart, which I’m assuming is something AI can’t do well, at least not yet. What do you mean by this exactly? Why does it matter so much?
Yeah. Well, I mean the head and the hearts obviously a metaphor, and it’s one that we all understand intuitively what it means. I wanted to do research to understand, well, what is it about those leaders we work with and recognize that are so different from what we’ve seen in the past? But so right for now, and I believe it’s this real balance of head and heart because there’s a lot of focus. You might read books on, I dunno, vulnerability or courage and whatever it might be, they’re all incredibly important, but on their own, they can feel really difficult to understand how do I integrate that into my work? So what I wanted to do was acknowledge that leading with our head, which is the really tangible part of our jobs that we are often promoted on and rewarded for at school and all that, it’s easy.
We can see it, we can package it up. That is incredibly important. We must be capable at leading with our head. And I identified there’s four characteristics of that’s curiosity, wisdom, which is around decision-making perspective, which is how you can read a room. And that’s of all these attributes, I’m going to talk about the most important and capability being really capable in your job, but just having those on their own are no longer enough. I think they have been in the past, but they’re not anymore. You have to be able to balance that with leading with your heart, which are qualities like humility and self-awareness and courage to speak up and empathy. And I think as AI embeds itself in our way of work, there may be elements of leading with our head, for example, that AI is going to be able to assist with in a really productive way that lets us free up our time to do those things that I don’t believe AI will ever replace, which is that area of leading with your heart. But Janet, the most important part of all of this is that art. The art of modern leadership, I reckon, is this idea of knowing what is needed and when, because it’s not going to be the case that leading with your heart in its entirety is going to be effective in a crisis, for example. But likewise, if you are doing balance sheets and putting out budgets, those decisions impact people at the other end. You can’t just do it leading with your head.
And we’re speaking with Kirstin Ferguson. She’s a bestselling author and award-winning leadership expert. Her new book is entitled Head and Heart, the Art of Modern Leadership. Kirstin, throughout your book you say that leadership is simply a series of moments, and I think I understand what you mean by that. It’s absolutely true that at critical and pivotal moments, we make those decisions, we take those actions, it can result in a good outcome or not. What does it mean to you?
I think when I think about all the leaders who have had a positive or a negative impact in my life, and they might not just be work colleagues, these could be parents and teachers and things like that. Those good leaders, I’m sure people listening, can think of someone who’s made them feel like they can achieve whatever it is they want to achieve. And likewise, there’s been those leaders who have perhaps belittled us or made us feel that we are not the right kind of leader. While you can think of those people, it’ll be the moments and the way they made you feel in those moments that you remember. And I think it’s easy for us to identify others. We can always think about the people who perhaps weren’t the leaders we’d ever want to be, but it’s much harder to turn the mirror on ourselves and think about what are those moments we have perhaps missed and not understood had such an impact on someone else. So I think being really intentional about this idea that every interaction we have has an impact on others, the words we use, the choices we make, the behaviors we role model, and the more we can be really mindful of every moment, even in our busy chaotic lives, I think the more chance we’re going to have a really positive impact on others.
You built a free survey with an Australian university that goes along with a book. 16,000 people have taken it since January. Tell us about that survey and where we can take it if we’d like.
Yeah, I’ve been absolutely astounded by the interest, and it’s fabulous. People are really keen to understand, well, where do they sit in head and heart leadership? So this is a completely research-based scale. You’ll get a personalized report. It’s free. Go and visit head heart leader.com and all of the information will be there, and I’d be fascinated to hear how people go.
Great. And where can we pick up your book, head and Heart, the Art of Modern Leadership?
Well, I’m very grateful that it’s available everywhere now, but Amazon certainly you’ll get it tomorrow, and it’s been fabulous to be here to launch it in the US and I’m just so grateful for the response. It’s been fantastic.
Well, we were thrilled to have you on our show. Kirsten, where can we follow you on social media if we’d like to stay connected?
Oh, that’s an easy one. I’m everywhere now. It’s Kirstin Ferguson. I noticed the pronunciation is always a little different wherever I am, but if people spell it K I R S T I N, Ferguson, you’ll find me on all the socials. But I love connecting with people, especially on LinkedIn and Instagram. So find me there.
Kirstin, thank you again for joining us.
Thank you so much for having me, Janet.
Kirstin Ferguson is a bestselling author and award-winning leadership expert, and her new book is entitled Head and Heart, the Art of Modern Leadership.