In this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I interview Kirstin Ferguson. She is Australia’s most prominent leadership expert and a highly experienced business leader in her own right. Beginning her career as an officer in the Royal Australian Air Force, Kirstin has held roles that have included CEO of an international consulting firm and was appointed acting chair and deputy chair of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation by the Australian Prime Minister.
Her upcoming best-seller book: HEAD & HEART: The Art of Modern Leadership is a practical guide for every modern leader. Kirstin explains how leadership is simply a series of moments and therefore, every moment offers us the opportunity to leave a positive impact on those we lead.
Modern leadership involves a shift towards combining head and heart attributes. Traditional leadership models of having all the answers and being distant are outdated. Kirstin explains the 8 key attributes of a head and heart leader and provides the tools to measure your own approach. Successful modern leaders lead with curiosity, wisdom, empathy, humility, self-awareness, and more. A key attribute is perspective, which involves understanding the environment, and the people, and making decisions while incorporating others’ input.
Questions I ask Kirstin Ferguson:
- [01:38] What has changed in modern leadership? Let’s say in the last five years when it comes to leadership.
- [02:50] What is sort of the practical reason why people need to be looking at a new approach?
- [04:07] Would you say that this is a generational shift or is this really just culturally every generation demanding?
- [06:38] What you’re suggesting is that we can actually empower people to make leadership-type decisions, right?
- [06:25] Besides the cost component, what are some other things that you might suggest that the Fractional CMO model is a good idea for businesses?
- [07:35] How do you know the core moments?
- [08:49] Explain a little bit what you mean by head and heart.
- [13:32] How do you go to work on building these core attributes?
- [14:26] How do you suggest that people adapt to these ideas in remote environments?
- [17:15] One of the responsibilities of a modern leader is to see their role as building a family tree of leaders. Talk a little bit about how you address that idea.
- [19:21] How can entrepreneurs acquire modern leadership practices?
More About Kirstin Ferguson:
- Get your copy of HEAD & HEART: The Art of Modern Leadership
- Head & Heart Leader Scale
- Kirstin’s website.
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John Jantsch (00:00): Hey, this is John, and before we get started, I have a gift for you for being such an amazing listener. Everyone's talking about AI these days, but most of it's about tactics. We've created a series of prompts we use to create strategy, and you can have them for free. Just go to dtm.world/freeprompts and grab yours. Now. Let's get started.
(00:30): Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch, and my guest today is Dr. Kirstin Ferguson. She's one of Australia's most prominent leadership experts and a highly experienced business leader in her own right beginning her career as an officer in the Royal Australian Air Force. Kirstin has held roles that have included c e O of an international consulting firm and was appointed acting chair and deputy chair of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation by the Australian Prime Minister. We're going to talk about her latest book, Heart and Head: The Art of Modern Leadership. So Kirstin, welcome to the show.
Kirstin Ferguson (01:13): Hi, lovely to be here. Great to meet you, John.
John Jantsch (01:16): So did you get to fly airplanes?
Kirstin Ferguson (01:20): Well, I did. I wasn't air crew in the Air Force. I married a fighter pilot and I worked at a squadron, but that wasn't my core role, but I certainly got to go off and I have a few flights.
John Jantsch (01:32): So with the term modern leadership, I mean, my first question I guess is how modern does leadership need to be? What has changed, let's say in the last five years when it comes to leadership that it needs modernization?
Kirstin Ferguson (01:46): Oh gosh, how much has the world changed in five years? It's incredible. And I think this whole idea of what I've written about head and heart, the art of modern leadership, it's really around understanding that those old models that we all grew up with, seeing leaders who felt they needed to have all the answers, and that being a leader meant that you had a solution for problems that you were able to navigate through really difficult situations. All of that remains true, but so too does being prepared to rethink what you thought you knew and being prepared to be vulnerable and not have all the answers. And I think that's what leading with your head and your heart is all about. And the art of modern leadership is knowing what's needed and when.
John Jantsch (02:31): So is there a shift that you think has gone on in the workplace that makes this a very practical, I mean, I can see some people saying, okay, we have to change some things, but why? I mean, some people we're going to get into the head part and the hard part specifically, and I think some people have always been wired that way, but what is sort of the practical reason why people need to be looking at a new approach?
Kirstin Ferguson (02:54): I think expectations have absolutely changed, and we can see that even about the debate with work from home, suddenly you have employees saying, actually, I quite enjoyed working from home. I don't want to do the commute and I'm productive, and they're speaking up about it. People are speaking up about social issues, wanting their organizations to be actively campaigning and CEOs being vocal about those kinds of challenges. So I think expectations have changed, and no longer do we want those leaders who are just treating work as something that we have to do. And here it is, and I don't care what you think about it. And so leaders who don't incorporate others into their decision-making or put people at the center suddenly look like dinosaurs and they stick out. And I think we're reading in the press every day about leaders that are still that old school and now shareholders and investors are saying, it doesn't actually matter how much you might know the industry or your connections or whatever it might be, that technical skill we used to promote on you now equally need to be able to lead people and bring them behind you with a vision and a purpose.
John Jantsch (04:07): Would you say that this is a generational shift or is this really just culturally, every generation or every age, every decade group, whatever you want to call them, is also demanding this?
Kirstin Ferguson (04:20): I think all generations. I mean definitely you're hearing it loudly from millennials and that generation who frankly aren't prepared to take it anymore. They're finding ways to quit the traditional workforce and work in a gig economy or whatever it might be to avoid having to work with these kinds of leaders. So yes, definitely that generation, but I think even older generations who are wanting some flexibility with how they work with people who instead of retiring fully, are saying, well, why can't I do some work from home a few days a week? So I think there's a real shift in working to live, not living to work and wanting to find leaders who are able to be flexible with that.
John Jantsch (05:06): One of the things you talk about a lot in this book that, and I think this is growing also, it used to be a leader had to have a title. You were a director, you were this or you were that, and you kind of talk about, Hey, maybe everybody's a leader.
Kirstin Ferguson (05:22): Yeah, well, I firmly believe they are. Now, don't get me wrong, not everyone is the c e O or the president. Clearly that would lead to chaos. But I think in our own lives, in our families, we are leaders at our local sporting club, whatever it might be, we are leading. I used the story I saw during the pandemic of a supermarket checkout operator who had to deal with a really difficult customer in that moment. She handled herself brilliantly, and she was leading in that moment, yet under the old models and definitions of leadership, she would've been the most junior person in organization. And I think once we start to recognize that we are leading in all aspects of our life, then we realize that every moment is actually an opportunity to leave an impact with others. And if we are formal leaders with those titles, reminding people that we lead that they too are leaders in their life is really important too.
John Jantsch (06:20): And that's probably a cultural shift inside of a lot of organizations. It used to be kind of the top down approach. And I think that actually making that an expectation, like that person you mentioned as the example in a lot of organizations, they were like, sorry, it's not my job. And I think that what you're suggesting is that we can actually empower people to make leadership type decisions, right?
Kirstin Ferguson (06:44): Yeah, exactly. And I think we are having people make decisions, so people make decisions every single day. The way the words we use, the actions we role model, the behaviors we demonstrate, all of those are leadership decisions and moments. And I think for most of us in a really busy lives, we often miss those moments. We miss the opportunity to have an impact. And if you think back, John, to all of the leaders in your life who have had both a positive and negative influence on you, it's all been moments. You can think back to moments when a leader made you feel really small or undermined you or you don't forget those moments. But I guess it's harder to look in the mirror and recognize when we are impacting others on those moments as well.
John Jantsch (07:34): I was going to get to that, but since you mentioned moments, I'll jump to it. As I read that part, I was thinking as a parent, same thing as a teacher, same thing, right? There are these moments. So there I feel like that puts a heap of responsibility on a leader to think they're always watching every moment. It's like, how do you know the core moments? How do you
Kirstin Ferguson (07:56): Deal? Yeah. So whether you like it or not, I mean, I'm a parent as well, whether you like it or not, our kids are always watching. So it's not as though you can just say to them, Hey, can you just give me a break for a week? I'd like to just not have to be responsible for you and the impact I have on you, none of that is reality. So I think the more we recognize that it's not so much an overwhelming weight of pressure, it's simply being aware and being mindful of the fact that those moments matter and they're happening every day. You may as well be conscious of them.
John Jantsch (08:35): No, I don't agree with you. It's exhausting. I'm just teasing.
Kirstin Ferguson (08:40): It sure is.
John Jantsch (08:42): So we've gone on for almost half the show and haven't really talked about Head and Heart, which is the title of the book. So kind of explain a little bit what you mean by head and heart. I think most people have an idea, but I'd love to hear from you,
Kirstin Ferguson (08:56): And I mean, I'm glad most people have an idea because the idea is it's a metaphor we've all heard of and used before. It's obviously not literal. However, research shows that actually the way you think about your head and your heart impacts your performance. And so what I wanted to do is research, well, what are the attributes of these modern leaders that stand out on the world stage and locally, and those leaders that we all know who just seem so different to who we've been led by in the past, but yet who seems so right for now. So I'm an adjunct professor at one of our universities and and researched what those attributes are. And so leading with the head is around curiosity, wisdom, which is around making decisions and gathering data and evidence. It's around capability, which is growth mindset, which many of your listeners would be aware of, and importantly, perspective.
(09:49): And that was the attribute found to be the most highly correlated with being a modern leader. And it's in layman's terms, reading a room and understanding the environment you're leading in, but importantly also see who's missing from that room and what's going on outside of the room as well. So they're the four attributes of leading with the head. The four of leading with the heart are around humility, self-awareness of the impact we're having on others, empathy. And so being able to put yourself in other shoes and then courage, speaking up for what you believe in. Now, all eight of those attributes, often at qualities we've all got, everyone has those to some degree, but not everyone brings them to work. And so leading with your head is what we've been rewarded for at school and at college and in our jobs. We get promoted from being capable and making decisions. Yet I'm arguing that modern leaders are also able to excel at those heart attributes as well, and that it's those leaders who know what's needed when that will succeed best in today's world.
John Jantsch (11:02): Okay, because everybody wants one answer. What's the most important?
Kirstin Ferguson (11:06): Yeah. Well, as I said, of the data shows that perspective is definitely the one that's most highly correlated. So if you were to score highly, and I should say for all listeners, go and visit head heart leader.com, head heart leader.com, totally free. You can go and self-assess your own head heart leadership, and you'll get a personalized report. But what you want is to score highly in perspective, because that means you're more likely to score high in the others as well. And perspective was linked most highly or correlated with empathy. So having the two that balance head and heart is really helpful. And it's all about reading a room.
John Jantsch (11:50): So I will tell you, I did no research, but I'm going to tell you from my perspective, what I think I see in a lot of leaders is without self-awareness, you can't really pass go. I mean, you're not going to work on any of this stuff or even realize that you're deficient in it without that. At least accept bit that I have to Yeah, it is. Yeah, it's, it's me.
Kirstin Ferguson (12:12): So how do you,
John Jantsch (12:14): Go ahead.
Kirstin Ferguson (12:15): Yeah, self-awareness is clearly incredibly important. I'm not going to argue it's more important, but there was one question out of the 24 that people can do if they do their head heart scale, that came from the self-awareness attribute. And that is about knowing your limitations. So of all the questions, if you don't know your limitations, then you're likely to think you are the smartest person in the room. You're likely to think you're always right. All of those attributes of leaders that we don't want to see.
John Jantsch (12:48): Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I guess what I was saying is it's not necessarily the most important in my view, but it definitely, it's almost like you can't really start on the others without some level of it. Totally.
Kirstin Ferguson (13:00): And I notice that with people who come and hear me speak and who buy the book, it's all the people who are already aware that they want to be a better leader. The dinosaurs we're trying to get to, they don't tend to think they need it.
John Jantsch (13:12): I don't need all that happy crap. So how do you suggest, and I know that in addition to the leader scale, you talked about you also have some elements of an action plan, but how do you suggest somebody, I mean, these are great words, but for a lot of people they're just words. How do you go to work on building these core attributes?
Kirstin Ferguson (13:38): Well, of course, luckily if you buy the book, then we can deal with all of them in detail about the action plan. But the most important thing that people need to do, and it comes back to your comment about self-awareness, is to have a team of people around them who will give them feedback. We are our own worst judges of how we're actually going. And there's some data that shows that 95% of us think we're self-aware. Only 10 to 15% of people we work with would agree. Now that terrifies me, John. So that is reflective that most of us think, but everyone else has a different perspective. So I think being able to give and receive feedback really well and hear it without getting defensive is an incredibly important skill. So if you're going to start anywhere, that's where I would start.
John Jantsch (14:27): So particularly, and I could be wrong on this, it's probably both camps, but particularly in matters of the heart, it feels to me like remote work has made that so much harder and not just work from home, but a lot of people are building entire distributed teams from the start. And it feels like some of the things that seem to translate better in person maybe are lost or much more difficult and remote. How do you suggest that people adapt to that with some of these more, I used to call 'em handshakes and hugs. It's like the handshake was kind of the head part where the hug part was something that you obviously did more from a heart place, a lot harder to do all of this across video.
Kirstin Ferguson (15:12): So I have a different perspective, John. I think there's just different ways. Not everyone was getting handshakes or wanted hugs even before Covid. And I think as long as we've had multinational corporations and large companies, we haven't worked in the same offices as everyone that we've worked with. I think the onus is on leaders to work a bit harder. I do think you have to find ways to make those moments matter, to be interested and focused on what's going on in the lives of the people that you're leading. That might be on the other side of the world, but I think if we say that it has to be a physical co-location, then that's really quite limiting in thinking about how you connect with people.
John Jantsch (15:59): No, and I would never suggest that frankly, my company's been distributed for 15 years. Half of my, I have people that our entire relationship is a video
Kirstin Ferguson (16:10): Screen. Exactly.
John Jantsch (16:11): But I would also say that you have to be far more like the moments you talked about. They just don't happen as often. So you have to be far more,
Kirstin Ferguson (16:21): And that's exactly what I'm saying. You actually have to work harder. It's harder work. Yes, it's, but it's not impossible. And I think the payoff for those who want to work remote, remembering it's not for everyone. I know with my husband, he loves going into the office. He loves talking to people and catching up over lunch and doing all those things, and it's good for him. So that's how he works. But whereas I'm more than happy to work from home and catch up with people intentionally online. But if you've got people like me, then we need to find ways to make those connection times. And it's really just now this shift we talked about at the beginning of not treating everyone exactly the same. We've now really got to understand the people we lead and what motivates them, what drives them, and how they work best.
John Jantsch (17:10): Yeah. You talk about one of the, I don't know, I'll call it responsibilities of a modern leader, is to see their role also as building a family tree of leaders. And I love that idea. So talk a little bit about how you address that idea.
Kirstin Ferguson (17:28): Yeah. Well, I mean it's really being, again, conscious that you are there to develop the next generation of leaders. So if you are so fortunate to be running your own business or at the top of the tree, that formal tree, then really succession and making sure that the people coming up behind you are better than you, and that is not something that you should be fearful of, but C is your main job. And so for me, that's what building a Family Tree of Leaders is about. It's all about those opportunities that if you're in a meeting and you are doing all the talking as a leader and you're giving all the solutions and coming up with all the answers, then you're not using that moment as a coaching opportunity to really ask great questions. So every single opportunity to build leaders in others and leadership in others, I think needs to be taken by those of us who have been around a while.
John Jantsch (18:24): Yeah, I think you're also telling people that you don't have to use your brain, so I'll wait and I'll tell you what to do, which is very disempowering, but it also means you as a leader are going to have to come up with all the ideas.
Kirstin Ferguson (18:37): Exactly.
John Jantsch (18:39): I have worked with many entrepreneurs over the years, so not somebody who's been hired to do a certain role, who maybe is years of management experience. A lot of times entrepreneurs when they're building an organization, it is on the fly. I mean, it's the first time they've ever done half of these things. And I think that for them books like this, or really taking time to reflect on building that skill is even more important because in many cases, they've never had an example to go by. So how would you suggest somebody like that who is really, everything they're doing in many ways is just being done on gut? How do they start addressing more what you would probably call normal leadership practices? How do they acquire those?
Kirstin Ferguson (19:32): Well, I don't know a person that hasn't worked for a bad leader. So not only have they not seen good leadership, they've actually seen actively terrible leadership ideas and traits. And I think we learn as much from that as we do from working with good leaders. So if you are feeling alone and you're the only one who gets it, my advice is it can be very frustrating trying to change someone else. You can't do that. You can only look after yourself. And if what you are doing is working in your context and the feedback you're getting confirms that, then keep going, keep being you and leading in the way that is working for you. I think it's important to be aware that style, however it works, might not work in the next place. And that's perspective that's leading and understanding your environment and adapting. You mentioned at the beginning, I started my career in the military. I then went into law firms with lawyers. I then went and led a group of psychologists, and so every time I had to completely adapt the way that I led, but I brought tools from each of those roles. But understanding and really reading the room is critically important. So my advice would be get feedback. That's the only way you're going to know and to recalibrate if you need to.
John Jantsch (20:52): And occasionally listen. I bet.
Kirstin Ferguson (20:55): Always listen, always.
John Jantsch (20:58): Well, Kirstin, I appreciate you taking a moment to drop by the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. Do you want to invite people where they might connect with you or certainly find more about your work and about head and heart?
Kirstin Ferguson (21:08): Absolutely. So if they visit head heart leader.com, you can do the scale, get onto Amazon, the books available to order now. It's out very shortly. Perhaps when you're listening, it will be out. So jump onto Amazon and my website is Kirstin ferguson.com. K I R S T I N ferguson.com. Can't wait to hear from your listeners.
John Jantsch (21:31): Kirstin, don't call me Kristen Ferguson. Right?
Kirstin Ferguson (21:36): Gets everyone.
John Jantsch (21:37): It does get everyone. So again, thanks for dropping by and hopefully we'll run into you one of these days when I'm in your hemisphere.
Kirstin Ferguson (21:46): Look forward to it. Thanks, John.
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