Insights – Head & Heart: The Art of Modern Leadership – Notes from the Book

1st August 2023

Posted in: Insights

Kristin Ferguson explains how modern leadership integrates both the head and the heart and explains the different traits that are important for powerful leadership.

“If we only focus on being the strongest, most powerful person in the room, we lose what we’re meant to be here for….You can be both empathetic and strong”- Jacinta Arden


An important part of leadership is the ability to integrate personal qualities with authenticity and authority invested by the formal role.


History of Leadership

  • Carlyle’s ‘great man theory of leadership’ believed all leaders were born with certain traits that allow them to lead with instinct and wield authority and power.
  • Myers’s Briggs personality test opened the door to the idea that everyone has the ability to be a leader.
  • Theory X manager – believe human nature is corrupt and people hate to work.                                                                                                                                            Theory Y manager – create an environment where workers could rise to the occasion and become committed to the cause.
  • Gore got rid of hierarchy, titles and authoritarian leadership.
  • 1980’s- leadership focused on charisma and social status.
  • Jack Welch – working for him was like being at war. Rated his team into ABC and fired all C staff every year.
  • Samuel Walton – Walmart was a new era of humility and without hierarchy.
  • Nadella- Microsoft – new era of care and growth mindset.


New Leadership

  • Leadership is simply a series of moments and every moment leaves a legacy for those we lead.
  • Leadership is a practice, not a title.
  • A leader is anyone who can influence and impact others through their words, actions and behaviours.
  • A modern leader understands the most effective way to lead is by using their head and their heart.
  • Sharing experience, being authentic and vulnerable are all leadership.
  • Does not depend on formal notions such as having a group of people to lead.
  • Comfortable with not having all the answers.
  • Lead with perspective.
  • Aware of limitations.
  • Prepared to challenge their assumptions.
  • Open to ideas of others.


Leading With The Head:


  • Do you seek answers to something you don’t know?
  • Do you believe there are many things you can still learn?
  • Do you appreciate having your assumptions challenged?
  • Are you willing to rethink what you thought you knew?
  • Are you energised by learning something new?
  • Do you view challenging situations as an opportunity to grow and learn?

Emotional curiosity is listening to others without assuming you know what they are going to say.

How do we benefit from Curiosity?

  • Fuel humility – accepting we do not know everything.
  • Open to endless possibilities – seeking to understand different point of views.
  • Creativity flourishes.
  • Improve relationships- less likely to stereotype.
  • Better outcomes.

What stops us from leading with Curiosity?

  • We are set in our ways.
  • We fear looking stupid.
  • We make assumptions.
  • We doon’t think scientifically.

How to lead with Curiosity

  • Create curious cultures- continue to question – 5 why’s to find root cause.
  • Think big-  think in terms of strategy development starting with where are we today.
  • Hire curious people- diverse interests, think outside the box.
  • Avoid ladder of assumption- don’t be afraid to take a step back and ask more questions.
  • Embrace questions- questions empower those you ask by putting them in the drivers seat.
  • Master the art of listening- listen to understand and hear what is most important.



The way we think about the world and the challenge we face

Pragmatic reasoning added to knowledge and experience

More than the accumulation of information. It is using that information and allowing us to listen to others, consider and decide on the bestway forward

  • Do you gather data and evidence to make the best decisions possible?
  • Do you weigh up different courses of action before making a decision?
  • Do you use reason and logic to make decisions?
  • Do you assess new information as it comes to hand?
  • Do you make decisions by assessing what is known, unknown and moving forward anyway?

How we benefit from Wisdom?

  •  increase well being through happiness, emotional regulation and lowering negative emotions.

What stops us from leading with Wisdom?

  • We fail to understand our limitations- ego and bias.
  • Solomon paradox – we are able to provide wiser advice for someone else than we do for ourselves.
  • We fear rejection- decreased tendency to consider others perspectives to seek compromise or to resolve conflicts.
  • We search endlessly for data- uncertain outcomes blurs the picture.
  • Mistaken beliefs- cognitive bias limits ability to consider other options.
    • egocentrism fallacy – world revolves around us this we can do as we please.
    • omniscience fallacy- we know everything and don’t need to listen to others.
    • omnipotence fallacy – we are so intelligent we surpass all others.
    • invulnerability fallacy – we can do what we want and no one can ever hurt us.

How to lead with Wisdom

  • Be mindful of our decision making process.
  • Reflect on past mistakes – learn from them.
  • Find a purpose beyond ourselves.



Learning to read the room – how we interpret and assign meaning to the events, stimulus, data and situations we encounter every day. Understand and using context to make decisions.

  • Are you able to read the room?
  • Are you good at assessing how different people experience a situation?
  • Are you good at understanding complexities of situations?
  • Do you try and see ahead of where and when a decision needs to be made?
  • Do you weigh implications before making a decision?
  • Do you understand how to adapt your leadership depending on the context?

How do we benefit from Perspective?

  • Read the room- collect and interpret signals.
  • Develop a sense in unsafe situation – best to react and respond.
  • Leadership effectiveness- plans and vision improve.
  • Simplify complexities- explain things to others.

What stops us from leading with Perspective?

  • Rigid thinking- protecting the status quo.
  • Jumping between solutions without testing- erratic thinking.

How to lead with Perspective

  •  manage process so that all views are heard.
  • Seek broad imput by zoomin out- seek data from a range of imputes.
  • Tailor leadership to different people – listen to words and how we are saying them.



Capability connects with all other areas except empathy

It is the ability to use knowledge, experience and mastery to develop new generations of capable leaders

Growth mindset and belief in ability

  • When facing a difficult task do you feel confident you will achieve it?
  • Do you believe you will succeed in almost anything you set you mind to?
  • Do you feel you can achieve most goals you set for yourself?
  • Do you believe you can obtain goals important to yourself?
  • Are you able to overcome challenges?
  • Do you feel confident you can effectively perform many different tasks?
  • Compared to others do you feel you can do tasks quite well?
  • When things are tough, can you still perform?
  • When you start something new, do you work hard to succeed?

How can we benefit from Capability?

  • Growth mindset- more effort into learning than needing to have the answers feel they can improve through hard work, feedback or personal development as opposed to fixed mindset who ignore criticism, feel the need to show how intelligent they are, see others success as a threat or give up when there is a challenge.
  • More engaging leader- give more learning opportunities and support.
  • Grow other leaders- project confidence onto others.

What stops us from leading with Capability?

  • Fear of discomfort- hard to change how we think.
  • Structural barriers – we focus on efficiency which often stunts individualism, creativity, capability building.
  • Smartest person in the room syndrome and other diminishing habits .

How to lead with Capability

  • Provide autonomy- coach and ask good questions rather than command and control.
  • Encourage people to think big.
  • Focus on words to wisdom ratio – number of words it takes to add value to the conversation. Allow others to speak first and only contribute when we add value.
  • Give others reasons why they are capable.
  • Value self awareness and feedback .
  • Develop other leaders early in their career.

Leading with our hearts


Willingness to seek the contributions of other as an acceptance of our limitations

Understanding some things are beyond our control

Being open and grateful for new ideas and draws from strengths of those around them

Eager to receive contributions without seeing it as a weakness and willing to rethink ideas after hearing from others and  accept possibility they may be wrong

Being honest about mistakes and lessons learned and supports others when they make their own

Confident humility- fine line between humility and imposter syndrome

  • Do you actively seek feedback from others?
  • Do you readily admit when you don’t know how to do something?
  • Are you confident to acknowledge when others have more skill or knowledge than you?
  • Do you often compliment others on their strengths?
  • Do you frequently show appreciation for the unique contribution of others?
  • Are you willing to learn from others?
  • Are you open to ideas and advice of others?


How do we benefit from Humility?

  • Comfortably acknowledge when things go wrong- admit mistakes and acknowledge limitations.
  • Open to feedback.
  • Appreciate the fleeting nature of life- keep perspective of what is importance.
  • Open to new ideas- willing to listen before they speak and are receptive to feedback don’t need to be the smartest person in the room.
  • Don’t seek perfection- encourage experimentation and small improvements over time.

What stops us from leading with Humility?

  • We equate leadership with being powerful and all knowing- see leadership as dominance and each relationship as a win/ lose proposition.
  • We fail to appreciate our limitations – think we are right more often than not.
  • We confuse fake humility with the real thing- can’t judge our own humility.

How to lead with Humility

  • See leadership as service to others – how can we help develop others.
  • Have courage to be vulnerable – show you are not perfect which builds trust.
  • Honest about limitations – creates a space for others to have their say and give opinions.
  • Shine a light on others – recognise, appreciate and praise the team.


Self Awareness

Ability to understand our emotions as well as recognise their impact on our work performance, relationships and beyond.

How our feelings impact our decisions

How our words attitudes and choices impact others

  • Are you aware of strengths and limitations?
  • Do you understand the impact your behaviour has on others?
  • Do you spend time thinking about what drives you?
  • Do you know and understand yourself well?

How we benefit from Self Awareness?

  • Make better decisions – more willing to ask others for help and accept ideas. Low self awareness by leader increases stress and decreases motivation for team.
  • Promote psychological safety- less likely to experience internal politics, backbiting and toxic cultures.
  • Better relationships – better understanding of ourselves allows us to understand others.
  • We lean into discomfort – tells you something might be wrong or that you can learn something.

What stops us from leading with Self Awareness?

  • Distorted views of our self awareness – those without will not listen to feedback or that they find critical.
  • We rely on high levels of intelligence- spending lots of time on cognition means our empathy brain doesn’t get as much use.
  • We are in positions of power – encourages us to over estimate our abilities.
  • We fail to recognise cognitive bias – error in how we process or interpret information.

How to lead with Self Awareness

  • We notice our triggers – be familiar with signs we are under stress. Need to self regulate. Label our emotions.
  • Ask different questions- what happened instead of why.
  • Take stock – be conscious of the impact we are having in our work and lives. Self assess each quarter.
  • Gather trusted advisors around us.
  • Help others by offering feedback.
  • We are self aware that leadership contexts may change. Keep an open mind and don’t forget to ask questions.

Good Feedback

    • Before meeting ”
      • Reflect what is going on for the other person.
      • Reflect what is going on for you.
      • Logistics of meeting.
    • During the meeting
      • Set the tone
      • Tell them what you value
      •  Listen to response
      • Watch for triggers
      •  Ask if they want help
      •  Ask for their vision of success
      • Reaffirm your support
    • After meeting
      • Follow up and acknowledge positive changes
      • Thank them for openness

We build self awareness by seeking feedback- but it’s harder to get negative feedback the more senior you become.   Need to create a psychologically safe environment to allow people to give feedback.



“I’ve never considered myself a leader – I’ve just done stuff” – Nyadol Nylon

The ability to maintain authenticity and integrity in the face of fear or danger that arise in standing up for what we believe in.

Creating psychologically safe environment where people see mistakes as an opportunity to learn, speak up to share their limitations and challenges.

Speak up about something we believe is wrong, challenge existing ways of doing things, and rethink what we know.

  • Do you speak up for what you believe in?
  • Are you confident stating a view different to the majority?
  • Do you feel confident to challenge something you are asked to do that you have concerns about?
  • Do you encourage others to speak up about what concerns them?
  • Are you grateful when people speak up or question something they feel is wrong?
  • Do you support other people who speak up or challenge something they may feel is wrong?

How do we benefit from Courage?

  • Strengthen corporate culture- increase flow of ideas.
  • Find meaning and alignment – greater purpose.
  • Build trust and respect.

What stops us from leading with Courage?

  • Fear of repercussions.
  • Lack psychological safety.
  • Prefer familiarity when under threat – we retreat to our comfort zone.
  • We prefer to share good news than bad – don’t want to rock the boat.

How to lead with Courage?

  • Embrace vulnerability.
  • Reframe failure.
  • Sniff out the bad news.
  • Ask questions.
  • Seek out all voices – celebrate inclusion.
  • Role model courageous actions.
  • Understand that acts of courage can be small but meaningful.
  • Understand the personal risks but speak up anyway.



Cognitive empathy- the capacity to comprehend what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference- ability to understand what they feel and are thinking.

Emotional empathy is different from cognitive empathy- sharing  the feelings they are experiencing- rather than understanding what they are feeling (cognitive)

Empathy is not compassion, sympathy or pity.

Seek to understand what it must be like for others.

Value diverse viewpoints

Understand without taking on those feelings

You are not born with empathy but through lived experience you can begin to empathise with others

  • Do you actively seek to incorporate different perspectives into you decision making.
  • Do you value diversity of experience and perspective?
  • Do you always try to understand the feelings of others?
  • Are you good at understanding the need of others to connect with them?


How we benefit from leading with Empathy?

  • Improve well being and increase job satisfaction- people who experience empathy feel less stress, depression, more satisfaction.
  • Create better outcomes.
  • Champion diversity and inclusion.

What stops us from leading with Empathy?

  • We can become overcome by the pain of others.
  • We can use empathy to fuel blind spots – fall victim to confirmation bias.
  • We can make decisions that are unfair – when we mirror emotions of others we find it difficult to think of the greater good.
  • We can lose empathy when we see difference as others – ie conflict with groups.
  • We lose empathy when we are triggered by negative emotions.
  • We fear leading with empathy.
  • We don’t believe empathy is important.
  • We lose empathy the more powerful we become.
  • Believe empathy takes too much effort or use as an excuse to avoid meaningful action.

How to lead with Empathy?

  • We seek to understand the lived experience of others.
  • Encourage others to learn how to lead with empathy – we can learn the skill of empathy
  • Show empathy for others in simple ways.


Integrating Head and Heart

Embrace the idea they can integrate the leader they are at work with their outside life

Being human – showing vulnerability, connecting with people and being unable to unleash their potential

Intuition plays an important role.


Learning the art of modern leadership:

Leading in a virtual world

  • No one size fits all.
  • Understand how to connect through technology.
  • Relate new norms of interaction.
  • Find ways to create water cooler moments.
  • Need to communicate in the moment.
  • Role model that being online doesn’t mean always on/ available – set boundaries and expectations.
  • Use physical office space as a cultural touchstone.
  • Search out and destroy inequity.
  • Need to trust those we lead.


Author: Donna Bruce