Head & Heart | An Excerpt from the Leadership & Strategy Category

Kirstin Ferguson

December 07, 2023


Leadership is simply a series of moments, and this book gives you the tools to turn each moment into an opportunity to leave a positive legacy for those you lead.

As Porchlight's Managing Director Sally Haldorson recently wrote:

This year in the Leadership & Strategy category, we had upwards of 150 books submitted. One common theme was a call for leaders to improve on and engage with what were once considered the “soft skills” of leadership -- empathy, compassion, vulnerability, curiosity, self-awareness. Kirstin Ferguson’s Head & Heart addresses them all and calls on leaders to embrace these traits as part of modern leadership, acknowledging that it requires us to make more room for variance and nuance.

The excerpt below comes from the book's Introduction, and explains "WHY THIS BOOK IS FOR YOU."  

Head and Heart by Kirstin Ferguson

As you open this book, wherever you happen to be right now, look around.  

Can you see people on the other side of the café or park? Other people browsing in the bookstore? Family members who are sitting with you, or perhaps colleagues busily working nearby? Maybe you only see yourself, reflected in a nearby window?  

Wherever you might be right now and whoever you can see, everyone is a leader. Including you. 

Regardless of what we have been told our entire lives, regardless of the work we do, our formal title at our company or the way we spend our days, we lead in the way we impact those around us through the words we use, the choices we make and the behaviours we role model to others.  

Leadership comes in many forms and this book is intended for everyone. Whether you are impacting a handful of people, perhaps your family or a classroom of children, whether you are leading one of the largest companies in the world, or an entire country, we can still ensure the impact we have on those around us, and the legacy we leave as a leader, is a positive one.  

Around us every day are examples of leaders who inspire, motivate and propel us forward; leaders who help us to feel better about ourselves and the world around us and who are a shining light during times of despair. They help us to feel that anything is possible, and we trust them to guide us through any crisis we may face. We look to them for decisions and for advice on what to do next.  

Too often, we think of those leaders as someone else.  

Everyday leadership  

During the coronavirus pandemic, I remember visiting a local grocery store. The young woman working at the cash register looked as if she’d had a long shift. Panic-buying crowds had streamed into the store and every checkout was packed with customers and their overloaded trolleys trying to judge how long they might be waiting before they could return to the relative safety of their homes. The unfamiliar fear and tension we all came to experience during the years of the pandemic was palpable.  

In front of me in the queue was an older man who was becoming increasingly frustrated. There were all the tell-tale signs—loud sighs, looking at his watch, shuffling from side to side as he grew increasingly impatient to leave. Finally, he spoke. He told the young worker, who could not have been more than twenty years old, that the policy of mandating face masks to be worn while shopping in the store was wrong. He stepped forward and moved closer to the young woman. He said, loudly, he would not be coming back to the store again. He wanted to shop somewhere that valued personal freedom.  

Watching this unfold, I stepped forward—as did many others—feeling protective, ready to speak up on this young woman’s behalf. We needn’t have been concerned.  

The young woman, summoning more patience and respect for this customer than I felt at the time, calmly explained she also didn’t like wearing a mask. After a long shift it grew hot and rubbed on her skin. She explained she wore the mask because it kept everyone safe, including him. She explained that her grandmother lived at home with her, and she feared bringing COVID-19 home from work. She thanked the customer for helping keep her grandmother safe by wearing his mask as well.  

In that moment this young woman was a leader. She exemplified what it means to leave a positive legacy through her words and actions. She didn’t have a title or business card and she didn’t have any followers to supervise. She was leading through the impact and influence she had on those around her. She influenced everyone who witnessed that exchange by role modelling patience and grace. In that moment—and, remember, leadership is a series of moments—she left a legacy.  

Leadership turned on its head  

We know leadership comes in all shapes and sizes, colours and ages. We find inspiring leaders where we least expect to and among the most junior employees in an organisation, just like the example of the young checkout operator. We know some leaders may study at university for years on end while others may have never set foot on a campus in their lives. Both will transform the lives of those around them. 

 Two-time Olympic gold medallist and FIFA World Cup champion Abby Wambach captured this notion in Wolfpack 

Leadership is volunteering at the local school, speaking encouraging words to a friend, and holding the hand of a dying parent. It’s tying dirty shoelaces and going to therapy and saying to our families and friends: No. We don’t do unkindness here. It’s signing up to run for the school board and it’s driving that single mom’s kid home from practice and it’s creating boundaries that prove to the world that you value yourself. Leadership is taking care of yourself and empowering others to do the same. 

This century, and even more recently over the past few years, our notion of leadership has been turned on its head. No longer do we expect or want our leaders to be wise, heroic figureheads with decades of experience and who may have inherited their place in the world. We understand we can, and should, learn from everyone. We don’t want leaders who only seek to command others, but instead who draw on the strengths and collective leadership of those around them. We want leaders who understand their limitations and have the strength to be vulnerable. We want leaders who are humbled by the sheer complexity of the issues they need to resolve and the ambiguity of the problems they need to confront. We want leaders who value feedback and who know they will always need to work at being the best leaders they can be.  

Our world needs leaders who understand they are continually learning and reshaping the best way they can lead in any given moment. Our world needs leaders who are eager to understand how they can have a positive impact on those around them.  

Our world needs leaders like you. 


Excerpted from Head & Heart: The Art of Modern Leadership.
Copyright © 2023 by Kirtstin Ferguson Pty Ltd.
Reprinted with permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
All rights reserved.


About the Author

Dr. Kirstin Ferguson is a business leader, company director, keynote speaker, and executive coach. 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 deputy chair of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

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