Self-awareness and confidence founded on a lack of ego are some of the most basic traits of successful leaders. Indeed, upon speaking with Fiona Balfour, Emily Wilson confirmed that these characteristics share a symbiotic relationship.  

Fiona is the former CIO of Qantas (14-years), an accomplished Non-Executive Director, and the 2006 Pearcey Medal Lifetime Achievement Award recipient for her contribution to the development and growth of the ICT industry in Australia. One of only two women awarded the honour in its 20-year history.  

Neither her past accolades nor her future accomplishments would be possible without her vast capacity for thorough behavioural self-diagnostics. Something she communicates with as much humour as sincerity. 

Emily: How do you develop your EQ, and what have you done over a period of time to make sure that this continues to develop?

Fiona: If you've got a basic level of self-awareness, it just takes a bit of bad feedback for you to realise, "hmmm... I really should have handled that... in a better manner".

I try to manage my EQ quite actively because I have a tendency for my brain to run off very quickly and leave others behind.

Certainly, I find as a Director it's very important for me to lay the trail of breadcrumbs for how I get from point A to B. And I have a tendency to think out loud, and I do have a tendency to say what I think.

Emily: It's self-awareness, isn't it? That is the beginning of EQ... 

Fiona: Absolutely... absolutely.

Emily: If you weren't able to give yourself a diagnostic and go: I'm aware of this, this and this...

Fiona: Yeah... but I've had lots of bad feedback as well, right!

Emily: Fiona is a confident leader without a big ego and I wanted to find out where this came from.

Fiona: I mean my parents instilled into me a self-belief that I hope I've been able to provide to my children. 

Emily: What did the belief stem from? Is it, if you work hard you'll get results?

Fiona: Yes. We're a bit of a serious family so, as a professional you have to be conscientious, you have to always do your best. If you make a commitment you deliver on it. A lot of them are very old fashion 'Protestant work ethic' type values.

But that was instilled into me. I still get very cross with people who are lazy, don't use opportunities... and as my children will tell you, leave light switches on all around the house.

Which, I mean, that's just symbolic of the generation I was brought up in.

I don't know how else to explain it. I was always acutely aware of the privilege of my education and the privilege of having come from a legacy of highly educated women and, it was never said in so many words, but the implication was that you knew you are being highly educated in order to go and do likewise.

Emily: I really respect how deeply grateful Fiona is for her privileged background. She seems honour-bound to be the best that she can be not only for herself but for her parents, for the organisations and the colleagues that she worked with...

I find that really inspiring and I feel grateful that I've managed to have time with her.

Watch Part 1: Leadership transition: From the Executive to the Board - Fiona Balfour 

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For more executive insights and leadership articles...

Alison Harrop, CFO Dexus Group -1: EQ, vulnerability & letting go. 2: Open mindsets. 3: Being human.

Elyse Henderson, COO AUB Group 1: Diversity & Perfection. 2: What's the point? 3: Resilience.