Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Leading Imperfectly

28 August 2020

This morning’s walk on the beach is testimony to the title of this article.

On a perfect spring morning, while walking on the beach, the wind in my hair, sun on my face and the sound of the ocean drowning out all thoughts of the world in which we find ourselves today, I noticed an injured seagull. It lay quietly on the beach while I approached its space. As I neared the injured animal, it got up on one leg, spread its wings and took flight. Its wingspan wide, strong and the power it exuded, dissipated the fact that it has a disability.

I stood in awe for a moment. This incredible bird, alone, with its disability, still has the strength to get up and take flight. I was reminded of a book I was once given, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach.

I felt inspired to write about this experience and how it cast my mind back to my MBA days at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS). In a time of COVID, and when speaking to many of my fellow MBA friends, I realise how incredible our journey of the MBA was and, apart from the intellectual stimulation and academic theory, what we learned about leading. Leading ourselves and others. Applying and sharing our knowledge in a time when the world needs it most.

Leading imperfectly, as this seagull itself, in its imperfection, is an incredible ability during times of tribulation. We often compare ourselves to others, we internalise our perceived imperfections and feel guilty when we don’t have all the answers or seem to also find it difficult to cope. Leading imperfectly is not having all the answers, knowing your own limitations, being humble in your learnt knowledge, however, despite this, being able to get up and take flight. Take flight with the knowing that, in doing from a place of humility and courage, you give others hope.

The mark of a true leader is the realisation that you don’t know what you don’t know. To unlearn and widen your perspectives, to always aim to act from a place of understanding the full context. Leading imperfectly, is coming to the realisation that you see the world, often, only through your lenses, your own sphere of influence, your own prejudice and your own privilege. To place yourself in the shoes of others, even though your desire to provide the answers may be overwhelming and having the courage to act from a place of courage, even when it is most uncomfortable.

As with this seagull and its challenge, so everyone in our lives have different challenges. Different circumstances and backgrounds. Leaders cannot treat everyone with one approach. You have to recognize the differences, the disabilities, the circumstances that are different to yours. As much as policies in companies tend to be as general as possible, it is your duty as a leader to find the ways that makes sense to individual difference and challenging circumstances. Leading imperfectly also means, not being afraid to not please everyone all of the time, going upstream, being bold and acting with integrity to achieve fairness.

I did my MBA not to be “miss know it all”, but to widen my perspectives, to open my mind to the endless possibilities of the abilities bestowed to me and what I could mean to others. To enhance the value I bring to every situation, every opportunity to find solutions to the problems of our world today. The MBA pulled me from that place of comfort, it opened my eyes to my own disabilities in my thinking and continues to be a source of strength, not in the theoretical knowledge I gained, but in the incredible strength I needed to complete that chapter of my life. It taught me to me kind, considerate, compassionate and cognizant of what others don’t have.

In closing, be meek, as the seagull, your strength comes from within. Apply your knowledge, always, from a place of humility. Seek not to impress others, but seek always to give hope and be an inspiration. Feel not guilty for your own vulnerability, rather use it to propel you to leading imperfectly.

Written by Amelia van Heerden. Amelia has over 20 years’ experience in corporate South Africa. She completed her MBA at GIBS in 2015 and started her own company QuintEssence (Pty) Ltd as a platform to serve business and individuals find simple solutions to complex problems.

Additional Resources
Women in Business 2020:Putting the Blueprint into action
Deloitte’s Human Capital services leverage research, analytics and industry insights to help design and execute critical programs from business driven HR to innovative talent, leadership and change programs


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