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Nobody’s perfect: each one of us is a work in progress

Published on Saturday, 11 Apr 2015
Catherine Zhu

I recently had the privilege of meeting an exceptional leader – one of the few female CEOs in Japan, a country in which female professionals are still rare.

This CEO hadn’t followed a traditional path. She studied abroad, pursued a successful career in multinationals, and became a single parent. As she recounted her journey, she emphasised that nothing had been easy. As a single mother in New York, her salary had barely covered the cost of babysitting – so she flew her retired father in from Tokyo to look after her daughter while she travelled for business.

When she assumed her CEO role back in Japan, as her company’s first female leader, she knew many of her colleagues would find it awkward to work under her. Indeed, many expected her to fail.

How has she stayed motivated amid all these challenges? Her answer was a humble one: “My ambition has never been to be perfect – much less to demonstrate to people I am perfect. Rather, it has been to hand over the organisation to the next person in better form than I found it.”

To me, this woman exemplifies the courage, determination and resilience that are the essential qualities of leadership. As one of my mentors said to me when I left college, we have two choices when faced with obstacles: “You can be an elevator, or you can be a basement.” That is, you can see challenges as an opportunity for learning and growth – or they can weigh you down. The Japanese CEO has clearly chosen to be an elevator.

We all want to be a better leader, professional, parent or partner. But none of us is perfect, and there is rarely one right answer. When we realise each one of us is a work in progress, then we can find the resilience to keep learning, keep leading, and bounce back when we fall.

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