Idealism vs. Realism

February 7, 2014

As a young person, I thought that that leaders faced grand challenges all the time.  Huge ethical dilemmas.  Public speeches in front of large groups.  Although that’s sometimes the case, the challenges facing leaders are oftentimes more nuanced.  But no less difficult.

As it turns out, I discovered that one of the biggest challenges of leadership is balancing idealism and realism.   You want to be inspiring, not ethereal and irrelevant.  You want to be practical, but not so as to limit the group.  Put another way, how do leaders inspire extraordinary change – that is also do-able?

Idealism is the best case scenario.  The “I Have a Dream” moment.  It’s the vision.  But realism comes in assessing what my role is in making this happen – my strategy.  

Leaders inspire with great vision.  But they also take significant steps to making those vision a reality.  It may not all happen in their lifetime.  And certainly not without a whole community of people.  But navigating both the strategy and vision is a crucial part of leadership.  

Here are some practical tips for doing this:

1.  Have a regular reminder of your vision:  time and space should be created to remind others of vision – to keep the first things first.  This could mean starting meetings with a reminder of why you are doing what you’re doing.  This could mean having the vision visibly posted.   

2.  Establish the right timelines:  Don’t rush to details too quick, but not too slow either:  find that time when you start talking nuts and bolts.  The vision should be clearly established along with the key players.  Then, comes a year-plan, month – plan down to the daily plan.

3.  Delegation with vision:  from graphics to logistics to day-of coordination, everyone has a role.  Find creative ways to encourage everyone to see how they fit into the bigger picture.

4.  Celebrate accomplishments:  every step closer to the final goal deserves to be celebrated.  

--Katie Chang, Executive Director of CTL

All rights reserved.  Center for Tomorrow’s Leaders. 2014