Balancing the emotional, psychological, and empirical aspects of what it takes to be a strong leader is always at play in the minds of those who study leadership.
For me, I recently took a journey through the aspects of what it means to balance idealism and realism.
“Sooner or later, many idealists transform themselves into disheartened realists who believe that giving up is the same thing as being realistic.”
Godin is specifically talking about the idea of initiative; starting something new instead of accepting the way things are.
I’ve been thinking about his statement as it might relate to leadership.
Idealism can be defined in many ways.
ide·al·ism noun \ī-ˈdē-(ə-)ˌliz-əm
- According to dictionary.com, idealism is “the cherishing or pursuit of high or noble principles, purposes, goals, etc.”
- Relating to the fine arts, idealism is defined as, “treatment of subject matter in a work of art in which a mental conception of beauty or form is stressed.”
- In philosophy, the definition is “any system or theory that maintains that the real is of the nature of thought…the tendency to represent things in an ideal form, or as they might or should be rather than as they are, with emphasis on values.”
It is not a stretch to apply the definition of idealism to leadership.
In general, leaders cherish high principles such as integrity, compassion, commitment. Leaders pursue noble purposes and goals. They inspire followers toward a shared mission and vision.
Leaders see the best possibilities, working to create a new future therein.
Leaders represent the best to their followers; what we could be, what we can do, imagining the best and making it happen.
The Other Hand
Reducing the loftiness of idealism down to more tangible form, one can look at the other hand called realism.
re·al·ism noun \ˈrē-ə-ˌli-zəm\
- In the literal sense, realism is defined as an “interest in or concern for the actual or real, as distinguished from the abstract, speculative; the tendency to view or represent things as they really are.”
- In fine arts, it is “the treatment of forms, colors, space, etc., in such a manner as to emphasize their correspondence to… the ordinary visual experience.”
- In philosophy, realism is “the doctrine that objects of sense perception have an existence independent of the act of perception.”
Realism has an entirely different feel, even while simply reading the definition. It is not as optimistic. It is certainly not visionary. It dwells in what is rather than what is possible.
Some men see things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?
The first part of the statement is how a realist might think. The second part is the idealism of a leader. It demonstrates vision, inspiration, confidence.
Looking back on Godin’s quote, does being a realist lead one to simply accept the way things are? Is being a realist leader a form of giving up?
What do you think? Does it take a sense of idealism to be an effective leader? Can a realist also be an inspirational leader? Or, is there some middle ground? Please share your thoughts by adding a comment.
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