Are You Realistic Or Idealistic?

May 11, 2017 1 Min Read
courage, idealistic, realistic
[updated July 5, 2017]

To succeed as an entrepreneur, you need to use your head as well as your heart

A few weeks ago, we organised one of the biggest SME CEO conferences in the country that gathered almost 350 chief executive officers (CEOs). I met so many great leaders and great businesses. Many of these CEOs had similar ways of achieving their goals.

If you were to describe your approach to working towards set goals, would you say you were realistic in how you go about achieving your ambitions, or do you come at them from the perspective of the visionary or idealist?

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Recently, I received a message from a young professional who has been considering taking “a leap of faith” and starting her own business for some time now. Having spent a little too long thinking through the necessary considerations, the reason for her procrastination dawned on her after reading my article on lessons from the amazing story of American business leader and motivational speaker Chris Gardner.

In her message, she writes: “Being in a good job, I feel I need to be realistic enough about the requirements of starting out on my own. At the same time, I picture in my mind all the possibilities that can come from taking a leap of faith. I’ve been torn between my realism and idealism, not knowing which one to follow. But your article made me realise that I don’t have to choose. I can be realistic and idealistic at the same time.”

The young woman also reminded me about my formula for success :

Vision (to have it in your mind where you want to be) + Healthy realism (move forward from where you are – not from where you hope to be) +3Ps (Planning- Passion-Perseverance).

Essence of Leadership

The diagram above illustrates the simplicity of leadership yet showcases the complexity required to action and make your vision a reality.

Related post: Women (and Men) Win By Marrying Passion with Planning

Dream on

Whenever I speak to young people who ask me about career progression or starting out on their own, the one piece of advice I usually give is, “Always be aware of where you are at: this helps to keep you grounded; but don’t forget to dream about the possibilities. This is what gives you the motivation to keep going and bring them to life.”

“Whether it’s something physical, emotional, spiritual, or a combination, we may need to be realistic in our goals for meaningful change to happen. The first step is getting started!” ― Dana Arcuri

In any walk of life, particularly in professional development, there’s the temptation to look at one approach as being superior to another. Is it better to be realistic, cautious and measured? Or should we be idealistic, take risks, and throw caution to the wind?

Actually, both of these approaches – when used in a timely manner – work together to provide everything an entrepreneur needs to succeed in today’s world.

You might be interested to read: Why can’t I sustain my start-up?

Know yourself well

Taking the example of the procrastinating entrepreneur-in-waiting, it’s sensible that she is aware of her situation and circumstances. It would be reckless if she were to simply give up a good job and try to create a new venture without having much of an idea of what needs to be done and how.

Read this too: Why You Should Keep Your Job And Start A Business

On the other hand, allowing her realistic side too much free rein is holding her back from breathing life into her ideas. If we wait for the right moment, we will forever be waiting; if we need everything to be just right, we will never start. Instead, we suffer from analysis paralysis and never begin our journey. The most difficult step is to start.

“Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.” – Langston Hughes


Courage to dream

This is where having the courage to dream comes into play. Chris Gardner always had a healthy sense of realism: he always knew exactly where he was at, and he knew the kind of effort that was needed to take him out of his hardship and struggle.

But Gardner also had a dream, a vision of who he wanted to be and where he wanted to go. It was this dream that helped him to stay motivated. When we don’t dream and fail to imagine possibilities, we won’t get very far. Our vision is the magnetic force that pulls us on the path towards success. Our realism is what helps us navigate through the obstacles along the way.

The balancing act

It’s about striking a balance between the two. If we fixated on realism, the chances are that we’ll come up with a million reasons why the obstacles shouldn’t be challenged in the first place.

Recommended podcast: Raise Your Game: The Power Of Realistic Optimism

On the other hand, if we spend too much time dreaming, then we’re likely to miss the obstacles that will trip us up. The way to succeed is by being excited about our dreams and grounded enough to do what it takes to transform those dreams into reality.

My model of leadership

In fact, I believe leadership is also just that: Vision + Reality + 3Ps (Planning – Passion – Perseverance). For the past few years, I have disagreed with many leadership gurus that tout a formula for effective leadership.

Many claim a specific seven-step process to be a great leader but I believe every person’s leadership plans and process will differ, simply because each of us have a different vision and different starting points (the current point of reality).


Connect with Roshan on Facebook for more insights into business, personal development, and leadership.

Article first appeared on LinkedIn.

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Tags: Vision, Succession Planning


Roshan is the Founder and “Kuli” of the Leaderonomics Group of companies. He believes that everyone can be a leader and "make a dent in the universe," in their own special ways. He is featured on TV, radio and numerous publications sharing the Science of Building Leaders and on leadership development. Follow him at


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