It was on my journey of leadership at the Carleton University Students’ Association that I stumbled on a simple yet profound truth.
We cannot solve tomorrow’s problems using yesterday’s methods.
Today, we face the world’s greatest refugee crisis. Topped by rising socio-political unrest, and a helpless global environmental crisis. Our world is changing at an unprecedented pace, undergoing its fourth revolution; the digital revolution.
Leaders who are stuck solving new problems using old methods will be quick to fail. We need leaders who not only put out fires but start them. We cannot get caught in thinking small. Leaders must seek to scalably and sustainably solve human problems. To do so, we must question old ideologies that have limited our scope; and explore a new sort of leadership philosophy.
Our leaders must become realist-idealists.
While in our traditional understanding, an idealist and a realist may seem like opposites. It is the combination of these two leadership attributes that inspire and mobilize people. Alone, these qualities are limited and ineffective.
For example, an idealist may have the necessary optimism and great vision to believe in the idealism of people. However, they ineffectively take into account the behavioural economics of our capitalist system. And the power dynamics of the democratic system that thrives on the fear and greed of people.
In contrast, a realist may understand how to navigate the political system and its underlying subtleties. They have their pragmatic focus on practical objectives that are achievable. However, they limit themselves by their pessimistic view of how things are instead of how things could be.
A Realist-Idealists’ vision can motivate and lift the people. Engage them with fiery passion around a future that could be, but takes a pragmatic approach. That acknowledges the reality of the challenge and its current obstacles. For our leaders to achieve the impossible, they must be able to work both agendas simultaneously in an effective manner. To thrive in the digital age, all leaders must adopt this philosophy. They must set audacious goals and find pragmatic tactics that lead to revolutionary results.
The Realist-Idealist understands that even though some goals are beyond reach, its the daily commitment to the unreasonable that makes it reasonable.