When Hope Meets Reality: Why Visionary Leaders Have to Balance Dreams with Realities

Why Successful Leadership is All about Finding the Balance between Hopes and Realities

Management Theory talks a lot about how leaders have to vision and why without it, they are no different from managers who are more concerned about the Day to Day running of organizations. Indeed, pick up any book on Leadership and, chances are that it emphasizes the importance of clear vision for leaders to be successful.

However, in the real world, having a vision is just not enough until and unless such vision is translated into action that produces results.

History is replete with visionary Leaders and statesmen who often fail once elected to power or is put in charge of organizations.

While there are many reasons for this apparent contradiction between vision and mission as well as between the desire to change and the practical realities, the common thread that runs across all such reasons is that more often than not, once hope meets the reality of everyday exigencies, leaders are unable to actualize change and realize their dreams.

This is the main argument of this article and that is unless and until leaders find the middle ground between what is ideal and practical, they cannot succeed.

How the System is Resistant to Change and Why Stakeholders Must Cooperate

For instance, in recent times, the former President of the United States, Barack Obama, is the most famous example of a leader who came to power with high expectations from his followers only to realize during the course of his term, that being a Change Agent is not enough and there must be a corresponding cooperation from all stakeholders to make Dreams Possible.

While this does not mean that Visionary Leaders fail mainly because the people around them fail to live up to their lofty ideals, it is also a strong indictment of the fact that human nature resists change and moreover, the day to day realities of governance mean that there needs to be a sense of mission as well.

Indeed, in the Indian context, the First Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, is another example of a visionary statesmen who was often considered a Giant among Pygmies, and while he could achieve much despite the odds, however, failing to achieve all that we wanted.

As mentioned above, the key aspect here is that the System and the Structures of Governance are such that they are built with many complexities that make it difficult to change them without friction.

What the Leadership of Nehru and Obama Teaches us about How to Overcome the Odds

Having said that, it is also the case that many Visionary Leaders often achieve significant victories and the Signature Healthcare Act for Obama is an example of how he could overcome the odds to deliver this.

In the case of Nehru, his steering of the country through the Post Independence Turbulence and his Institution Building were the key achievements that can be counted against his name. In the corporate context, the Co-Founder of the Indian Software Firm, Infosys, NR Narayana Murthy, is another example of a Change Agent who helped mould the organization into what it is now.

Indeed, the determination of these leaders is learning for others to imbibe and emulate as their dogged pursuits of their dreams made such achievements possible.

However, credit must be given to their contemporaries and colleagues as well who shared their ideals and worked together to bring such visions to fruition.

Of course, there is also the aspect of how much their followers are patient to let their leaders’ time to settle down and tolerate them despite failures here and there.

In other words, expectations from followers cuts both ways as they not only have to be patient, but also temper expectations.

The Traits of Visionary Leaders Who Succeeded Despite the Realities and the Obstacles

This theme acquires significance and importance now as the Newly Elected President of the United States, Joe Biden, is trying to do much to help the country that has been ravaged by a Pandemic and worse, is wrought by divisions and discord, following a Nightmarish Four Year of Donald Trump.

The key lessons from successful leaders such as Ratan Tata of the Tata Group in India and the Late Steve Jobs of Apple and the Inventor of the iPhone that has transformed the way we live is that Visionary Leaders cannot let the realities drag them down and at the same time, cannot let their hopeful dreams blind them to the exigencies of the daily grind.

A Visionary Leader can only succeed if he or she balances the Hopes with the Realities and becomes a role model without developing a Personality Cult that makes them Larger than Life.

In other words, a visionary leader has to be Popular without becoming Overweening and has to be Prominent and at the same time, Self Effacing.

In addition, he or she has to have the ability to carry their teams with them and to inspire them and their followers to follow their paths.

What Tomorrow’s Leaders Can Learn from the Past

Last, it is important for the current generation of Millennials and the Gen Z who are graduating to know that Leadership is all about patience and hard work and not an instant gratification exercise.

Moreover, with our 24/7 Always On world, it is easy to lost one’s way in the real time pressures and hence, leadership needs depth of thought and firmness of action.

It is also crucial for our educational institutes to provide courses on how Leadership in the Digital Age is done so that they train Tomorrow’s Leaders to Learn from the Past to Lead in the Present.

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