In general, business leaders can be split into two distinct groups based on their strategic thinking patterns. Most leaders are either pragmatics or idealists. Yes, they might walk a fine line between the two, but ultimately, one will always be more dominant than the other.
Idealist vs. Pragmatic Leaders
Idealist leaders are visionary thinkers. They focus on the big ideas and end results with less concern with the steps to get there. Therefore, they can be accused of looking through rose-colored glasses when, in fact, they simply “see” the end goal and truly believe there is a way to get there.
Idealist leaders are entrepreneurial in spirit and can easily jump from one “priority” to another when a new opportunity arises. Unfortunately, they often don’t understand why their team members can’t jump as quickly behind them.
Pragmatic leaders are practical thinkers. They focus on the processes behind any task, initiative, or goal. Their top priority is to figure out how the team is going to get things done.
As a result, pragmatic leaders are often mistakenly accused of being negative in their approach, when in fact, they simply view the entire picture (roadblocks included) to get to the end result. It’s a much more linear, practical way of thinking and “doing” than the way idealist leaders think.
Which Leadership Style is Better?
Which is better in business—a pragmatic, realistic leader or an idealistic, visionary leader?
The truth is that both leadership styles are critical to building a strong team. That means the best leaders can balance their inherent thinking style (i.e., idealist or pragmatic) with their non-dominant style.
With that in mind, it makes sense to extend this theory to entire teams. In other words, the best teams include idealist and pragmatic thinkers.
Diverse teams are strong teams, and that includes diversity in thinking styles. The leader’s job is to bring all of these disparate thinking styles together to develop a high-performance team.
Diversifying Your Team’s Thinking
By blending different ways of thinking, your team will be well-balanced and ultimately capable of creating the best outputs. However, if the team’s leader doesn’t understand those differences in thinking and fails to make the team members blend cohesively, results will be negatively affected.
Bottom-line, no one leadership or thinking style is the right one, but together they can make a powerful and highly successful leader and team.
Is there one type of leader that you prefer to work with — idealist or pragmatic? Are you an idealist or pragmatic leader (or employee)? Or are you one of the rare few who can effectively balance between the two ways of thinking and leading?
Leave a comment and share your thoughts.
Originally published 8/12/15. Updated 5/30/19.
Arman Sadeghi says
Good question, Susan. I think both leadership styles have value. One of the things I do with my business coaching clients is I help them figure out their dominant CEO type, one of which is the visionary and another is the pragmatist. Each runs its company differently, so each has unique coaching needs. This is a good prompt for introspection.