A pragmatist is one who is practically focused on reaching a goal. It is a term that is sometimes used in a negative sense to portray someone who would give up their mother if it meant them reaching a target. A visionary is one who is ahead of their time; one who imagines the future and develops creative mechanisms for arriving there. These two terms are often in conflict with each other. A pragmatic leader is seen as a realist whereas the visionary is an idealist. The pragmatist has no values whereas the leader with vision is driven by values.
I would like to propose that the truly great leaders are what I term Pragmatic Visionaries; a mixture of idealism and realism. This requires that they be driven by a keen sense of future possibility and a strong purposeful goal oriented present. How does one arrive at the future destination? I believe through a practical pragmatic approach that is driven by a sense of value and a desire to see their preferred future come about.
Whilst not being the world’s most successful fisherman, a statement I have always enjoyed about leadership is “Never forget that only dead fish swim with the stream.” We can always complain about things that aren’t working, a leader however uses influence to make a difference. Leadership requires the art of influence and persuasion to inform people of the better future available and win them over to the practical steps forward proposed. This does require listening, debate and generally some form of compromise to move the crowd forward.
The leaders I have worked for and respected are those who have clear views about what they believe but are equally comfortable about being challenged and prepared to change their views when intelligent and reasonable arguments for the contrary are countered. What I have observed about these leaders is that they generally all arrive at the future they envisioned but often took a different route. In my opinion Nelson Mandela was also one of these leaders and I think the influence style of a Pragmatic Visionary is best summed up in his words
“A good leader can engage in debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge strongly. You don’t have that idea when you are arrogant, superficial and uninformed.”