Our Student Leaders Must Become Realist-Idealists

It was on my journey of leadership, service, stewardship and innovation at the Carleton University Students' Association that my team and I stumbled on a simple yet profound truth. Our world is changing far too quickly; our generation cannot seek to solve new problems using old methods.


Today, we are faced with rising unemployment rates, the world’s greatest refugee crisis, topped by rising socio-political unrest, and a seemingly helpless global environmental crisis. We cannot get caught thinking small. We must seek to solve world problems, especially those of magnitude and scale. To do so we must question old ideologies and methodologies that have limited our scope and seek a new sort of leadership philosophy. And so I offer you this thought:


Our student leaders must become realist-idealists.


While in our traditional understanding, an idealist and a realist may seem as polar opposites. However, it is the combination of these two leadership attributes that truly inspire and mobilize people. Alone, these qualities are limited and ineffective. For example, an idealist may have great vision but lack the skills to execute. In contrast, a realist may have great execution skills but lacks vision. An idealist vision can motivate and lift people, engaging them with fiery passion, but also needs a pragmatic approach that acknowledges the reality of the challenge.


For our students to achieve the seemingly impossible they must be able to work both agendas simultaneously in an effective manner. Thus I challenge you to adopt this philosophy, to dream big, and find pragmatic tactics that lead to revolutionary results. The realist-idealist understands that even though some goals are slightly beyond reach, its the commitment to the to the unreasonable that makes it eventually reasonable.


I leave these words to all up and coming student leaders. Embrace the struggle of the great balancing act of leadership, through its many forms, approaches and realities; it is in the midst of the struggle that you and your team will bring joy and success to those whom you owe.


As put by then President Barack Obama, “the presidency is a relay race.” The journey of leadership is nothing more than a relay race, where you run as hard as you can, and we pass it on, leaving you with our successes, our failures and our lessons.


Dare to be a realist-idealist.


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© 2018 by Fahd Alhattab​