Those who primarily view situations “as they are” are realistic. Those who primarily view situations “as they ought to be” are idealistic.
It is important to remember that being idealistic or realistic are just tendencies, initial propensities. They are not carved in stone forever and ever. Realistic people may express idealistic points of view and engage in idealistic activities, and vice versa. Some people fall somewhere in the middle, able to relate to both realistic and idealistic points of view.
With regards to success, we find little difference between idealistic or realistic people. Occasionally an idealistic person will roil around and grapple with a situation before they move toward a resolution. They will sometimes delay the solution with thoughts of how it should be. A realistic person tends to move toward the solution at a slightly faster pace. However, we find almost no statistical difference in terms of being successful between realistic and idealistic people.
The main issue with being highly realistic or highly idealistic is the intense level of frustration it causes between dissimilar people. In fact, with people on opposite ends of the spectrum, this area of the value structure causes some of the highest, most intense frustration.
The realistic person will argue, “Yes, I know that’s the way it ought to be, but this is the way it is!”. Then the idealistic person will counter, “Yes you fool, I know that’s the way it is, but this is the way it ought to be!” I believe this argument has led to some of the most spectacular breakups in human history.
However, if you can keep a lid on frustration, the simple awareness that someone might be approaching a situation from a different perspective than you can substantially reduce the level of frustration. In fact, understanding that others might approach situations differently may cause you to actually seek out their input, rather than shun it for being different.
Oftentimes a good manager will fall somewhere in the middle of the idealistic/realistic spectrum; able to relate to people on both ends.
CDR Barry W. Hull, USNR (Retired)
About CDR Barry W. Hull, USNR (Retired)
Barry Hull is an expert in the field of evaluative judgment and decision-making. He helps organizations and individuals improve their success by helping them improve their ability to make good decisions and choices. Barry Hull is the founder of Pilot Judgment Inc. Additionally, he is a partner with the consulting firm, Athena Assessment Inc. He is a retired US Navy Commander, F/A-18 Hornet fighter pilot, combat decorated during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm.