Embracing the Visionary Idealist

Person with their head obscured by clouds to illustrate a blog post about visionary idealists.

“That will never work.”

Nothing crushes potential faster than those four words. 

In my work with socially conscious leaders, I see the sheer frustration on their faces when someone in a position of authority shuts down their vision or an idea with this brutal response, typically followed with, “You’re being too idealistic.” 

Downtrodden, my clients often begin to hold back their ideas, fearful of future rejection from their colleagues. Then, they start to conflate idealism with being unrealistic, which couldn’t be further from the truth. 

The Challenge With the Label “Idealist”

Earlier in my career, I experienced this frustration firsthand in interactions with my managers, who were initially amused and then annoyed by my idealism.

The trouble is that we need ideals. We need idealists. Because I believe that big, bold, and arguably extravagant ideas are necessary to solve some of the biggest structural challenges we face and ultimately design a better society for future generations. Change of this magnitude requires that we move entire systems, which means that we must embrace our ideals. 

When someone calls you an idealist, you are essentially being mislabeled. Why is that important? Because the labeling feeds into your identity and how you perceive yourself, especially if idealism has a negative connotation. Therefore, I would argue that we could label idealists as visionaries under different circumstances – that there is a way to blend high ideals with a bold vision.

Hence, the visionary idealist.

Cultivating Visionary Idealism With the 3 Cs 

So, what can you do to improve your circumstances? Carefully consider the concepts you wish to bring forth, then bridge any gaps in the three areas I refer to as the 3 Cs  – communication, collaboration, and compromise. Mastering the 3 Cs will allow you to harness your strengths as a visionary idealist. 


Puzzle pieces within a lightbulb shape to illustrate the challenge of communicating ideas effectively.

What you say and how you share your ideas can dramatically affect how they are received and make the difference between your proposals being celebrated or misunderstood.

I have worked with some brilliant individuals who developed their thoughts on a conceptual level but struggled when explaining them to others. So, take some time to think about the words you will use. Find ways to explain what you have in mind in simple terms, using language that people will understand so they will see your brilliance. Sometimes, people use big words or scientific phrases, thinking it will make them seem smarter, but that can backfire. 

Equally important is how you view and communicate about yourself. Do you refer to yourself as a visionary or an idealist? That might be off-putting to some people. Do you promote or downplay your ideas? Others might follow your lead. While humility is important, presenting yourself with confidence is just as critical because it can make a significant difference in the outcome.

So consider how you will communicate and even practice what you plan to say with a friendly audience before sharing your thoughts with someone in a position of authority.


There is an everlasting myth around the concept of the rugged individualist visionary. But in reality, although some movements center around an individual, significant change requires collaborators. Great things occur when enough people see the possibilities and believe the ideas so much that they are willing to offer their time and talent to implement them. 

Once you are clear on how you plan to communicate your concept, find people who “get” you and your ideas by paying attention to how they react to your vision. Then, don’t be afraid to trust them and invite them to get involved. You might be pleasantly surprised to learn that the outcome of a collective effort can be better than anything you imagined. 


Knowing when you must stick to your ideals and when to compromise on some of the details is vital. Some of the biggest disagreements I’ve witnessed in socially responsible organizations happen when leaders cannot distinguish between these concepts.

When conflict occurs, it is essential to pause and listen to the other perspectives before making an informed decision in the mission’s best interest. You may be surprised to learn that something is not the deal breaker you thought it was if, in the end, it helps you achieve your goal.

A Word for Authority Figures

Cloud with an illuminating sunburst overlaid upon them to illustrate the emergence of ideas.

Of course, the burden of change shouldn’t rest solely upon the “idealists.” Leaders must adjust, too, and aim to create environments where extraordinary ideas can emerge.

If you have a visionary idealist on your team, don’t immediately shut them down. Instead, hear them out and strive to understand why they feel strongly about the ideas they are sharing. There might be bits of brilliance in those ideas that could make a huge difference.

If an idea makes you uncomfortable, check with yourself and try to figure out where that discomfort is coming from. Is it the fear of change, how your colleague presented the idea, or something else?

Engaging with visionary idealists and creating a safe space for exploration will help them develop trust and confidence in your leadership. So even if you cannot implement everything they bring up, they will feel heard and respected and more willing to bring creative concepts to you in the future.

The Bottom Line

Organizations need idealists and their creative ideas to pursue monumental, positive change. If you have been labeled an idealist, consider whether you might be a visionary idealist. If the answer is yes, stick to your ideals, work on the 3 Cs above, then try again. The world needs incredible, innovative ideas from people like you.

Is your organization working to drive positive social change? I welcome you to reach out so we can explore how I might help you nurture the visionary idealists on your team. 

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About the Author

Picture of Victoria Shiroma Wilson, Ed.D., P.C.C.

Victoria Shiroma Wilson, Ed.D., P.C.C.

Victoria Shiroma Wilson, Ed.D., P.C.C., is the founder of Exceptional Futures, a provider of frameworks that help people tap into the power of their cultural identities to answer some of life’s biggest questions. Victoria is on the teaching faculty at Duke University and earned her doctoral degree in Global Leadership from the University of Southern California, a master’s degree in Psychology from Santa Clara University, and a master’s degree in Asian Studies from the University of Pennsylvania.

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