Leaders Balancing Act: When to Dream vs. When to Take Action

Leadership is a balancing act. Sometimes that balance feels like a waiter gliding effortlessly through a restaurant with a full...
5 min read

Leadership is a balancing act. Sometimes that balance feels like a waiter gliding effortlessly through a restaurant with a full tray, and other times it feels like a tightrope artist trying to stay upright in high winds.

For those of us who lead on any level, we have to find the balance between vision-led dreams and mission-driven action. Not only do we have to find the balance, we have to understand the timing. When do we immerse ourselves in imagination where anything is possible? When do we step into the area of focused effort where the work is actually accomplished?

In my 25 years of leadership, I’ve realized that most people fall into one of two natural categories: dreamers or doers.

Reflective, contemplative, and imaginative. The dreamers are naturally in touch with their own profound desires, and they are comfortable exploring the boundless possibilities of their potential. We need the dreamers, because they help us envision a future that transcends our current reality.

Then there are the doers. Efficient, practical, and strategic. The dreamers are naturally in touch with the action steps needed to get the job done, and they are comfortable putting their heads down and crushing their goals. We need the doers, because they help us create a reality that started as a vision.

As you read this, you probably can strongly relate to either the dreamer or the doer. If you’re like me, you can connect each type to specific seasons in your life. There have been times where I was full-on in dream mode, and others where I was just getting the job done. We need both of these to be successful on personal and professional levels. Without dreams, we become hamsters on a wheel mindlessly (and often joylessly) moving from one task to the next. Without action, we can easily get lost in a fantasy world that leaves us empty in the end.

Action is the bridge between dreams and reality, but without the dreams the bridge has no place to begin or end.

Dr. Ben Redmond

My guess is that this information is not new to you. Dreamers need to focus on action, and doers need to stay connected to their dreams. Here’s the question that is worth exploring – when is the right time to move from dreams to doing? How can we know if we have dreamed sufficiently and are stalling, or if we haven’t dreamed long enough and are springing into action without a clear sense of direction? I’m sure there are a number of ways to think about this, but here is what has been helpful to me:

Don’t separate your dreams from your actions.

Dreaming works best during the unfocused moments when we are relaxed. You can’t force yourself to have a dream, and in the same way you cannot schedule that moment where you fantasize about your future. For most of us these moments of introspection come on a walk, on vacation, or any other moment where we have allowed ourselves to move at a slower pace. This was an important realization for me – my ability to dream about my future was directly tied to the amount of bandwidth I had in my life. If you want to dream effectively, the answer isn’t trying to dream or scheduling it on your calendar. The most effective step you can take is to schedule downtime. Do yourself a favor, and be intentional about creating space for dreaming to take place.

On the flipside, action makes sense when we become so in love with the dream that it threatens to paralyze us with inaction. At some point the vision that we’ve created in our mind has to be translated into concrete steps.

Dreams aren’t real, but action steps will lead us to a new reality.

Dr. Ben Redmond

The question I’ve been asking myself lately is: How many action steps have I taken since I last allowed myself to dream? If the answer is zero, then I’m running the risk of dreaming too long. Action is the antidote to the procrastination that often accompanies our grand aspirations.

Dreams and action are not mutually exclusive. Dreams provide the roadmap, the destination, and the motivation, while action is the vehicle that propels us forward and makes the dream a reality. The synergy between the two is where the magic happens.

So here’s my advice, and my answer to the question that I posed at the beginning: dream, then act, then dream some more then take action again. It is far less important to question if you are dreaming too much than it is to question how frequently you take action on your dreams.

Too much space between dreams and actions in either direction is what keeps us from the life we want.