Ever heard of an oxymoron? According to poeticbyway.com, it's "the conjunction of words which, at first view, seem to be contradictory or incongruous, but whose surprising juxtaposition expresses a truth or dramatic effect."
George Carlin, the late comedian, used to have a routine where he would use oxymorons like "jumbo shrimp" and "military intelligence" to get a good laugh.
Personally, I think that oxymorons are exactly the way to express the paradox of great leadership - that is, leadership which embraces the whole of reality and uses the extreme edges to inform the decision and ensure an optimal result. Here are a few:
- Servant leader
- Flexible system-user
- Listening communicator
- Thinking doer
- Practical idealist
Great leaders are simultaneously focused on the accomplishment of the mission and the welfare of the people who make mission accomplishment possible. They are relentlessly focused on the future needs of the organization, while simultaneously handling immediate needs. They are courageous and considerate, gentle and firm, corporate and entrepreneurial.
Some people will read this and say, "Oh, yes. It's all about having the proper balance." And frankly, they would be wrong.
Real leadership is not about balance - it's about having as much of both apparent opposites simultaneously as possible.
Here's an example of having both apparent opposites: Fuel-efficient, safe cars.
People used to think the choices were either big, heavy, safe and fuel-inefficient or small, light, fuel-efficient and unsafe cars. While physics says the greater mass does indeed absorb (or give) more energy in a crash, enterprising engineers found ways to have both fuel-efficient and safe cars. Things like active airbags, better seat belts and seats and collapsing steering wheels have all dramatically decreased the injury and fatality rates of accidents. While simultaneously, advancing engine technology has created small, powerful, and fuel-sipping engines.
It's our choice - either/or - which means we maximize one thing at the expense of all else, or we look for other solutions which simultaneously meet as many of the needs (that appear to be opposite) as possible.