Are great leaders practical idealists and extreme centrists?

George Carlin 

George Carlin 

Ever heard of an oxymoron? According to, 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.

Chris Hutchinson, CEO

Chris Hutchinson, CEO

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.


Chris Hutchinson

As CEO of Trebuchet Group, Chris Hutchinson thrives working with clients and his team to improve organizational clarity, teamwork, and leadership impact.

After years of building Legos® and tree houses around the world, Chris earned his Mechanical Engineering degree and followed that with an MBA. His experiences in the military and the business world taught him great leadership can be learned, and everyone is in some way a leader.

Clients and peers describe him as an inspirational catalyst for positive change. He is the author of Ripple - A Field Manual for Leadership That Works.

Chris and his wife live, garden, and bike in Fort Collins, Colorado, and have four children. He has an unrequited love affair with brownies.