Steven Sample could be called a modern Renaissance man. He is an author, professor, inventor, electrical engineer, musician and the 10th president of the University of Southern California. His book entitled The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership is different and challenges many commonly accepted perceptions about leadership. A contrarian leader is simply one who thinks and acts differently than most. For example, the contrarian leader is one who thinks "gray" and "free". Thinking gray means to withhold judgments and decisions until you have heard all the relevant facts or until you are forced to do so. Sample spends a fair amount of discussion on the three major pitfalls of binary traditional thinking. He defines thinking "free" as the ability to first allow your mind to contemplate truly outrageous ideas, and only later on, apply the restraints of practicality, legality, cost, ethics and time upon your creative ideas. This philosophy of thinking gray also affects the decision-making elements of the contrarian leader. Sample makes two suggestions regarding decisions. First, that a leader never makes a decision that can be reasonably delegated to a lieutenant. Second, never make a decision today that can be reasonably delayed until tomorrow.
However, the contrarian leader must have other needs and qualities aside from thinking processes and decision-making. These are also discussed in The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership. The author discusses diverse subjects such as artful listening skills, open communication, and the proper role between consultants, experts and the leader. Sample suggests prodigious amount of selective reading, including "supertexts" for the contrarian leader. This includes an extensive discussion on Machiavelli. He provides guidance on how to determine which range of the daily news and printed media are really useful for the contrarian leader. The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership
addresses the difference between good leadership and effective leadership, including the need to make tough moral decisions at the right time. Other discussions include hiring the right people, diversity, connecting with followers and having a title of leadership verses doing leadership.
This is a thought provoking and alternative book on leadership from the perspective of someone who leads a massive educational institution on a daily basis. You may not agree with every concept or idea regarding a contrarian leader, but you will find this book to offer some fresh perspectives.