Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sometimes Contrarian Leadership

When I heard a strong endorsement for Steven B. Sample’s The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership, I added it to my “need to read” stack. In places, I found helpful nuggets from Sample’s musings, which are drawn largely from his years as president of University of Southern California and SUNY-Buffalo before that. I liked his concept of “open communication with structured decision making.” This means that the president (or senior pastor) should find ways to talk to people throughout the organization but should not subvert the established processes for making decisions. I also liked his quote that “one of the silliest things a leader can do is to first rigidly define the responsibilities of a position, and then try to find a human being to match this preconceived job description.”

This highlights the positives and shortcomings of the book. I thought Sample offered a variety of good leadership ideas, and I suspect that each leader would grab onto different ones as a main take-away. But in the end, I didn’t find his advice to be notably contrarian nor did I find it to be a book that I’d enthusiastically recommend to others. In his chapter, “You Are What You Read,” Sample quotes Thoreau’s advice to “read only the best books first, lest there not be time enough to read them all.” For me, Contrarian’s Guide was not one of the “best books.”