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The Contrarian′s Guide to Leadership (J-B Warren Bennis Series)

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  701 Ratings  ·  50 Reviews
In The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership, University of Southern California President Steven Sample offers up a refreshing perspective on the characteristics of a successful leader. Some of Sample's prescriptions: try reading Machiavelli's The Prince instead of The New York Times, learn to work for those who work for you, and "Anything worth doing at all is worth doing poor ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published May 20th 2003 by John Wiley & Sons (first published 2001)
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Aug 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is a terrific book for wouldbe college presidents, executive pastors and general managers.

following are some of the memorable quotes from The Contrary ends Guide to Leadership:

"Leadership is highly situational and contingent; the leader who succeeds in one context at one point in time won't necessarily succeed in a different context at the same time, or in the same context as a different type."

"But leadership can be taught and learned. More explicitly, a person can develop her own potenti
Apr 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: leadership
I enjoyed this one. Very down-to-Earth advice. As implied by the title, the contrarian leader would be found "contrary" by the traditionally-trained leader. With such advice as "If a decision can be made tomorrow, don't make it today" and "Work for those that work for you", the contrarian leader always considers the situation from the other person's shoes. Sometimes we get tunnel vision and forget that those we are leading are people too.

Despite its premise, this book shouldn't be a straight-ahe
Aug 07, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: businessbooks
This is a good book on leadership. It really makes you think and the author encourages the reader to question the principles and ideas set down in the book (which is refreshing). It gives a different take on leadership (at least in format) than John Maxwell usually takes. Also it includes a list of ten "super-texts" that the author believes every leader should read several times (at least one super-text a year), which is thought-provoking as well.
Jul 31, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone wanting to improve their leadership skills
Out of all the books/journals I have read on leadership, this one seems to have the most practical and logical advice on how to be a better leader. President Sample writes a book that is easy to read and incredibly applicable. Not to mention the fact that he has managed to breathe new life into the greatest school ever (Fight On!).
Bonnie Irwin
Oct 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Not all of Sample's advice is contrarian, in my view, but a good read, especially for leadership in the higher education arena. I especially like the section on empowering one's "followers" and the section on"thinking gray."
Nick Beaird
Jul 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
By far one of the best leadership books I have read. Every chapter is enjoyable and truly forces the reader to stop and think grey about contrarian actions. Sample’s points on the Supertexts is a profound idea, one we have often turned from, and a closer look at Machiavelli brings a lot to the surface for leadership inside of an organization. I could not give this book enough stars, nor was there much left for me to highlight after finishing it.
Omar Halabieh
Dec 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
As the author best states: "The purpose of the this book is to get you to think about leaders and leadership from a fresh and original point of view - from what I call a contrarian perspective...The Key is to break free, if only fleeting, from the bonds of conventional thinking so as to bring your natural creativity and intellectual independence to the fore." He further argues that: "One of the important and contrarian point we can make about leadership is that it is highly situational and conti ...more
Marie desJardins
Jun 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
Lots of great advice in this book for academic leaders, especially those who haven't come into leadership through a business/MBA trajectory. I didn't agree with everything, and some of the advice seemed a bit obvious, but I liked Sample's way of thinking about many of the "big issues" of leadership.

The book includes 10 chapters (plus a "case study"), each with a different tidbit of advice. Here's my mini-summary by chapter:

1. Thinking gray - check! This comes naturally to me as a scientist (no q
John Daly
Jan 07, 2014 rated it liked it
This is one of those books that I’ve picked up and down a few times over the past year. Steven Sample was the President of USC (CA not SC) from 1991 to 2010 an engineer by degree but then pursued a career in administration.

He boils it down to these 15 principals to being a contrarian leader:
1. Think Gray
2. Think Free
3. Listen first, talk later
4. Experts are helpful but are no substitute for your own critical thinking
5. Beware of pseudoscience pretending to be true facts
6. Never make a decision t
Jun 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
A very pragmatic and practical leadership book from Steve Sample, former president of USC and SUNY- Buffalo. I appreciated Sample's advice and insights into leadership. Rather than give a formula for leadership, or what a leader should always be, he instead focused on traits he has found that make for effective and good leadership. These traits make complete sense once you read them, but you wouldn't necessarily have thought of it before.

For example:
1. A leader should spend most of his/her tim
Paul McAtee
Mar 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sovreignity
Rather than presenting a model or paradigm for leadership as does say, Tribal Leadership, Sample rather shares a series lessons, thoughts, and notions on Leadership. For instance never commit to a decision until you absolutely have to, work FOR your lieutenants, and probably my favorite is 'thinking grey' which means staying in the middle and not committing yourself to one side or the other of various issues. He also suggests reading what he call the "super texts" which are classics of literatur ...more
Dec 15, 2010 rated it really liked it
I do not read many so-called "leadership" books because I am one who believes that the kernels of leadership cannot be found in a book on leadership. That being said, Steven Sample's book offers a few tidbits of information that are helpful to anyone considering leadership positions; one of those kernels of wisdom is that leaders do not read leadership books!
Sample offers a straight-forward and well organized book that orbits around Machiavelli's "The Prince", a book often misunderstood and even
Oct 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This was a great book on leadership. I appreciate Sample's pulling together leadership studies from historical perspective and classical writings to the modern day realities and sensibilities. Steven Sample actually changed the way in which I approach reading years ago when I heard him speak in his emphasis that people should not shy away from what he refers to as the supertexts. These are the books and writings 500 years or older that have stood the test of time such as the Bible, the Qur'an, t ...more
Feb 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013
This book did a great job of providing some thoughtful ideas that run contrary to accepted wisdom. I heard once, and of course instantly chose to believe, that philosophy grads have greater success at business than business undergrads. This is apparently due to philosophy's emphasis on critically thinking about what is true rather than be taught what is true. Philosophers therefore, are better able to effectively act and react to changes in the marketplace. The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership p ...more
May 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm not much of one for reading leadership books. Not that they don't offer good ideas or that I think there is nothing for me to learn from them. It's just that so often these books wind up being kind of cheesy and people show up with seminars on them and things get a little too obsessive and out of hand.

Here, Steven Sample, former president of USC, offers advice that counters many of the well-worn ideas on leadership. From putting off decisions (or handing them over to "lieutenants") to focusi
Muneel Zaidi
This book can alternately be titled "The devout Christian's guide to leading by Machiavellian principles", as both Jesus and Machiavelli are the main protagonists. Of course, these two schools of thought don't quite go hand in hand. Any member of either school following the other school would be considered a "contrarian". Amazingly the author seems to think that he's reconciled the philosophies of these men in this book. This reader does not.

Regardless, the author does know quite a bit about le
JJ Vancil
"The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership" does exactly what the title implies: it provides leadership principles that generally fly in the face of conventional wisdom on the matter. Using many life experiences, stories & illustrations, the author paints a new and refreshing picture of what it means to be a leader. While written primarily for "higher-up" leaders, this book is applicable in all spheres. He emphasizes artful listening, working for those who work for you and even praises Niccoló Ma ...more
Aug 23, 2016 rated it liked it
I'd give this 3.5 stars. I enjoyed how compartmentalized the book was. As the author suggests you could read each chapter as a stand alone. I love Sample's approach to reading, since I myself find most of my reading bogged down in the latest business book, perhaps I should pick up the Canterbury Tales again. (Hmm, maybe I don't like Sample's approach to reading). The other thing I loved about Sample's advice was how he approached helping everyone who worked for him. It sounds like he was really ...more
Nov 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I'll admit, I'm a little biased because this book was written by one of USC's president emeritus, but I challenge you to read the last chapter and let the evidence speak for itself. Sample's emphasis on engineering outside-the-box solutions and leading with humility set this book apart from many other books on leadership that I have read. And Sample's life is testament to his principles: he is an engineer, a musician, an multiple patent-holding inventor, and a leader who guided a transformed a u ...more
Greg Thiele
Jun 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
Some among us are natural leaders. Most of us must learn the subtle art of leadership. As someone that has studied leadership throughout much of his adult life, I found this book to be very useful. There is nothing earth-shattering here, no magical secrets are revealed. Mr. Sample has written an excellent book that will help those that are trying to improve their leadership abilities to examine their actions and decisions in a slightly different light. In addition, the book is written in a clear ...more
Jun 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed reading this book and thought it provided a lot of useful tips and advice for leaders and would-be leaders alike. In general, the author argues that many times what seems like the appropriate thing thing to do may in fact not be productive. Instead, he argues to do something other thus being he contrarian. I have only read the book once and plan on reading it again to evaluate how "contrarian" it really is. Leaders in academia will especially enjoy the book for at least two reasons. Th ...more
Lindsay Hickman
Jan 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely one of the best leadership books I have ever read, and that includes Collins, Covey, and Maxwell. This is a great read for anyone in the education sector or anyone looking to get into leadership of any kind. Every chapter has a hidden jewel of amazing information that you can use. Sample is a brilliant writer with a fascinating history, if he ever writes another book, I'll be first in line to buy it.
Yuri Genyk
Jan 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Most leadership books tend to provide lessons that aren't sustaining in the long-term. Usually, those lessons come from certain success stories that worked for that individual. Sample's book has the same blueprint as any other leadership book - lessons that worked for him. However, I believe his lessons hold more value because they aren't dependent upon an external event to earn legitimacy and are applicable to nearly all individuals.
Aug 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book was really good. The chapter on the books we read and how to choose them was worth the whole book. Filled with practical stories about a leader who accomplished a lot. Cuts through a lot of the nonsense in typical leadership books with quotes like this,
"Leadership is highly situational and contingent; the leader who succeeds in one context at one point in time won't necessarily succeed in a different context at the same time, or in the same context as a different type."
Aug 22, 2014 rated it liked it
Lots of practical advice in this book, but not much a realistic and experienced manager and leader would not have learned through personal effort. Good for leaders who haven't found their style, managers who haven't figured out how to lead (managing and leading are definitely different things, though they overlap), and people who need practical advice about decision-making and problem-solving techniques.
Seth Hein
May 27, 2009 rated it liked it
Sample presented a fresh look on typical leadership principles. I though especially the three chapters titled "Know Which Hill You're Willing to Die On", "Work for Those Who Work for You", and "Follow the Leader" were particularly excellent. Those chapters alone would be worth the price of the book.
Apr 16, 2010 rated it it was ok
I know I'm being ridiculous, but I'm too annoyed about Sample getting all the facts wrong about the McDonald coffee case. For those individuals who are less inclined to judge an entire book based on one poorly researched incident, I'd say the first two chapters are excellent and the rest of the book was mediocre, with the occassional bright moment of insight.
Marcus Lynn
Dec 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: leadership
I have read lots of books on leadership. Few of them offer new insights into leadership. This book is one of them! Each of the 10 chapters could stand on its own as an extended article for a leadership magazine. And all chapters are not created equal. I particularly liked "Thinking Gray, and Free," "You are what you read," and "Know which hill you're willing to die on."
Feb 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Really a great read for leaders with a lot of thoughts that aren't in other leadership books. One of the ideas that I took away from this book was that good leaders wait until they have to make a decision to actually make the decision. I tend to want the pressure of the decision resolved and to get impatient. It was a little of a slow read, but good.
Oct 31, 2010 rated it really liked it
Insightful read on what it takes to lead a university ... and how that carries over to more general leadership as well. I enjoyed reading about Sample's experiences and philosophies although I think I will have to pick this book up in another decade to really appreciate it.
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“Decision making brings together many of the finest traits of contrarian leadership--thinking gray, thinking free, artful listening, delegating authority while retaining ultimate responsibility,artful procrastination, ignoring sunk costs, taking luck into account, and listening to one's inner voice. Weaving these traits together is an art itself. When it is done well, the result is a thing of beauty and a powerful tool for effective leadership.” 2 likes
“...the leader should reserve to himself the hiring, compensating, motivating, molding, assessing and firing of his chief lieutenants.” 1 likes
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