The Territory of the Contrarian Leader

Although the idea of territory seems to bring pictures of cascading mountaintops or rushing rivers, negotiating personal internal territory is hazardous. All leaders should look at moral values and beliefs. To maintain the authority needed to show the way, the contrarian leader undertakes the expedition of the soul.

The person whom takes responsibility codifies authority. This profound concept of responsibility though easy to discuss is difficult to obtain. Amazingly, how one develops and holds moral convictions is left to the individual. I am reminded and paraphrase the ancient bible story found in the book of Genesis Chapter 3, verses 1-13(Biblesoft, 1995). Adam takes the bait in the form of a forbidden fruit. Instead of taking responsibility, he blames the wife God gave him. As a result, God addresses Eve who is now in the position to take authority from Adam if she assumed responsibility but she too rejects responsibility and in like manner as her leader, she blames the serpent. As a result, the Serpent (the Devil) accepts responsiblity and receives authority. Sample writes that ethical leadership requires the leader choose one set of moral values over all others, and then take full responsibility for his actions based on those values (Sample, 2002, p. 119). The only caveat to Sample’s aforementioned requirement of accepting the challenge of responsibility is the leader have a deep concern for others. At the very least, the leader knows where ethical convictions begin to diverge from pure, cold self-interest (Sample, 2002).

Secondly, territory addresses the culture in which one functions. The diversity so sought after by many progressive companies and cutting edge ministries has forced leaders to stay adequately fluid to quickly adapt while remaining steadfast enough not to compromise stated organizational values. The preceding statement lends credibility to the following: The most difficult part of building a diverse team is to integrate people whose intellectual and moral perspectives cover a wide spectrum and are not simply isomorphic with those of the leader (Sample, 2002). From experience, I can safely say that creating a diverse team can be a pain. However, I need to add that once the team is set into place the benefits far exceed the pain.

Warren Bennis says everyone is a social scientist (Sample, 2002, p. 46). Social science may not be readily disproven or proven; however, what is clear is people create personal opinions of how people work and play. Regardless of how one views the world or company, these varying opinions – individual and independent territory - must work in partnership with the existing cultural territory.

Finally, proper navigation of the territory of responsibility, one must be wary of the advice given. Sample quotes Eric Hoffer: a leader should pay close attention to experts but never take them too seriously, and never trust them completely (p. 39). I would add to Hoffer that a contrarian leader should pay close attention to subordinates, followers, and lieutenants in the same manner as one listens to experts. Since the reality is that all have a personal agenda, a little Machiavelli may be apropos. The belief that those under your command may suffer Machiavelli’s “men must be either cajoled or be crushed” (p. 97), may help to ward off some of the unneeded advice and ease one’s journey through the territory of responsibility.


Biblesoft. (1995). The new american standard bible update. Seattle, WA, USA.

Homeletics online. (n.d.). Homeleticsonline. Retrieved July 10, 2008, from

Sample, S. B. (2002). The contraian's guide to leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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