The Timing of the Contrarian Leader

All that has been mentioned so far rest on the concept of timing. The underlying basis for success occurs when the leader chooses to make the decision or allow a subordinate to decide, when to listen or when to stop listening, when to die on a hill or allow the battle to move on, and when to delegate or when to do it yourself. Imagine an orchestra with no metronome. With no device to indicate a given tempo by means of a regularly recurring aural or visual signal, even the most talented musicians would sound like clanging bells. The issue of timing is imbedded throughout the Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership forcing the reader to be timing sensitive.

For example, the contrarian leader’s timing of decision making. Sample describes the concept of artful procrastination (p.81). He continues along this line by describing Harry Truman’s first step in decision making with the question Truman would first ask, “How much time do I have?”

Secondly, the contrarian leader’s timing of listening. An important part of artful listening is to know when to stop (Sample, 2002, p31). The ability to artfully listen is governed not by when to start listening but when to stop listening. The potential downside of artfully listening is waiting too long (p. 83). One thing is apparent, only when one stops listening can any sound judgment be reached.

Thirdly, the contrarian leader needs to know when the time to die and when not to die on a hill is. Of all the timing a contrarian leader faces, knowing when to die on a hill is most personal because the decision is based on core moral values. The time to die on a hill is best described by Smart’s question, “how far can I be pushed before I will need to walk away from my duties (p.112)?”

Finally, a contrarian leader needs to know when to delegate or when to do it yourself. Machiavelli’s says that in a new position one should move swiftly. In a newly conquered territory, the leader should implement his harshest acts all at once, but string out the benefits and mercies, so that the people might come to appreciate him over time (Sample, 2002, p.97). Putting Machiavelli aside for the faint of heart, the description of a contrarian leader’s delegation timing is embodied by the following charge:

The contrarian leader occasionally should make a decision which he would normally delegate to a lieutenant. Doing so throws subordinates off balance just a bit, thereby helping them remember that their authority is delegated to them by the leader and that consequently they are stewards of something that ultimately belongs to the leader and not them (Sample, 2002, p. 76).


Effectiveness to the contrarian leader is conditional to the organization, the follower, and personal temperament, territory, and timing. These three –timing being the most important- are cornerstones to a winning organization; an organization that makes winners of all stakeholders. Since the goal of the Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership is to develop better leaders who ultimately find themselves in a position for promotion, Sample fittingly writes that the appropriate question to ask is, “Is he the best man available for the job within the time frame in which I must fill the position (Sample, 2002, p.124)?” Lastly, the Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership recommends that any prospective executive leader spend his time wisely by using Sample’s 70/30 Formula for Leadership:

Under ideal conditions up to 30 % of a leader’s time can be spent on substantive matters and no more the 70 % of his time should spent reacting to or presiding over trivial, routine, or ephemeral matters (Sample, 2002, p.161).

The notion of time is clearly a central theme for the contrarian leader. Sample summarizes that the 70/30 formula provides practical upper limit on the fraction of a leader’s time spent on important matters (Sample, 2002). In view of timing and the various roles a leader plays, if leadership was a textile, leadership would truly be spandex.


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

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