Characteristics of Contrarian Leadership

What do Henry David Thoreau, Galileo, Henry Ford, Joan of Arc, Steve Jobs, Pablo Picasso, Socrates and Rosa Parks have in common?

That’s right, they all are classified as contrarians; a person who takes a position that is opposed to that of the majority or goes against a popular belief or ideal. Contrarians see the world, and their place in it, differently.

One of the lessons you can learn from wildly successful people is that they embrace contrarianism. If you are not getting the results in life that you want, perhaps it is time for you to embrace characteristics of a contrarian. Here are several behaviors to consider:

Set ridiculously high goals. Fear of failure prevents the majority of people from setting goals. Are your goals too miniscule? Are your goals more of a to-do list? Whimsical wishes and meandering desires plague the masses. Get clear about what you want. Set your sights high, while taking daily action to create it. Keep the words of Theodore Roosevelt in mind, “Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.”

Be willing to accept rejection. The Catholic Church put Galileo under house arrest for the term of his life for announcing that the earth moves around the sun. Both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks were jailed for not conforming to Jim Crow Laws. Steve Jobs was fired from the company he founded. Columbia records dropped Johnny Cash after 26 years. After college Einstein could not find work, other than short-term, because none of his teachers liked him enough to write a recommendation. These examples showcase a small list of people that experienced what most contrarians know to be true—you will be rejected and denounced by others.

Think outrageous ideas. What could never happen? What is impossible? Space travel was thought impossible. A telegraph message could take days to reach a recipient whereas now it takes a few short seconds to deliver.  Jet planes drastically reduced continental travel. Computers now replace manual computations. Every technological evolution you use daily is the result of a person thinking outrageous ideas.

Question conventional wisdom. A hallmark of a contrarian is independent thinking whereby they are constantly questioning the knowledge and the ideas that are accepted by the public.  Conventional wisdom is difficult to dispel even when new information rebuts it. Today, conventional wisdom is shaped by advertisements and media talking points that are attempting to persuade or manipulate. Is milk good for you? Are sports drinks healthy? Is man the cause of global warming? Are blondes dumb? Are hospitals safe and clean? Are corporations greedy? Contrarians tend to question any given popular opinion. Christopher Reeve explained this adage, “Never accept ultimatums, conventional wisdom or absolutes.”

Avoid being a contrarian for the sake of contrarianism. Taking a different view does not mean you have to constantly disagree with others. Always being in opposition to opinions and ideas is a waste of energy.  Being a contrarian does not mean you have to live your life as an antagonist.

Embrace conflict. This does not mean contrarians create conflict, but they are not afraid of it either. When you are a person that questions the beliefs of others or when you take a path people disagree with, conflict is inevitable.

Cease to seek the approval of others. Every extraordinary achievement is made possible by choosing to ignore the impossible. Trust yourself. Draw upon your own intuitive insights to guide you to your positive realization. Every great business, family and athletic champion has had to overcome what other people thought they were capable of achieving.

Choose your arguments carefully. Allow others to be right. This does not mean someone wins or loses an argument. Giving someone else the chance to be genuinely heard and respected can be far more satisfying than attempting to convince someone that you are right and they are wrong. More accurately, communication breaks down and eventually relationships can sour. Take the higher view; allow others to speak their mind.

Be true to convictions. Don’t allow others to silence you. Don’t let others misrepresent you or your opinions. Stand firm in your beliefs. This does not mean being rude or acting inappropriately, but rather, it means being honest and straightforward.  Remember, you reach your real height when you stand up for what you believe. A contrarian would rather be despised for who they are than loved for whom others want them to be.

Contemplate your perspectives. Self-absorption, self-importance and isolation can be dangerous.  It is easy to get so caught up in our personal perspectives that it clouds our judgment and our ability to make effective decisions. Time spent in study and time allocated in quiet contemplation is necessary so as to see past your own personal perspective.

See others as teachers. It is your responsibility to determine what the lessons are in every experience. When you do this you will find yourself far less annoyed or frustrated by the comments or actions of others. Change your thinking from “Why is someone doing this or that?” to “What can I learn from this?” You may find that this can bring you peace and balance. You may also find you pick up lessons from small cues rather than large ones. Better to learn empathy from the stranger annoying you in line than from the serious illness of a close friend. One way or another you will learn the lessons you need in life.

These are just a few characteristics you might want to adopt to embrace contrarianism. Put a few of them to use to experience the benefits they have to offer.

Best of success to you!

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