Dr. Steven B. Sample / Warren Bennis / Herman Well

Warren Bennis once told me that he was an example of a person with an excellent personal radar; such people are extremely sensitive to the thoughts, feelings, and wishes of others, and as a consequence are constantly turning their attention from one thing or person to another, and then another, and then another. Bennis added that he thought I was an example of a person with a good internal gyrocompass; such people can stay steadily on course no matter how many distractions may impinge on them from every side.

The problem is that neither a good personal radar nor a good internal gyrocompass is sufficient to make a person an effective leader. The radar-equipped find it hard to stay on course long enough to get anything accomplished, while the gyro-equipped are liable to run into an iceberg at full steam.

The contrarian leader knows he should have both. And if he’s not blessed with both from birth (and practically no one is), he knows he must either develop an artificial radar (or an artificial gyrocompass, as the case may be), or recruit a lieutenant who has the particular property which the leader lacks.

Here we might draw a parallel to Machiavelli’s dictum that it is best for a leader to be both feared and loved, but if he must make an exclusive choice between the two, he should prefer to be feared. Similarly, if a leader must choose between being sensitive to others and being able to stay on course, he should prefer the latter.

No matter how sophisticated a potential leader may be in thinking free, artful listening and making decisions, the contrarian knows that drive and enthusiasm have a lot to do with determining who wins and who loses at the end of the day. In his book Being Lucky, Herman Wells, the famous mid-twentieth century president of Indiana University, made essentially this same point. It helps to be smart and creative, Wells noted, but the two most important ingredients for successful leadership are energy and luck.

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