The Cost of the Contrarian Cowboy

Winning cures all ills.  Then there is the unspoken part of that statement…for a while.  As with anything, eventually there comes a day of reckoning. Case in point, the recently fired Mike Leach and Texas Tech.  Just last year he was praised as a football genius, profiled on 60 Minutes. He was heralded as a gifted coach, rewarded with massive contracts.  And yes, he won – a lot. However, being the contrarian comes at a price.  You burn bridges, sacrifice goodwill, hurt feelings, alienate peers, subordinates and superiors, and just generally become annoying.  And for a while it can all be overlooked.

It is called many things – “not playing politics”, “being a cowboy”, or “going against the grain” – and often times it is necessary, fitting, and plain effective.  But as with all things, moderation is the key.  Being contrarian is often the very thing that allows the mold to be broken, for the paradigm to shift, for breakthroughs and advancements to be made.  Leaders are often the “cowboys” who are able to overcome group think; who can get the team out of the rut; who can take them to the next level.  Being contrarian has a place, a time, and a finite life span.

However, being a contrarian leader all the time eventually becomes ones normal behaviour.  And in the case of contrarian behaviour, eventually organizational, societal, and social norms will demand a day of reckoning.  More simply put – you cannot just always be a jerk.  No matter how good the results, eventually the schtick wears thin.  One would think Coach Leach would have paid a touch more attention to that other contrarian coach on campus.  Eventually everybody tired of Bobby Knight, and he did much more than just win championships – much more.

Regardless of how good you are, how good the results, how often you win, no one can be a jerk forever.  Being a leader by its nature will require contrarian behaviour to some degree.  Being a “cowboy” is not a bad thing.  But being that way all the time is not effective.  It becomes counter productive.  You sacrifice goodwill, you no longer have the benefit of the doubt, you lose your supporters, your advocates, and your protectors.  In the end, there is a cost and it will have to be paid.

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Filed under Coaching, leadership, Sports

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