Contrarian By Nature

Paul Heagen Purposeful Leadership & Living Leave a Comment

It was just a few months ago that the global stock markets crumpled under the hammer of the Brexit vote. Exchanges around the world logged losses totally $2 trillion in just two days, with indexes down an average of 7-8% worldwide.

A friend of mine was bemoaning the turmoil and asked me (misdirected in that I know almost nothing about the behavior of equity markets) what I thought about it. “Sounds like a buying signal to me!” I replied, cheerily. (By the way, the markets more than recovered their losses within weeks. Brexit, what Brexit?)

I’m actually a bit of a downbeat player when it comes to the markets (having predicted seven of the last four corrections), but my comment was founded on a belief that opportunity is more often found when going against the grain of convention. Particularly with the modern CEO, leadership often means taking a new path, rather than one worn smooth by others who have already captured the premiums of adventure.

What could it look like to be a contrarian CEO?

Work hard when things are easy; work easy when things are hard. We can all be lulled into complacency when business is good, but what is better — to dig into the thornier issues when the weather is fair or try to marshal that same energy when you are pressed by storms or facing the clock?

Save money when you have it; spend it when you don’t. I would suggest that one risk of spending money when it’s abundant is that we can be less disciplined about it. Save a lot of it for a rainy day, when no one else is out there or your organization needs the boost. Of course, just about everyone hunkered in the bunker during the last recession, but the winners came out early and started to invest in systems, brand and product development.

When you feel you need to go fast, slow down. A rushed decision is almost always a bad decision because we develop tunnel vision, where options and consequences are pushed to the periphery. Sure, have a brisk pace for decisions, but most good decisions will benefit by taking a day off.

When you feel you have no choice, find another. It is only in an abundance of options do we discover the best decision.

Trust Your guts. Data, by its nature, tends to be reflective, rather than projective. Don’t go ahead blindly, but respect that our instincts are wired into us for a reason. Place some stock in the perspective and wisdom you probably have accumulated over several cycles of high and low tide. Moreover, when we are invested viscerally in our decisions, we have a way of making sure they are executed well. No spreadsheet can promise a good night’s sleep.

Sell fast, buy slow. When it’s time to get out, get out. Once you have lost heart in a product line or business direction, attrition sets in, and rarely is there any marginal value to be realized by hanging on. Harvest your emotional and intellectual energy. On the other side, making a big buy commits you to a long game, so taking a deep breath helps insulate you from deal heat.

Speak to the hard truths. People know when you are glossing over a failure. Too often we want to shield people from the rocks and the whitewater. Most people probably already know where the organization in struggling; they want to know that you see it, too. Be bold about what has to change and good people will sign up for that.

It takes some verve to be contrarian. More and more, the market rewards people who are different by intent. Many of the most successful businesses that have emerged over the last decade started with a rebellion against something.

Even if just the status quo.

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