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The Art and Adventure of Leadership: Understanding Failure, Resilience and Success by Warren Bennis, Steven B. Sample, Rob Asghar

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4Avoiding Groupthink, Mass Media, and the Failures of the Herd

The ability to cultivate and maintain a certain intellectual independence is essential to the leader who seeks to avoid ultimate failure. Although failures are inevitable along any leader's journey, some of the worst are the result of a leader succumbing to a herd mentality.

This may involve excessive compliance with the whims and assumptions of followers. But more often, this involves excessive deference to the zeitgeist or the conventional wisdom within the popular or trade media or within one's industry or guild.

The effective leader has a decided contrarian streak—a tendency to consider what others won't consider, an appetite for studying what others don't study, and a willingness to go where others won't tread.

This should not be overdone. After all, in most cases the conventional wisdom is reasonably correct, because it usually has been tested by time and circumstance. Someone who is always contrarian for the sake of being contrarian will be the first in racing off cliffs, often taking followers, investors, and stakeholders with him or her. That is failure in its worst sense.

But every so often, the leader who maintains intellectual independence can sense that the road may be curving, while peers assume that it continues straight.

At these moments the wise leader is able to avoid final failure that may lie ahead. More positively, it is at such moments that the leader and his or her organization or cause are ...

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