Should you be a lemming or a contrarian?

Contrarian investing means you shouldn’t “follow the crowd.”

Having higher prices means you not only have to convince clients to get in the door, you also have to impress them enough to stick with you.
Having higher prices means you not only have to convince clients to get in the door, you also have to impress them enough to stick with you.

Should leaders and managers avoid failure at all cost? Should they provide all the answers? Should they spend most of their time training their weakest teammates?

Common wisdom would lead you to answer in the affirmative to all three questions. Yet, being a contrarian—and taking the opposite approach—typically generates much better results.

The most common example of being a contrarian can be found in the stock market. Contrarian investing means you shouldn’t “follow the crowd.” Contrarians buy when everybody is selling, and sell when everybody is buying. It takes a serious dose of courage, but it’s most often rewarding.

This contrarian philosophy applies very well to management. In other words, don’t do what everybody else is doing.

1) Don’t give answers

Many employees believe their leader or manager should have all the answers. And managers are often tempted to share their immense wisdom with their team. After all, isn’t a manager’s job to provide solutions and solve other people’s problems? Isn’t being a problem-solver required?

In reality, this attitude shrinks people’s minds. The contrarian approach is to encourage team members to think for themselves—answer a question with a question. When someone asks what to do when the printer is out of toner, the X-ray system is down, or you’re out of iso, invite them to resolve the situation themselves. Ultimately, this new approach equips your team with problem-solving skills, and empowers them to solve their own glitches in the future.

2) Don’t help the weak

The contrarian approach is to encourage team members to think for themselves.
The contrarian approach is to encourage team members to think for themselves.

Most believe a manager should spend time with their worst employees to train and coach them, and to get them up to speed.
A contrarian thinker would do the opposite, meaning, spend time with his/her best employees.

Your worst employees aren’t likely to become rising stars. Spending time with them is a wasted effort. Instead, you might consider encouraging them to explore new horizons.

Therefore, be a contrarian, and spend more time with your best teammates. They are likely eager to learn, which means you will get more satisfaction from spending time with them than someone who is just there for the paycheck. Encourage them to improve their skills, broaden their knowledge, and achieve their goals.

If you don’t, your superstars might quit their job because of lack of attention, feeling underappreciated, and/or not being able to grow in their positions.

3) Don’t be comfortable

The goal in life is to be comfortable, right? You want a nice house, a reliable car, a cushy bank account—the works. Soon, life becomes routine and predictable, and you might become complacent.

What if just being comfortable weren’t enough? Successful people voluntarily put themselves in uncomfortable situations. That’s how they grow, stretch their skills, and reach the next level.

Speak at a conference instead of just attending one. Scrub in instead of merely watching a new procedure. Sign up for an improv class instead of watching funny videos on YouTube.

These contrarian situations may be uncomfortable at first, but they can eventually become empowering experiences, life lessons, and stepping stones.

4) Don’t be afraid to fail

Don’t shrink the length of your appointments.
Don’t shrink the length of your appointments.

Most people have a fear of failure. It is sometimes so strong, it can stop them from ever trying.

Without failure, there would be no success. From taking your first step, to riding your first bicycle, to dropping your first ovarian pedicle, failing is part of learning.

Every successful person has been a failure at some point. The difference is, failure wasn’t the end of their journey—it was the beginning. They used failure, made changes, grew stronger, and went back to the drawing board to try again.

One of the world’s most successful companies, Amazon, has gone through several colossal failed endeavors (the Fire smartphone,, and Amazon auctions, to name a few). Its founder Jeff Bezos had tried numerous ideas, invested time and effort, and spent huge fortunes, all for naught. But none of that stopped him from trying again until he succeeded—massively.

So be a contrarian and learn from your failures. You will succeed faster.

5) Don’t align your prices

Don’t be afraid to ask a colleague for help.
Don’t be afraid to ask a colleague for help.

When deciding how to price products and services, most clinic owners will have their mother-in-law (or some other decoy) call local hospitals to check on their prices. Then they figure that if the average exam fee is $45, theirs should be $45, too, if not $42.

If you are happy with being average, or being the practice with the least expensive prices, this strategy is perfect for you.

Meanwhile, some contrarian colleagues do the exact opposite. They don’t want to be average or the cheapest. They want to be the best. In our example, they would set their exam fees at $50 to differentiate themselves. It takes some serious guts to make that decision. Of course, this price needs to be justified by excellent customer service and outstanding patient care.

Having higher prices means you not only have to convince clients to get in the door, you also have to impress them enough to stick with you. Don’t try to be like every other clinic in the area. Set yourself apart and strive to have the best possible practice.

6) Don’t shrink appointment length

Contrarians spend money wisely.
Contrarians spend money wisely.

Popular belief is that the more patients you see in a day, the more money you will make. In other words, if you have 32 appointments each lasting 15 minutes, you will make more than if you see 16 half-hour appointments.

This concept is debatable.
A 15-minute appointment may not give you enough time to do a thorough physical exam and workup of a sick patient. You physically may not have time to discuss behavior, nutrition, preventive care (vaccinations, fleas, ticks, heartworms, intestinal parasites, etc.), physical activity, dentistry, weight management, lumps and bumps, water intake, environment enrichment, and so much more. In addition, you may need to answer questions and to bond with the client and the patient. All in a Fear Free manner…

This whirlwind might leave the client unsatisfied, the support staff overworked, and the practitioner burned out.

Longer appointment times, arguably, lead contrarian minds to conduct more thorough workups, have deeper conversations, and provide better patient care. Ultimately, what is good for the patient and the client is good for the practice.

7) Don’t open your door

Managers and leaders often brag about their open-door policy. They can be accessed at any time, with any question and by anyone. This often leaves them constantly interrupted and distracted by every little problem.

Unfortunately, these distractions may not allow the manager to get any work done or even have some time to think.

The contrarian’s belief is to lock yourself up. You do need to be available, but on your terms. Notify your team you will have set open-door hours (a simple sign on your door will do) during which they can reach you with problems or questions. Otherwise, they should be instructed not to interrupt you unless there is a true crisis. This allows you to manage your time wisely, better serve your team, and get your own work done.

8) Don’t go it alone

High achievers are often rugged individualists. They ask for help from nobody and take on challenges alone. They believe they can conquer the world by themselves. They live by the mantra, “If it is to be, it’s up to me.”

They likely believe asking for help is a sign of weakness and that the “John Wayne” approach is a heroic one.

The contrarian philosophy is that it is more productive to ask for help, delegate when needed, and share your struggles with trusted advisors. It is not a sign
of weakness, but instead a display of humility.

There is nothing wrong with reaching out to a mentor, coach, or colleague for advice, guidance, or support. Sometimes, all you need is a shoulder to lean on. Other times, you need a sounding board. Brainstorming to find solutions or refining protocols is a great way to expand your horizons and welcome new ideas.

9) Don’t be a penny pincher

You may think pinching pennies and cutting costs on everything will help you save money. Sometimes, however, this is misguided advice.

If you never update equipment because you don’t want to spend money, this could eventually have a negative impact on your practice. Broken or outdated equipment will frustrate your team, make their job harder, and decrease the level of care you can provide your patients.

Dated exam rooms or an unwelcoming lobby gives clients the wrong impression. They might equate the appearance of your facility with the quality of your medicine.

Contrarians spend money wisely. It doesn’t take much to liven up a practice with a fresh coat of paint, a coffee machine, or educational videos in the waiting room. Prioritize your spending and invest in ideas that will ultimately generate goodwill.

10) Don’t let the squeaky wheel get the grease

“The squeaky wheel gets the grease” means employees who are the loudest (i.e. complain the most) get the most attention. Since nobody likes a squeaky wheel, we tend to dedicate resources to fix the problem.

Does that make sense to you? Should we really be spending time focusing on the whiners, catering to the toxic, and consoling
the grumpy?

According to Dan Sullivan, contrarian, business coach, the correct philosophy should be, “The squeaky wheel gets replaced.”

Indeed, like Robert Frost, leaders should reject popular opinion and consider taking the road less traveled.

Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified, is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and author. His traveling surgery practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. You can visit his websites at and Kat Christman, a certified veterinary technician in Effort, Pa., contributed to this article.

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