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What Rock God Robert Plant Can Teach CEOs And Celebrities

Robert Plant

One of the most important traits of a good leader is to know when to let go and when to let others take a turn at the top. But top leaders rarely have a healthy enough ego to be able to leave at the right time for themselves and for their organization, cause or movement.

Leaders and managers can learn a great deal from rock legend and former Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant, now 64, who embodies the right way to do it. His musical contemporaries, the Rolling Stones, continue to embody the wrong way to do it.

Plant is touring, quietly and with little fanfare, at the same time that the Stones continue to plunder consumers by attempting to charge over $600 for a premium ticket. It might seem insulting enough that the Stones come by for one last mugging of their fans; but even as septuagenarians, their anniversary tour theme, "50 and Counting" implies that they're not done taking your loot yet, and will be back in a wheelchair next time if need be.

Plant, by contrast, chooses to do his thing rather than cashing in on nostalgia or basking in the sort of mega-spotlight that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards demand lest they wither away.

Come to think of it, all three of them are withering away anyway. That's the aging process for you. But the once-proudly-strutting Plant conducts himself now with a dignity, a self-effacing sense of humor, and a humility that is instructive, even enlightening, in our narcissistic, celebrity-driven, winner-takes-all culture.

My colleague, Varun Soni, is the dean of religious life at the University of Southern California and a lifelong Led Zeppelin fan. An ardent student of Buddhism, Hinduism and comparative religion, he sees Plant as an exemplar of sannyasa, an ancient Indian principle that could benefit leaders in every realm.

Sannyasa traditionally has involved a person renouncing his privilege and power (often toward the end of one's life), in order to ready oneself properly for the next life. But as Soni explains it, "Sannyasa isn't just the renunciation of material goods and accomplishments, but also the relinquishing of ego and attachment. Among rock and roll icons, Robert Plant best represents this philosophy."

What makes Plant so rare? As Soni notes, "He's passed up several Led Zeppelin reunion tours over the years—and the latest one could be the first billion-dollar tour ever. But he's walked away from his share of that and from legions of adoring fans, because he wants to do something that's more authentic to the person he is today. So instead of playing 100,000-seat arenas, he now tours 5,000-seat venues. He's taking the moment and the music over the promise of more fame and fortune."

"Do your job, then stop," the Taoist sage Lao Tzu said. "It is the only path to serenity." Yet this crucial leadership wisdom requires a very healthy ego, and there are few such exemplars of a healthy ego today or in any day.

The Roman general Cincinnatus and George Washington embodied it in a political realm. Former UCLA coach John Wooden embodied it in a sports realm. And within the spiritual realm, Jesus of Nazareth, the Buddha and a handful of others embodied the renunciation of royal or divine glory for higher purposes.

But more often, we see cases like Julius Caesar or Joe Paterno, clinging to glory till they lose their ability to fight off disaster. We see the sad mutual addiction of the Stones and their fans. We see Charlie Watts effectively retire from drumming forty years ago but maintaining his role as a Stone anyway.

Plant, meanwhile, experiments relentlessly with new genres and styles, accountable only to his own passions. He passed up a massive Zeppelin reunion in 2008 to tour with bluegrass singer Allison Kraus. Today he will play a few Zeppelin standards in concert, but again only after radically reinventing them, with the help of eclectic musicians spanning four continents. And even when he reunited with Zeppelin founder Jimmy Page for a few years in the 1990s, he insisted on doing so without the monumental weight of the Zeppelin brand and with a commitment to reinterpreting their oeuvre.

Plant's major goal now isn't to bask in the largest available spotlight. His goal now is to indulge his curiosity and his passion while helping put a spotlight on a whole new generation of talented peers.

In that way, he is a meaningful model for leaders and public figures everywhere.

From: Forbes


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This Month in
Led Zeppelin History

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November 21, 1968 - Robert becomes a father to a baby girl named Carmen Jane.
November 09, 1968 - Robert marries Maureen in London. Their reception is a performance at the Roundhouse in London
November xx, 1969 - Tempers flare over Atlantic in the UK wanting to release singles
November xx, 1969 - Recording for Led Zeppelin III begins at Olympic Studios in London
November xx, 1970 - Plans are in motion for a Yardbirds reunion
November 08, 1971 - Finally after much anticipation, Untitled is released
November xx, 1972 - Houses Of The Holy is mixed and completed
November 10, 1972 - Led Zeppelin sell out 120,000 tickets in one day
November xx, 1973 - Initial recordings for Physical Graffiti commences at Headley Grange
November 04, 1973 - Led Zeppelin finalize the purchase of Headley Grange to be their new corporate headquarters
November xx, 1974 - The band makes plans and rehearses for the tenth North American tour
November xx, 1975 - Led Zeppelin records Presence in a mere 18 days
November xx, 1976 - Led Zeppelin book into Ezyhire Studios to rehearse new material for an upcoming tour
November 04, 1976 - The Song Remains The Same movie premieres in Europe
November xx, 1977 - Jimmy dispells rumors of Led Zeppelin’s break up
November 06, 1978 - Led Zeppelin purchase and ship new gear to Polar Studios to begin work on a new album
November 10, 1979 - Led Zeppelin and their entire entourage attend an ABBA concert
November 07, 1980 - The band meets with Peter Grant to announce the retirement of Led Zeppelin
November 29, 1999 - The RIAA announced that Led Zeppelin were only the third act in music history to achieve four or more Diamond albums, a Diamond album being awarded for accredited sales of more than 10 million units in the US.
November 01, 2007 - An announcement was made that Jimmy Page had fractured his finger on his left hand after a fall in his garden and the reunion show would be postponed to December 10, 2007.
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