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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

February 7, 1962 - Deborah Bonham, sister to John, was born in Redditch, Worcestershire, England
February 23, 1966 - Warren Grant, son of Peter, was born.
February xx, 1969 - Led Zeppelin enters the Billboard Top 40
February 16, 1969 - Led Zeppelin wrap up their first American tour in Baltimore, MD.
February 07, 1970 - Edinburgh gig cancelled after Plant receives facial injuries in a car accident
February 28, 1970 - The band performs as "The Nobs" in Copenhagen after threat of legal action from Countess Von Zeppelin
February xx, 1971 - John Paul Jones involved in legal issues regarding a musician who shares the same name
February xx, 1971 - Overdubs for the fourth album are recorded at Island Studios
February 14, 1972 - The band is refused admission into Singapore due to their long hair
February 16, 1972 - The Australian tour begins in Perth
February 21, 1972 - Led Zeppelin: Rock and Roll b/w Four Sticks (Atlantic 45-2865) 45 single is released in the US.
February xx, 1973 - The band makes final preparations for the European tour
February 16, 1973 - The release date for Houses Of The Holy is pushed back due to some sleeve problems
February xx, 1974 - Sessions for Physical Graffiti continue
February 14, 1974 - Page, Plant and Bonham attend a Roy Harper concert
February 04, 1975 - Zeppelin perform a last minute show at Nassau Coliseum to accomodate fans after being banned in Boston
February 24, 1975 - Physical Graffiti finally issued worldwide to phenomenal sales
February xx, 1976 - Media reports that Zeppelin are due to release an album entitled Obelisk
February xx, 1977 - Robert contracts a bout of tonsillitis postponing the American tour
February xx, 1978 - Robert Plant helps produce a record for punk band Dansette Damage
February 16, 1978 - The cases against Bonham, Cole & Grant stemming from the Oakland incident are heard and all receive suspended prison sentences and fines
February xx, 1979 - Although absent from the US stage or market, Led Zeppelin rank best in many music magazine categories
February xx, 1979 - Mixing sessions for In Through The Out Door take place at Polar Studios. Rumors fly of a European tour
February 03, 1980 - Robert joins Dave Edmund’s Rockpile at the Birmingham Top Rank
February 13, 2005 - Led Zeppelin receives a Grammy for Lifetime Achievment.
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