Leadership: What we can all learn from Led Zeppelin and the Grateful Dead.

“Jimmy Page, around whom the Zeppelin revolves, is, admittedly, an extraordinarily proficient blues guitarist and explorer of his instrument’s electronic capabilities. Unfortunately, he is also a very limited producer and a writer of weak, unimaginative songs, and the Zeppelin album suffers from his having both produced it and written most of it (alone or in combination with his accomplices in the group).”

This quote comes from the first review that Rolling Stone Magazine ever did on a Led Zeppelin album. Glowing? Not exactly. The battle between critical acclaim and the overwhelming reception of fans around the world would go on for the better part of the band’s career careening on in the midst and breadth of their break up in the wake of the death of their legendary drummer John Bonham.

No matter what they did as individuals, as representatives of a legendary band that transformed the world of rock and roll or simply as individual men, the critics and cynics always seemed to follow. But ultimately their commitment to music, their passion and their craft and their idea of leading a life that wasn’t dictated by the swirling storm they had initially created in the late sixties held fast.

This collective mindset held pure leading up to their decision not to tour in recent years and not pandering to the popular notion remained in tact. Basically Zeppelin was never held hostage by the conventional wisdom of having to cater to your critics or even your fans. Ultimately this attitude, this philosophy and this style created a legion of new fans in a generation Robert Plant could have never known he would have touched when he took the reigns as lead singer in nineteen sixty-eight or when he decided to do his celebrated collaboration with Allison Krause. The lesson for leaders? Don’t listen to the critics and know that what you do will always have an impact on future generations.

The Grateful Dead were no more well received than Zeppelin with their album in nineteen seventy one being trumpeted in this way “Despite some heartening knew-they-could-do-it-all-along moments, it has all the earmarks of such a betwixt and between record — produced live, mostly other people’s songs, filtered through with a kind of relaxed air that relies on renditions of old familiars and any number of debt-paying tributes.”.

And the band’s nonchalant approach to this was to simply tour and tour and tour and to build fans around the world. This criticism being directed towards a band that would not only shatter the touring totals of bands worldwide but would also set a new business model in their pay scale for employees which led to the long term support of both the people they employed and the audience around them that kept the band out on the road for over forty years with a new iteration going back out on the circuit this year to the joy of fans around the world. The lesson for leaders being a relentless approach to addressing the grassroots level by a comittment to what you produce as well as the people around you and understanding your audience will always be successful.

Needless to say, I’m a fan of rock and roll. That being said I’m just as just great of a fan of what it, and so many other things in life, can teach you. Led Zeppelin and the Grateful Dead were just part of that for me and I hope somehow these thoughts can somehow help you guys!

Principal, Copenhaver Consulting LLC, former mayor of Augusta, triathlete, writer & runner focused on transforming great ideas into great actions.

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