On Leadership and The Rolling Stones

Rolling Stone Magazine

I found a copy of Rolling Stone magazine on my kitchen counter today.

Although it wasn’t mine, I cracked it open because of the picture on the front of guitar hero Keith Richards of the legendary rock and roll band The Rolling Stones.

The Rolling Stones

I have always liked the Stones very much (the band, not the magazine) and was interested in the interview with Richards. As I picked up the magazine to read it, I smiled as I remembered the decades-old joke that goes something like this:

Q: “What are the only two things that could survive a nuclear bomb blast?”

A: “Cock roaches and Keith Richards.”

This joke stems from the belief that Richards, an admitted heavy drug user, could live through anything if he made it through his exploits in the 60’s and 70’s.

So with this old joke keeping a smile on my face, I perused the magazine to check out what was going on with Keith Richards and the boys. My eyes caught the large print on page 43 of the article by David Fricke, it says this:

“The Rolling Stones spent the first year of their life hanging places, stealing food and rehearsing. We were paying to be the Rolling Stones. The place where we lived – Mick, Brian and I – at 102 Edith Grove, in Fulham, was truly disgusting.”

Paying It Forward

I stopped reading the article right them and put down the magazine. I marveled at the line “we were paying to be the Rolling Stones” coming from someone who knew at age 18 what it took to persevere to become something accomplished in their field well before there was any inclinationthat things would change from “disgusting” to the best known band in the world.

He essentially said that they persisted because they knew that they were paying forward with sacrifice, effort, and clarity even though their future path of success was never charted for them.

Me & Keith

Keith Richards circa 1986I am not sure if you ever heard Keith Richard play guitar, but he is really good. His performances and recordings prove that he is a master of his craft. I saw him live in 1986 and I still remember how good he was. He has always been world-class and should remain unforgettable for a long time.

With his amazing talent, drive, and performance, I have wondered if I was as good at ANYTHING as Keith is at playing the guitar in his band. I asked myself “Am I the Keith Richards of X, Y, or Z?” Hmmmm

On the surface, I would say “Of course not! Are you kidding me?” But then it got me thinking…

I wondered if I could be considered world-class at something like:

  • Managing Budgets?
  • PowerPoint Presentations?
  • Public Speaking?
  • Training Executives?
  • Managing a Team?
  • Inspiring People?
  • Being a Husband?
  • Raising Children?
  • Grilling Steaks?
  • Outdoor Hiking & Camping?
  • Grass Cutting?
  • Freestyle Frisbee on the Beach?

I pondered for a moment, and then reality strikes me cold… “I am no Keith Richards of anything!

Preparing For Success

As I was grilling dinner thinking about how some teenagers in London back in the early 60’s who weren’t yet the Rolling Stones became the huge success they were, the line about “we were paying to be the Rolling Stones” kept running through my head.

I went back and read more of the article and even more comes out in Richards’ bio-tale that confirms that hard work, team work, sacrifice, and the stuff of great leadership kept showing through in his life to propel him to great heights.

Leadership Starts With Self

Yes, Keith Richards was a self-admitted drunken-drug-addict who probably missed a few church services in his day, but he was persistent at plugging away at his craft in the early days to make his dreams happen. He led himself first. This was the key to getting on the launching pad of success.

So I took a quick personal inventory to see if I am presently doing anything that modeled the attitude of “paying to be a Rolling Stone” to see if I had a new launching pad ahead of me. I want to see if I am doing the right things with practice, endurance, team work and the other stuff that Richards did to rock my future.

I am happy to say, that “Yes! I am doing things that are not yet paying off, but are putting me closer to my next launching pad!”


I have much in the pipeline that could launch my success very high and it is because I am taking Keith’s attitude toward paying it forward. I am stretching myself in ways that sometimes looks like I might be wasting my time, but I know where I am going with these things and I know that people will love and appreciate it soon enough.

Have I always done the hard work of preparation for something grand? No, I haven’t. Upon reflection, it looks like I have been relying on a script written by someone else. I have been doing the “safe” thing. I haven’t been driving toward a launching pad. I have just been making my way through life thinking that I was driving toward the golf course or the beach. But where is that kind of thinking going to really take me?

Living a life on cruise-control or auto-pilot never steers one toward a launching pad. It runs you into “the back 40” or off a cliff into Forgotten World.

Wanna Be a Rock Star?

Now is the time to look at yourself and see if you are destined for stardom, or not. Then pick the attitude that suites your vision. If you are headed into the sunset with no real plans to serve an audience like a rock star, that is certainly fine. But if you think that you might have something special inside that can serve a whole lot of people, then start “paying to be a Rolling Stone.”

God Luck on your journey!

So, how are you doing in getting ready to be something grand? Are you on a personal or professional cruise-controlled journey headed straight toward “Nowhere Land?” Or are you looking to do what Keith Richards did as a late teen and start to live a real dream that can truly rock the world?


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Tom Schulte
Tom Schulte is Executive Director of Linked 2 Leadership
He provides leadership training fit for the Blackberry-Attention-Span
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5 responses to “On Leadership and The Rolling Stones

  1. Hi Tom,
    I remember when YOU stopped doing the “safe thing” and stepped out in courageous obedience to start L2L. It was a risk, and there were a lot of unknowns, but you walked in obedience to where you felt God leading. And now, you’re blessing many people through your work.

    Thanks for all you do.



    • Hi Dave!

      Thank you for your encouragement! Now do like I told you to do back in 2007 and follow my lead. You have everything you need to head toward that launching pad, so go forth with strength and purpose. I know you and know that you are ready. Keep up the God Work, my man!



  2. I found your thoughts on Keith Richards very inspiring. All the analogies with leadership practices are true. First of all, it requires the right amount of motivation, zeal and endurance to get where you want. What I miss a little, though, is one preliminary step that I would like to add.
    I consider it important to first find out how far I would like to go in my career, both physically and psychologically. It is okay to have big dreams, but they may lead to deception and depression when I find out that I am not hard enough to persevere. It is okay to lead a mediocre life as long as I am happy with it. There is possibly only one Keith Richard in the world, but there are many other excellent guitarists that end up in poverty or at a psychiatric clinic because they followed a dream that was unrealistic and did not fit their personalities.
    Enjoy the weekend, Barbara


    • Thank you for your comment, Barbara! You are absolutely right!

      One must take a close look at their dreams and always be willing to modify their expectations as realities change. Keeping expectations in check is the key to staying out of mental or emotional distress because it provides that fulcrum to help us keep a reasonable long-term equilibrium. For me, my goals and dreams get realized when I can have my head in the clouds when needed AND my feet on the ground at appropriate times. And, as this word-picture implies, it takes a lot of stretching and vacillating to do this. This requires an entire toolbox of resources and the skills, abilities, dexterity, and willingness to craft a future big enough to satisfy one’s felt purpose.

      As for me, I think that I am built like a rock star, so I am throwing the “Tumbling Dice” and paying to be a Rolling Stone!

      Thanks again for your great comment!



  3. I’d add three other points: 1) like all of us, Keef has his flaws but perserved to find his own special talents [developing memorable musical hooks and rhythmic blues-rock grooves] , 2) he was lucky to discover and associate with other talented people, and 3) smart enough to work through the personality differences. On this last point, anyone who has ever been in a band has had the experience of being through a totally-unnecessary breakup over trivial matters.
    – Greg


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