From Hank to Hendrix: leadership lessons from the godfather of grunge.

Last Saturday I spent 3 glorious hours in the company of Neil Young at the O2. The man is 70 and, supported by band members who looked well short of half his age, he delivered with few words, great presence and a strong connection.

Some 55 years on from his first gig, he still finds the passion and energy to really perform. How does he do that? And what can we, and the leaders we coach, learn from him?

Neil young started in about 1960 playing covers of instrumental Shadows numbers. He helped create folk-rock and country–rock with Buffalo Springfield. He produced stunning acoustic albums that show-cased his song-writing ability. And he produced a brand of hard rock that earned him the sobriquet “the godfather of grunge”.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame website says “Young has consistently demonstrated the unbridled passion of an artist who understands that self-renewal is the only way to avoid burning out”. But he has not jettisoned what he once knew or who he once was: he brings it all together in what he now is. When I saw him he showed his range as a performer: he started soft, reflective and melodic; and concluded visceral, driven and challenging.

The parallels with the mind-set and approach of engaging, experienced leaders is striking. I notice that the best leaders I coach (and various friends who dabble with retiring then take on another big job) relish the next challenge. Those who continue to progress and achieve, evolve as they learn. From Hank to Hendrix: leadership lessons from the godfather of grunge.

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