Start Me Up…

Keith Richards – Rolling Stone and business guru on leadership and Brexit

Rockstar, guitarist, poet, philosopher, and many other things besides, but who knew that Keith Richards was also a business guru?  Apparently, I am the only one who did not – a quick Google search shows something like 22 million references to the Rolling Stones in a business context.  My error was revealed last week when, as I was about to leave for work, I heard the opening bars of Start Me Up on Radio 4’s Today programme.

Start Me Up may just be the perfect way to start the day but what followed was pretty much as good.  Leaving aside Mick Jagger (because in this blog I can), there were moments in the next few minutes of radio that were pure gold.

The first was Richards’ voice.  I thought it must be Keith Richards doing Bill Nighy doing Keith Richards in Love Actually.  Self-deprecating, slightly whimsical – and the laugh was just right.

The second extraordinary thing was the revelation that the Stones had, in 1989 during their Steel Wheels tour, and way before the rest of us, spotted the truth about Trump.  Apparently, ‘The Donald’ had crashed a press conference they were giving in Atlantic City leading Richards to react: “I pulled out my trusty blade, stuck it on the table and said – You’ve got to get rid of this man”.  What a pity we are judged on our actions, not our intentions.

The story led to the more familiar tale about the Stones’ irritation about Trump’s use of You can’t always get what you want on the Presidential campaign.  Richards’ observed that it was the last time he got angry.  Earlier he had spoken about Street Fighting Man, a song written about the Paris riots in 1968, and asked about what made him angry now.  The answer was surprisingly mellow – “These days nothing [the laugh again]. I just can’t be bothered. I can’t waste the energy on anger”.

Richards’ throwaway line hides a truth that is not just about the destructive nature of anger but rather about how important it is to manage our energy.  There has been a great deal of recent comment on the impact of the loss of sleep but less on self-awareness about what actually tires us out when we are awake.  Anger, which seems to be an increasingly prevalent emotion, is one of the most wearing – so some control of it might be beneficial in many ways.

The other insight that came out of the interview was on Brexit – which was an unexpected direction to take.  No great answer from the guru, just a recognition that “everyone would like to see some resolution” and that progress would come from a “leadership that is united rather than split”.  Mick and Keith are onto the truth that in any organisation, misalignment at the top leads to disaffection, distrust and dysfunction – and inevitably impacts on results.

It is hard to re-listen to the interview (15 May 18, 07:46, Radio 4) and not enjoy so much besides their views on anger and leadership.  Great songs, that voice, and Martha Kearney’s incredulous introduction are just some highlights.  There is the description of You can’t always get what you want – “a doomy ballad about drugs in Chelsea” and finally, and perhaps most surprisingly, just a hint of those ageing hell-raisers sounding sympathetic to Theresa May’s predicament on Brexit.

Stay in touch and subscribe to de-cooded, our regular digest of business insights from the perspective of leadership and culture.

Coode Associates supports and advises companies on leadership and organisational effectiveness and alignment, identifying Purpose and Values and on culture-shaping more generally. If you’d like to speak with us, we’d love to hear from you:


© 2024 Coode® is a registered trade mark of Coode Associates. Back to Insights