I just finished reading James Patterson’s book, The Last Days of John Lennon. In it, he goes through a fair amount of the history of the Beatles, both before and after the breakup.
I was struck by the role Ringo Starr played in the group. Like Charlie Watts, the Rolling Stones drummer who recently passed away, Ringo never really got the credit he deserved for being a world-class drummer. But more than that, reading the book, I discovere the role Ringo played in the group’s culture and with John, Paul, and George after the breakup. It was Ringo who tried to heal the relationships between the three. To keep them in touch with one another. To be there for them when they needed his presence. In many respects, he was the (and is) the Beatles unassuming flame keeper.
When you think about it, the role of a drummer in a band is critical. It is the drummer that supplies the beat the others play to. Tap too fast or too slow; the music is off and sounds terrible. Tap inconsistently, and the others can’t keep up, and the performance is bad. A good drummer must be consistent and reflect what the other musicians are doing and trying to accomplish—their goals in performing the song. Yet they are often overlooked and not noticed.
And so it is in every organization. We all need that drummer who reflects the culture and can keep us all on beat with what we are doing. To ensure we don’t wander off for what we are trying to do. To make sure the proverbial train runs on time.
But Ringo’s and Charlie’s example shows that a great drummer supplies something else to an organization. A great drummer not only keeps the beat but is also the organization’s soul.
Great drummers like Ringo and Charlie are keepers of the traditions and culture of the band and the organization. They hold the center together even when all else is gone. That’s what Ringo did even after the breakup. That’s what Charlie did until he died. As Keith Richards said in 1979, “Charlie Watts is the Stones.” (See RollingStone article of August, 2021.) Or, as Graham Nash is quoted in the same article, “His secret — the same as Ringo — is heartbeat.”
Likewise, every family, every organization, needs someone to be the keeper of the traditions. The person, the family or organization looks to in times of stress and trouble for wisdom. And all to often, when they are gone, there is a void that reduces the family ties.
I was reminded of this need when I heard the announcement of the retirement of Alvin Tedjamulia, one of the cofounders of NetDocuments. I got to know Alvin a bit and while I never worked with him, I always had the impression that he was the heart and soul of NetDocuments, its drummer. He will be missed.
Drummer leaders don’t seek glory for themselves. They put the needs and mission of the organization first. So who is the great drummer in your organization? Who is your organization’s heartbeat? If you are the leader, is it you? It better be.
Ringo Starr: Eve Rinaldi via Flickr
Charlie Watts: Poison Bill & Text via Flickr