Talking wine, rock ’n roll, and leadership with Maynard Keenan.

October 3, 2016
Maynard James Keenan

Maynard James Keenan

Talking wine, rock ’n roll, and leadership with Maynard Keenan.


Leadership comes in many different forms from many different directions. Recently, two Mason County natives got together to talk about this topic. Grammy award winning performing artist Maynard James Keenan, and nationally-recognized leadership consultant Kevin Eikenberry spoke on Eikenberry’s podcast, The Remarkable Leadership Podcast, about “wine, rock ’n roll, and leadership.”

Both Keenan and Eikenberry grew up down the road from each other in Custer Township, south of Scottville. Both graduated from Mason County Central High School; Keenan in 1982 and Eikenberry in 1980. Keenan’s father and stepmother were teachers at MCC High School while Eikenberry’s father was a farmer and his mother was the elementary school secretary.

Keenan started the bands Tool, Perfect Circle and Puscifer. He is also the owner/operator of Caduceus Cellars wintery in Arizona. Eikenberry is the owner/operator of the Kevin Eikenberry Group of Indianapolis, which is considered one of the top leadership consulting firms in the nation.

The two continue to frequently return to their childhood homes, which they both now own, in Mason County.

Kevin Eikenberry

Kevin Eikenberry

In the podcast they discuss the work ethics they learned from growing up in rural west Michigan and also about balancing utilitarian and artistic abilities in leadership.

The following is an excerpt of the podcast, transcribed by permission from Eikenberry.

Kevin Eikenberry: I’m curious what you’ve learned about leadership and how you run your businesses from your growing up in west Michigan.

Maynard Keenan: I think some of the things I learned the most in Michigan is that work ethic… My dad was a high school teacher and he couldn’t get to school to do his job without plowing out a quarter miles of driveway. A normal kid would say ‘there’s snow, let’s go back to bed or play video games.’ It’s just engrained in me that that wasn’t an option.

KE: I recently read from someone that leading a band is harder than leading any other kind of team. I’m not sure if that’s true but you’ve got a lot of experience leading bands. What have you learned about leadership in the leading of the disparate group of folks you’ve lead in bands?

MK: Artists are like herding cats. They’ve had their moment of discovery when they have honed their crafts, not in most cases, but the best of the best honed a craft somewhat. They tend to be the leaders in those projects. I think with artists in general you have a hard time getting them to listen to any direction because we are artists and we have to be free. Thats a different thing. You have to do a lot of pavlovian tactics and dangle some carrots to get them to move. I absolutely agree with what you read, it’s very very difficult, especially if its a four way thing like in Tool. It’s very difficult because its four very talented people that think hey know the way the world works and we are very stubborn.

KE: And yet you all know how to navigate it and make it a success. Are there any other pieces that are helpful to you?

MK: It’s always dangerous when talking about business. When I’m working with Puscifer or working with Perfect Circle, those band members see me working, not just trying to delegate from a desk and pointing and grunting… when you are getting your hands dirty either figuratively or literally and they see you doing things that they couldn’t possibly do. Some people don’t have that personality for a camera, or that personality for an interview but if they see your work ethic they will jump in, they will follow you. Lead by example.

KE: In many ways, nothing you’ve accomplished surprises me. Talk about the path. It’s very different to go from western Michigan to winning Grammy awards.

MK: I’m an only child and a lot this stuff goes on my head without any interruption. A lot of these things happen in my head first. When you bring them out of your head and manisfest them in some way, I think with anything, it’s psychology 101. You need some kind of positive reinforcement, even if it’s for bad behavior, you tend to follow that path a little bit so those things start to manifest a little easier as you go. As a human being you want to be appreciated. You want to be desired. You want to be liked. If you are being praised for something that you do better than the person next to you, you tend to follow these paths.

In high school writing words was my way out. I wasn’t a great cross country runner. I wasn’t a great wrestler. I wasn’t a great student. I was good at all of those things, but what I had was when I would see a classmate who was in a bad situation, upset about something, I could sit down a little bit and recede into my room and write a song or a poem. This was not only specific to my situation, it’s broad and could apply to that other friend who is having a rough day.  So there’s a foundation of it ,it’s reinforcement of it having scratched the surface of something.

KE: People can look at you and say this is a guy who is creative, who has done a lot of stuff in the classical terms of being creative. What do you do to spur that in yourself, to keep that edge?

MK: I haven’t had a near death experience but I think I’ve been around people who have had near death experiences. Some people are jolted… you hear the story about the person going along and something happens with them. Then they are embracing life and taking it by the balls and just going for it… For me I think I had that early on several occasions. Puscifer’s model is ‘Life is short, create something with every breath you draw.’ If you could just take a minute, sit down and realize you only have so much time here, why not just go for it? Why not just do something? You are a creative, intelligent, resilient creature. The worst that can happen is you have to start over. So, start over. Go for it and try to bring people along with you and try to arm them with the tools that help pick you up when you fall down.

KE: Why wine?

MK: I think in general growing something is grounding, figuratively growing something and literally growing something. It can be grounding. I think the literal part is more grounding. Looking at area around my home (in Arizona), I noticed it had many of the wonderful similarities to some of the best growing regions around the world. But, there were no vines there and it made me scratch my head. But I went ahead and started planting vines anyway. There were a couple people who were growing vines already. I had vines in the ground, did research and found out this area was booming a wine region in the mining days, around 1900… But Prohibition made them pull all the vines, otherwise they would be here already been here. It was one of those a-ha moments and when the magic happens, make a decision and in some way you are praised for it and really it is just a self discovery and you are patting yourself on the back . I saw the potential and pursued that potential. I found out that somebody else had pursued it and the only thing that ruined the momentum was Prohibition.

I think the winery is absolutely all of the moving parts of what mentioned before, utilitarian and artistic. You have to be on your toes and you have to be conscious and have to be present and I get to stay home.

Listen to the entire interview here.

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