The Courageous Decision to Let Go and Lead (The Courageous Life)

Interviewer

And I had this incredibly novel experience, which had so much meaning and connection, which we know meaningful connection is one of the more greater predictors of health and happiness in a lifetime. And here, I was going into this looking for my comfort, looking for my rewards and looking for other things. And so I think, whenever we focus toward others and whenever we’re willing to let go of our idea of how the world should be, how things should have went, what other people should have done, there’s some new possibility that opens up. And especially if we’re thinking how can I be of service? And so then some whole new other dimension can come. Whereas the rest of the time Yeah, maybe I would have just looked for my same hotels that I stay in my same experiences and my same whatever and sat at dinner with the same people who talk about the same things and we all agree with each other. You know, so anyway it’s just an example of one example in my life of where something totally divergent happened. It was a big disappointment. It was totally uncomfortable. And whenever I started thinking about others and whenever I think that’s a beautiful way to be courageous. And you’re really stuck in something; ask yourself, how can I be of service? I think it’s a very powerful tool to flip, flip the script, so to speak, added discomfort and most of the time when we’re unhappy or uncomfortable, we have a lot of self-focus. Welcome to The Courageous life. A podcast founded on the idea that taking risks, overcoming fears and moving beyond the limits of our comfort zones, are prerequisites for living meaningful and fulfilling lives. I’m your host, Joshua Steinfeld and it’s my mission to explore insights, practical strategies and inspiring stories of everyday heroes that will empower more people to grow courage and awakened greatness. That was a small preview of what to expect from the episode with our guest today Johann Berlin really excited to have him on the show. To give you some quick background Johann primarily works in executive education and executive coaching for some of the top leaders and organizations throughout the world. In this conversation, I was lucky enough to be able to dive into some of Johann’s wisdom and perspective about bigger questions like what makes a good leader? How can we have difficult conversations more effectively? How can I perform at my peak when things are on the line or I’m under pressure? We also discuss the importance of being able to let go and the courage that it can take to do so. Both in our lives and in leadership, really excited to say we cover a lot of ground in this episode if you couldn’t tell already. And along the way, Johann provides a number of practical strategies for putting these ideas into practice. So now that you have some have an idea of what’s ahead, I want to offer you a bit more background about our guest. Johann Berlin is the CEO of TLEX Institute in North America. TLEX which is spelled a t-l-e-x stands for transformational leadership for excellence, working alongside some of the biggest influencers and top leaders in the United States and throughout the world. Johann is committed to harnessing people’s passions by strengthening the connection individuals, teams and organizations have to themselves to each other and toward greater shared purpose. And I can honestly say after knowing Johann and spending some time with him, that he really is somebody who walks the talk and my hope is that you get a sense of that during our conversation. Johann’s delivered talks and led workshops at places like TEDx London, GE Healthcare, the Stanford Center for compassion, Microsoft, Shell, American Express, Amazon, the Wharton School of Business and others. If you are inspired by Johan, as I’ve been in would like to find out more about him or follow more of his work. He does write on leadership and other subjects in places like Harvard Business Review, Business Insider, Thrive Global, as well as the Huffington Post. For resources and references that Johann and I may cover throughout this conversation. Check out the show notes for the episode today, which can be found at www.Joshuassteinfeld.com/podcast. Again, that’s Joshua Steinfeld spelled s-t-e-i-n-f-e-l-d-t.com/podcast. And without any further ado, I give you our guest today; please enjoy this conversation with Johann Berlin. So Johann, welcome to the show.

In this week’s podcast, we explore why we need to create spaces for recovery breaks in our work days, and how we can find ways to fit these moments into even the most demanding of roles and workplaces.

Johann Berlin

Great to be here, thanks for having me.

Interviewer

Yeah so excited to be with you again. The way I usually start these podcasts is just by asking, was there some sort of challenge or adversity that you faced at any point throughout early life or early adulthood that sort of set you on your path? Where you are today professionally and what you’re doing?

Johann Berlin

Yeah, it’s a great question I think many, the first major challenge actually was whenever I was very young. I almost died of a disease a Braden from ear infection. And yeah, I think that was an early childhood setback. I also think it created some cognitive damage for me maybe some learning disabilities stem from that. And then, you know, there were a number of challenges also growing up, which were quite hard for me. But I think one of the bigger things if I take that question in a professional context, it was overcoming my own incomplete narratives about what those challenges meant. That was really the biggest hurdle for me I think in life. So many of the things that happen, the way we perceive them, the way we experience them is incomplete. And we sort of have our version of it that we tell ourselves and, you know, it’s easy to kind of make. I was mentioning to you like even with learning deficit. It’s easy to make excuses about why you can’t do something but is it always because of a learning deficit that you don’t do well on a test? No, absolutely not, you know, sometimes you didn’t study or there’s lots of different reasons but you sort of have your stories. You sort of have your narratives of your challenges and your strengths and your weaknesses or why certain things happened. And so I think for me, that was a big one. And so learning disabilities was a big one for me. One in feeling that, that you are worthy, you are smart. You are capable, whenever you have some early childhood setbacks and in those respects. And then the other is dropping that at a certain point and realizing, you know, in this moment, life is what it is. And I think for me, there was a, I was mentioning to you, there was a test. I was taking and I used to get extra time on tests. I was going to city college and I was working at a restaurant. I was in my you know, my late teens. And I decided one day, you know what, I’m just not going to take the extra time for a test. I’m just going to go in and take it in and from now on. I don’t want to ever mention to a teacher or on a project or anything like that, that I have a learning disability. So I did it and I finished the test early and I got an A on it. And it was a major mental shift for me. So I think that was a big area for me is dropping any of my reasoning, my rationale and looking at life a new fresh in this moment. Like I can respond the best that I can respond so yeah, so I think for me that overcoming that was a big thing for me.

Interviewer

You know, I just I don’t know that this is like a perfect segue. But since we’re talking about imperfection and imperfect narratives, I think it’s good. So when before we got on here, we were talking a little bit about the work you do in leadership. And one of the things that you’ve been sort of faced with recently is letting go of some responsibilities. And we were talking about a little bit about what is courage look like in leadership and you said you know, you’re passionate about this idea about letting go. And so if I could make a little bit of a link here, it seems like you were able to let go in some ways of some of the labels or that sort of story or narrative identity and then move forward and part because of the letting go. So maybe we could use that and talk a little bit about not only the challenge of letting go in the workplace and leadership, but what is the importance of that? And what might be the relationship of courage to letting go?

Johann Berlin

Yeah well I think we, I think we sort of have this American myth, right, which is that if you want, we should all be superstars right. We should have these perfectly curated LinkedIn pages and perfectly curated Facebook pages, etc. you know, I may even be guilty of that to some degree. But this thing of, there’s no room for vulnerability and also just crazy expectations for those of us who want to achieve things or for those people who want to achieve really big things in their life, which is you work harder, you’d be better, you’d be non-stop. And all of these things to a large degree, we know aren’t totally accurate, in terms of being our best selves, in terms of being full human beings. And yeah and it takes courage to explore things. So I think it shows up in many ways for sea-level people, especially for CEOs and founders, in particular, I think it’s very hard for them to let go. And what they’ve learned is like, it’s the discipline, it’s the commitment. It’s the showing up at 6 am. It’s the, you know, muscling through the hard times that has a part of why and this goes back to those narratives, why they are where they are, right. And it may be part of why they are where they are, but it may not be as well. So to build that reverse muscle to build that muscle of like you’ve been building something for such a long time or you’ve wanted something so bad and to be able to put your hundred percent in and then let go. It’s very, very challenging. I was mentioning there’s a company, a CEO that we’re working with right now. And he’s instilled three values at his company. One is passion. So really showing up and doing your best and being all in the other is compassion. You know, really taking time to empathize with the customers with the channel partners, with your colleagues, have both your work experience their work experience, but also their human experience and seeking to understand. Alright and then the third is dispassion. So this ability of like Yes, I’ll give my all. Yes, I want to understand other people but also can I just let go? Can I let go? And can I be okay with whatever happens? And I think there’s something very beautiful that happens. I call it project Deep Blue and in my coaching, where it’s like you’re kind of out on the ocean, but there’s something incredibly free with letting go and if you’re hanging on to prestige if you’re hanging on to these kinds of perfect narratives. One they’re not true. And there’s not much learning in them. But two there also can be incredibly suffocating right. Because you’re trying to maintain this perfectly constructed thing which doesn’t exist. And if something contrary starts happening to that, then you feel you’re losing control or something contrary starts happening to your patterns of recognition or your familiarities or your comforts or your world. And you see this a lot of work right now. So workplaces are changing the reorganizations, digitalization and then for blue-collar folks. They’ve been changing for like a long time and this so as your world is changing. It’s very hard to kind of accept it and flow with it. We’re creatures we’re wired, you know, with the brain safety first, safety first and then rewards and so it’s our natural wiring to kind of hang on tight. And if you can build this thing of faith dispassion whatever you want to call it, of being able to let go. It’s free. It’s very complimentary. But I would argue it actually leads to better results. And in the end, you don’t have control anyway,

Interviewer

in your own experience, as you’re going through the process of letting go, has there been anything you’ve learned, even so far, that’s helped you maybe move along, or progress or strengths you’ve had to call on or courage you’ve had to call on or whatever it might be, that’s allowed you to move closer and be able to let go a little bit more

Johann Berlin

Observation, just being able to be present with it. So that’s on a somatic level that’s on a mental level, it’s on an emotional level, you could say it to the type of executive function. But this so often whenever we perceive a threat, our cues go into safety first and then we’re kind of constructing our narratives of what it means or the person who put threats presents the danger. Why they’re not good and all of that sort of thing and so that, to be able to have that observation, which is beyond your thoughts, beyond your feelings. Beyond your physiological sensations and to be present with them, it’s very powerful. And I prefer that over trying to make me trying to make too much meaning of it. Because the truth is, we don’t know like, when those impressions were set for us, of that of whatever we’re perceiving that’s making us feel uncomfortable or that we’re losing control or whatever thread it is that we’re responding to real or perceived or true or not, you know? Yeah, so I find if I sit with it if I observe it and I think we both have this shared passion, but meditation has helped me a lot in that. It’s allowed me to cultivate that muscle of being present and letting go and just being very settled in calm. And of course, things come up and then you sit with it and then if I do that, then I can respond and not react.

Interviewer

So for those people that because I love what you’re saying and I think I’m on the same wavelength, but for those that are unfamiliar with the language, sit with it, or be with it, or notice or whatever it is. What is the practice actually look like? Like in the moment for you, if you could just talk a little bit about that.

Johann Berlin

Yeah, so we basically if there’s, this is gonna be a very simplistic way of describing it. But we basically are either at any given point in either what I’ll call AM or FM, so am will call a sympathetic state, or what’s called a stress response state. and FM will call what’s called a vagal tone state, which is something that a lot of research has been done on. And so if we’re in a sympathetic response, if we’re in an AM space, then the way we perceive the way we the type of sensations. We have the way we react to things is going to be a certain way. And so our ability to sit with something, if we’re in that space is going to be very, very challenging. Because our whole system is saying like run safety, right. Like all of those types of things. So one of the really most simple ways to flip into that FM state, which is what vagal tone, which is where we’re more open, we’re more flexible, we’re more relaxed, our beginner is through the breath. When you use the breath, it’s the one you can literally flip. And then if you can go into that calmer, more centered space, then we have more faculties to draw on, to be sort of present. So I think if the 101 of being present is that old anecdote right. Like take a breath or take a few you know and long, deep even inhale, exhale. And then you can be in that space and then you can observe but it’s just like anything else. You have to build the muscle. And you build the muscle through habituation through practice. And yeah and I think one of the things that you can do is you can often we know sometimes we don’t know when these challenging situations are coming. But often we know that they’re coming. But we don’t ever plan for it and right and then we react. Like we’re so surprised like that this situation, we’re not comfortable with this coming. So one of the things you can do before is you can really cultivate these muscles or you can do something just before like, say you have a very challenging coworker that you work with or you’re somebody in your family is very challenging to deal with. You can literally flip into this, this space of you know, this more vagal tone to it, before you meet with them and have that calm and evenness. And so you’ll have more kind of presence and awareness going into those interactions. And then slowly if you cultivate these things, if you build these muscles over time, they’re more productive. Than not, you’re actually surprised when you lose your cool or you’re surprised when you’re not able to observe and not react.

Interviewer

And I get from that sort of downshifting or just changing our physiology jumping into the parasympathetic sort of response and relaxing a little bit. You talked about being able to respond as, as opposed to react. And to me, that’s about choice. Is that fair to say that you’re able to choose your response?

Johann Berlin

Yeah, sometimes you don’t always have the response you would want?

Interviewer

Sure we are human.

Johann Berlin

Yeah, but you have more agency. And it’s not driving you as much as the situation is in driving you as much as you are regulating within it and then taking, hopefully, the best outcome you can perceive and step into.

Interviewer

Yeah that’s great. And, you know, there’s a theme here that I wanted to sort of draw out, which is we’re talking about letting go. And I think part of what you’re talking about is this. You were talking about sea level executives and I’m thinking about, you know, like why letting go is so hard. And it’s kind of like allowing uncertainty to be present. Because I feel like when we get in that, that place of uncertainty or discomfort, what we want to do is control it to bring some sort of degree of comfort. And letting go is about sort of doing the exact opposite letting go of control. And I think about some of the broader implications of this and where I want to go with this. I’ve talked about this on previous podcasts a little bit, so bear with me for just a sec. There’s a book that came out, called the upside of your dark side by two psychologists, Robert Biswas-Diener and Todd Kashdan. And there’s a chapter in there called The rise of the comfortable class. And there’s an association in our society that’s sort of showing up which is a positive relationship or correlation between comfort and happiness. The more comfortable I am, the happier I’m going to be. Comfort equates with happiness. And so I kind of relate this to taking that control because it’s sort of a, it’s a way to get at creating comfort or moving away from discomfort. And letting go is pretty naturally uncomfortable if we’ve been conditioned to, you know, kind of create a sense of control. Before we jumped on here, we were talking also about how this shows up in a broader context, which is sort of this manicured life like to use or this, you talked about the perfect LinkedIn profile or the perfect Facebook profile, or it’s this sort of artificial rendering or whatever it is of our lives. And I was reading some of your articles before we before we came on and one really struck me and you talked about some of the dangers of this are, we’re living in this sort of increasingly homogenous life, which is, it’s comfortable, it’s all sort of like I get on Facebook. I can choose the things I like or some other sort. I don’t want to bad mouth, Facebook, but whatever social media it is, I can select what I like what’s comfortable, the people that agree with me that share my opinion. I don’t have to look at things that don’t make me uncomfortable and one of the downsides of that. And you know, so I want to get into a little bit of conversation because I think this is a place to talk about courage. And I think it’s a really important place, living in a society, at least in the United States that’s becoming increasingly polarized. And people and this is just my opinion, but it’s been harder to have difficult conversations with those who have a really differing opinion. I’d love to just throw this out there as sort of a topic of sort of the importance of letting go in a sense, but moving into a place where we can be in sort of that discomfort for a higher purpose, which is to share the world and understand differences. Perspectives, perhaps and have conversations with people that might see things very differently than we do. So maybe we could talk a little bit about that, because I know that’s a topic you’re passionate about.

Johann Berlin

Sure again, I would love to just get into the mechanics of this, because I think it’s so fascinating what neuroscience, you know, kind of tell us about our reward systems and our reward networks. And I actually would kind of take the premise and or I subscribe to this idea that actually, comfort and desires are very linked. Like, when are we comfortable? We’re comfortable when our expectation that when we’re satisfied, right, to a certain degree, so that could be a reward system from sugar, chocolate, coffee, a good social interaction, whatever, whatever it is that that how we get those rewards, those neurological rewards and then this major aversion to discomfort. And I think, I mean, one really sad way that this shows up is in the opioid epidemic in our country. Right like this thing of not wanting to feel and mask and also many other types of addictions. But this idea that we chase a desire and it’s fulfilling. It’s really harmful I think to us as a society to us as a people. And I would actually say that contentment it’s very interesting in the more in a more occidental context who was a June Gerber she was I think she started the emotional intelligence lab at Yale or happiness lab at Yale and moved it to UC Boulder. I remember her telling me once that in an occidental context, we think of like happiness or kind of comfort and reward as sort of stimulation and sensory experience and you’re sort of reward networks are going in a more oriental context. You can actually have very calm, even contentment and I think these different chemicals of the brain around what is a reward versus contentment. And desires are very interesting because a desire is only fulfilled for so long. And then what do you chase the next desire. And when you ask like, what’s happening with these different social medias and things, I think more and more we’re chasing from desire to desire and reward to reward, whether it’s a like, or a comment or a text or you know, whatever it is an emoji. But I don’t know what’s next. Whatever is next to and we’re literally being rewired. If you take what we know about neuroplasticity, if you take like, patterns of recognition around these different reward systems and networks that we’re building, every time that we do these things, right every time that we’re validated and then at the same time dissonance is so we resist this rater discomfort so much. Right and yeah, I think this ability to grow to learn to be funny Free to be flexible is where possibility is and divergent experience and things that are outside of the purview of how our life would normally be. And those are you could argue, incredibly rich and actually there’s an experience that comes to mind in this moment when I was in India. So I was organizing for a big you know that I have been a student of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar for 20 years and anyway I was,

Interviewer


Could you share a little bit about who he is?Yeah, so Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is a very well-known spiritual leader and also a peace ambassador. So, he was he’s been a part of reconciling several global conflicts and then also working within conflicts. So like the FARC, he had, there’s a documentary called the guru and the FARC. And the most recent peace agreement that happened. He was actually the one that got them to take up Gandhian principles of non-violence and do but he’s also been a spiritual teacher to millions around the world. And he’s teaching a series of breath work. And a lot of what I do is inspired by him. In fact, I would argue my criteria of success from more of a reward system thing to more of a service-driven mindset was very much inspired by Sri Sri are some common Gerda. But I forgot where we were going before that, oh, India, India. So yeah, so we were organizing this big international festival around peace, harmony and diversity. And we wanted to get people there were too many people that came and we wanted to get all these people from different countries and I don’t know if you’ve ever visited India, but some It is a beautiful country and they’re making huge strides. So I don’t want to create the wrong stereotype, but at the same time, it can be a little bit chaotic, as well. So I was thinking I’m going to have this wonderful spiritual you know, sojourn and also I’ll stay at these nice hotels and it was a totally like, Western superficial like idea of going to the, to the Orient and having these novel experiences mixed with some luxury hotel package. And whenever I arrived, nothing was as I expected. And I was really frustrated and you can imagine coordinating for 2 million people. It’s like an adaptive leadership challenge beyond compare and everybody’s coming different languages, different countries. And I remember feeling super frustrated and nothing was going to plan and my hotel was not what I thought it would be and the food was not what I thought it would be. And then I just had this thought like go and do some service. So I went there’s a big center in Bangalore so I just said, you know what, I’m just going to stop thinking about myself. I’m going to go into the kitchen, this massive kitchen, there’s these huge pots cooking for you know, the 10s of thousands of people. Every night and I just took this commitment like I’m not gonna leave this kitchen until I feel better. And so I went there and first there were some other Westerners in the kitchen with me and but I kept on, I kept on going and by the end of the night I was one of the last people there. And it was basically me and a bunch of different Indian to come in from different villages. And then as we were like sweeping the last water down the drain and I started to walk out and one of the guys grabbed me and he said “no, come come with us”. And so then we went outside and we were sitting it was a beautiful night there was tons of stars and we were sitting in a circle and right as I was walking out with him, somebody had this T-shirt on that said “service is the key to happiness”. And so then I went outside and I learned all of these people had been affected. They had a Sri Sri had created drug, drug and alcohol-free villages, there was a lot of drug problems, alcohol problems in the villages around where they were from. And these guys had taken trains for two days, two days, third class, fourth class trains, just to come and serve us. Because they were so grateful and I thought, man, what a petty person I am, like on the one hand, on the one hand and on the other hand, here I am, I’m sitting under the stars with them singing some Sanskrit songs, which is, you know, what they like to do and they wouldn’t let me feed myself. They brought me like a plate and everything. And I had this incredibly novel experience, which had so much meaning and connection, which we know connection is probably one of the more meaningful, meaningful connection is one of the more greater predictors of health and happiness and a lifetime. And here I was going into this looking for my comfort, looking for my rewards and looking for other things. And so I think whenever we focused toward others and whenever we’re willing to let go of our idea of how the world should be, how things should have went, what other people should have done. There’s some new possibility that opens up and especially if we’re thinking, how can I be of service? And so then some whole new other dimension can come. Whereas the rest of the time, yeah, maybe I would have just looked for my same hotels that I stay in my same experiences and my same whatever and Saturday dinner with the same people who talk about the same things and we all agree with each other. You know, so anyway, it’s just an example of one example in my life of where something totally divergent happened. It was a big disappointment. It was totally uncomfortable. And whenever I started thinking about others and whatever, I think, I think that’s a beautiful way to be courageous. If you’re really hung up on something and you’re really stuck in something Ask yourself, how can I be of service? I think it’s a very powerful tool to flip, flip the script, so to speak, added discomfort and most of the time when we’re unhappy or uncomfortable, we have a lot of self-focus.

Johann Berlin

So I want to dive deeper into mindsets because I know you’re passionate about mindsets. And in a second, I also want to talk a little bit more about this. When we are in situations where we’re very uncomfortable, like a tough conversation, kinda want to take this as an example because I think it’s important like if we’re really looking at putting ourselves in these sorts of situations and being uncomfortable and getting out outside of our comfort zone, talking to people that are very different than us, not in our normal routine, whatever it is, what are some things that either you’ve learned through your own experience of being a leader and of sitting down with people from different countries, different backgrounds, different You know, religions, etc. whatever it is about having conversations about tough topics? Or what have you learned, you know, so that’s your own experience, or what have you learned from people that you look up to, like Sri Sri or like other people who are bringing so many people together? And maybe talking about really hard issues, like how to end violence in a certain region, right, how to establish peace. So what are some ways we can have these difficult conversations either on a big stage or around a family dinner table?

Yeah it’s interesting I think. There’s a beautiful article which I’d recommend people read it’s called listen more than something like listen more than you talk when you’re in a conflict. I think that’s a cerebral but it was by Emma and one of my co-workers, actually, Jennifer Stevens said in Harvard Business Review. It’s a fantastic article.

Interviewer

So I just want to say for people that don’t know Emma is Emma Sepalla, right.

Johann Berlin

Emma Sepalla yes, sorry, mutual friend and director at the Yale Center for emotional intelligence and Director of Research at Stanford and just a fantastic altruistic, caring, loving human being, amazing human being. So anyway, her and Jennifer, one of my co-workers, Jennifer Stephenson, they wrote an article about listening more than you talk in depth childhoods in HBr. And it’s a fantastic article. But I recall an experience where Sri Sri was actually meeting with some gang members out of Baltimore. And one of the things that was really amazing is of course, he has incredible wisdom to share. And that’s why many people come to him. But in this particular context, he really just listened to everybody, deep listening. And there’s something about present and listening, where the combination is very powerful and he has an incredible presence. And in and they felt so heard. And in that moment, so it’s interesting, of course, he could have shared so many things. So just observing that it was quite amazing and they somehow were like hole in that expression, even if those narratives were, I’m not saying they were, but even if they were limited or whatever, from one limited purview and which as most of ours are, it somehow it didn’t matter. There was a wholeness that rounded out when it was fully received. And I think so often whenever you’re dealing with victims and culprits and this kind of back and forth in that, sometimes when you’re just received. When somebody is just present with you that’s really what you wanted. And that’s where letting go can happen. I would say the presence even more than the listening. In my experience, yeah and then there’s yeah and then do i mean different leaders are so different. I remember going into the being part of a sustainable business summit during the Obama years and going there and there was just a certain rhythm that this people had with him that you could feel they, they were just very juicy to be working for him. And it was very principal that it felt very purpose-driven for the, at least in these particular interactions. I don’t know how it was on balance, I’m sure very stressful. But yeah, just very principled, very balanced. And you could feel that they were just very inspired to work for him. And, look, I think we all have different ways of showing up as leaders and that respect and we all have different ways of being courageous because what terrifies us is different. So yeah but I also think this thing, I’m not worried about criticism and not worrying about prestige, I think I’ve seen in a lot of the top I mean, you know, you graduated from a great program and you can just going around and I never had a really, you know, illustrious academic career or anything like that. But I work with a lot of people who have and are at those institutions. And you had this thing of wanting perfection and wanting prestige. And man, they’re really they can really be prisons for people. I remember teaching a course at one of the top five B schools, or I was part of a program that was happening. And I remember this thing as we broke toward the end of a program and there was a lot of they had been doing a lot of restorative techniques and a lot of observation, a lot of authentic social connection and you could feel it, you can feel it when that gets going. I think it’s a lot of it is like vagal tone gets very strong. I think it’s Barbara Fredrickson talks about upwards

Interviewer

Upward spirals of positive emotion yeah, yeah.

Johann Berlin

Yeah so yeah, I think you get that when you’re doing the restorative and then you’re doing the really authentic social connection. You get that kind of environment, it’s palpable. And I just remember them sharing like, man, I think it was like 80% of the people in the room said, “I felt like it”. If I’m being honest, I feel like an imposter here. And that’s crazy, right. Because you everybody thinks that’s where you want to be. And everybody puts on these facades and that armors incredibly lonely. It’s incredibly lonely. And so this thing of prestige and wanting to protect it and wanting to avoid criticism, criticism can be a very beautiful thing. I’ve had to work with some very incredible and very direct leaders in the past and it’s been hard taking criticism from them at times and it’s been hard to give it. But there’s some part of our ethic that I mean, for lack of a better word, our ego that becomes very stagnant, becomes very dense when you’re not willing to listen to other people’s feedback and criticism. And somehow when you are even It’s an injustice and even when it’s wrong, that ability to be with that and not react somehow that density is less, or you’re more fresh, you have less to protect, you’re more free. And then I think I was mentioning to earlier that’s also tricky not to be overexposed, encourage. And there are times where sometimes something’s changing in our life, or too many things are changing. And actually, what we need is some inner stability, we need some consistency. We don’t need to do anything extreme or volatile. And so I think there’s a spectrum that people need to always take that into account.

Interviewer

So I want to pull up, because there’s so much in there that I thought was so good and just sort of coming back to the criticism piece and also what you said about, you know when people have very different opinions, or you’re addressing a really hard topic, one of the things you’ve learned is the importance of presence. Deep listening. And I think about that. And I also think about, you know, if we’re being criticized, or our opinions being criticized or our beliefs being criticized and you sort of tied in there a little bit of kind of that, again, that breathing or the activating the parasympathetic response so that we can respond as opposed to react because if somebody is criticizing me, or my beliefs are being thrown under, you know, the table or kicked around or whatever it is, or I disagree. It takes a lot of emotional regulation whatever it is to be able to sort of sit there and really listen. Yeah, and really be present. Yes, with somebody who’s very different. So in the moment, could you talk a little bit more about like, if you and I are sitting and having a conversation about a tough topic? And I say something that maybe pisses you off, or you just really don’t agree with it, but you’re trying to practice this deep listening and understanding what’s actually going on for you, internally, like in the moment, is there any, anything you’re doing? Are you taking a breath? Or How are you able to be there in that moment when somebody might be criticizing you, or whatever it might be?

Johann Berlin

Yeah, so I’ve, I’m on the end of the spectrum where I’m actually very good at expressing. And it’s harder for me to pause. So the muscle I’ve had to learn is like, don’t express it. Like, even if I can express it skillfully with charge, like my thing is, a lot of times actually, my muscle that I really have to work on is just holding it and then waiting till that charge is gone and then coming back with it later. And I but I, but I want to say something actually, I want to just flip a slightly different direction when come back to that. I think one of the things when it comes to messy conversations and imperfection is allowing space for imperfection. Imperfection how we respond. I mean you and I are trying to be, you know, sort of more compassionate and altruistic men and I think we’re trying to hold that kind of tribe space. And for me, that’s been a big journey, like, like to even get into where I am. But this thing of like creating room for imperfection, like if we enter messy situations, they are, by definition, messy sometimes, right. And just having space for that, allowing space for that allowing imperfection in other people’s expression too, as we’re trying to enter into these difficult conversations or into this discomfort. And if we are truly exposing ourselves to new vulnerabilities and new situations and working at letting go of things. Because it’s time or because it creates space for somebody else or whatever. Also knowing that that’s an imperfect art. And it’s that it’s an art. It’s not like a perfect science. We’re human beings, we, we have this effect of emotions and experiences and so I think that’s a really important thing for people to keep in mind when dealing with courage is not expecting it to be perfect. And then the other thing I would say that really helps me is doing it in bite-sized ways. So like, if I try and be compassionate all the time, like good luck, like there’s no chance right like somebody cuts me off I have like a sympathetic response or fight-flight response and suddenly I’m into mold conditioning of like, you know, giving the bird or whatever like, it’s gonna happen sometimes less it hopefully less and less for people as they kind of learn different muscles of self-regulation and cultivate more human values in their life and put value on, less violent more altruistic approaches. So much of our culture puts a huge value on violence and aggression and sort of. And that’s how you get ahead. And that’s how you be successful. And yeah, maybe that’s true to some degree, but we could also put value on other things. Nobody forced us to sort of do that. So my hope would be that you have this value, but then at the same time, don’t put on this facade that like, we’re going to be perfect all the time. And so picking bite sized ways of building those muscles, particularly if they’re new for us, of like, okay, I know that like I have challenging conversation on this hour in this day. I’m going to do this self-care before or whatever it is, whatever things it can be breathing, it could be running for some people, it could be many, it could be just some other meaningful conversation that gives us some perspective, outside of whatever that challenging situation is that’s dominating our mind at that time and do those things really scaled way. But by scaled, I mean dialed back. And I think that that’s, that’s the way that you habituate that’s the way that you build muscles. Because the minute you say like, Okay, I’m gonna be, you know, more altruistic this year like, what does that mean and right and then as soon as you’re not you’re back into some default pattern. Whereas if you can steadily cultivate, whether it’s around the self-regulating, whether it’s around deep listening, whether it’s around empathizing or more of a kind of external orientation. Can’t hold that for all the time if it’s not your default mode, but you can build it, you can build those soft skills.

Interviewer

I think that’s really valuable. You know, if you’re going to go out and you want to climb Mount Everest, metaphorically, you’re not going to start with Mount Everest, if you’ve never gone on a hike before, right. You’re going to start with bite-sized pieces and go through the training. It’s a practice is imperfect. You’re going to learn get allow yourself to be able to A bit vulnerable to fall.

Johann Berlin

I’m sure you see that a lot in your coaching.

Interviewer

Yeah, absolutely yeah I’d like to switch gears a little bit and talk a little bit about the work you’re doing at Deluxe. And with leaders and I guess, maybe you could just give us a little bit of background about what he likes does. And some of the things that, you know, I’d really like to focus on maybe some of the things you will learn about what makes a really good leader. How do we and how do we cultivate maybe some of those qualities because there’s so many, there’s so much out there about leadership, there’s so many books, there’s so many opinions, you know, but you’re working with some of the most high profile companies in the world, you’re, you’re working with tremendous influencers and so I’m just curious about your own take on that.

Johann Berlin

Yeah I always have the like, I always like to have sort of the meta-perspective. I think Situational Leadership is so important TLEX is transformational leadership for excellence. And I think transformational in contrast to transactional. Kind of like you know, the existing sort of motivation driven incentives that are so much of our economy is based on quite frankly but so much of our reward and self-worth is based on to this rank I’m up this salary income I have this job title like whatever all these things that have been external motivation that I think we know the challenges, I mean, you know, from your, your program with Japan and I’m sure other work, those external motivators have serious limitations. And they need to continuously keep increasing, right. So you get a promotion, how long are you happy? Then you get, you get, you know, the perfect girl and then they’re not perfect and then you know, that’s like,

Interviewer

Buy the car and then it loses this new car, smell

Johann Berlin

It loses new car smell and then you know, somebody else got a Tesla and you’re like, man my old car, you know, so anyway, there’s serious limitations to that. So then transformational leadership would be more that it’s intrinsically driven, it’s inspirational, driven and that you can lead others with diverse perspectives and really lead them inspire them and that there’s also some fulfilling purpose in that some agency some ability to act and it could be at a formal level, but it could also be at a very informal level, you don’t always need that, that authority. And so, that’s a lot of what we’re teaching is. It’s not about where you are, but it’s about how you respond and who you can bring with you. And I love this definition of responsibility because it’s, it’s the root meaning means literally the ability to respond, respond to what respond to what’s in this moment right now and go and do it and the qualities that I’ve seen in different leaders, it really depends, because I almost feel like a situation defines a leader more than the actual leader. Like Martin Luther King as an example. He was a very reluctant leader in the beginning. He became this massive persona who did incredible things. And but in the beginning, I mean, this is well documented, he didn’t want to host one of the early events. And actually, it was, I think it was a very influential person who ended up convincing him to do that. And then obviously, certain leaders came out so I think, often going back to this responsibility thing, it’s that ability to respond in the moment and the need of the moment that often creates leaders like generals used to talk about that like we just gonna sit here at West, I think am I just gonna rot away or at West Point, or in Kansas, you know and never have my theater. And I think we would certainly hope that you don’t have theater. But the thing of sometimes the moment to find the man or Gandhi, for example, right Gandhi was a lawyer and very much living his own life within society. And then certain injustice has happened and his life took a totally different course, which ended up freeing or getting independence for, you know, one of the most populous countries in the world from one of the most powerful countries in the world without any basically violence or very little violence. So I think it’s interesting and it emerges and I also think, really great leaders learn from their mistakes going back just to stay on this sort of motif of imperfection. I think if you look at anybody who’s trying to do something meaningful, there’s often mistakes along the way and a lot of times those mistakes have serious ramifications. And people even die or other things happen, you know, like, think about people are trying to send ships to the moon as one example there. Been explosions there have been people who died or even in Africa, I was, I won’t say the person’s name, but they shared with me that one time they were bringing in machines, babies were dying of a respiratory problem. And they were like, whoa, all we need is these machines and the babies up and then the power went out. And then so the babies were gonna die anyway, but suddenly now it’s on that they were too hasty in something was her intention good. And I think so I think going back to intention is a very important thing, as a leader, because often we measure by outcome. And I think and you should, obviously we’re accountable to the outcomes of the choices we make to a certain degree, but intention is also very important, at least for self-reconciling, when things don’t go the way you wanted them to. And if you’re doing something really challenging or vulnerable and you’re having courage. Sometimes they don’t land the way you want them to. It takes courage because it’s probably not a sure thing, right. And so that thing of knowing your intention, that knowing sort of the seed impulse, was it for selfish reasons. Was it for notoriety? Was it to serve others? Why you’re doing something that’s very important, because I think if you can stay within that, then you can self-correct very easily. And you can steer yourself from driving down roads that you shouldn’t be driving down or leading down roads, you shouldn’t be leading down. And you see that you see people who are very a lot of people who are very successful, who are doing it for the wrong reasons. And then it shows up, like later on and but I think leadership is so situational. It’s really, it’s more of a happening almost, I think, I don’t really believe in and there are so many different types of leadership. I think that’s if you look at different indigenous groups. Or forms of leadership or tribes or different communities are different in communities that have had incredible injustice or really poor socio-economic condition. It’s not always the billionaire on the private jet. Sometimes it’s like my wife did a lot of work in Haiti. And there’s actually one article she wrote, when the world’s poorest people volunteer and one of the programs she did is she asked people like, what, what really bothers you, she had them complain. And then and then she said, “Okay, well, you have a unique vision into this problem”. And they said, “well, we don’t even have anything”. How are we going to do this? Well, what can you do? What agency do you have? And then she had all these people who were, you know, marginally, just above like extreme poverty. And they said, “well, I can maybe mentor these kids on how to brush their teeth, or I could maybe do this thing or that thing”. And suddenly you had this collective net effect start happening and I that’s something that we need to turn to more in leadership is what does it look like? When all of us go a little bit beyond ourselves and take that, because it’s much less sexy. But the collective net impact of the world we could live in the communities we could live in the experience, the kindness that somebody could experience on a really rough day. Maybe this kind of harsh world would be a little bit kinder and nicer and more enjoyable. So and I think the other thing about leadership, which has really been standing out for me is that if you’re on the top it’s because other people put you there and keep you there. And so having that empathy down and or I wouldn’t even say doubt I have just having that empathy of all the people who make your reality possible if you are in a leadership role is an important perspective, to hold.

Interviewer

I’m just blown away because there’s so much in there. That’s so rich. And there’s a couple things I want to talk a little bit more about. And then we can kind of close up. But I want to make a connection. And just give a plug for your TED Talk there. Because I heard you say, you know, you talked about the idea in your TED talk, you were talking about kindness and you said,”no act is too small”. And just that idea that as a collective if we’re to go out, you know, there’s those C suite leaders who are going to change an organization, global, or multinational companies, sure going to affect a lot out there in the world. But to me a leader or to make a difference, or whatever it is, that can also be at home, or that can be, you know, with a co-worker, or that can be a very small act. And I really appreciate you talking about that. It doesn’t have to be something giant, it can be very small and those small things can really make a difference and add up. So that’s one. The other thing you talked a lot about was sort of the situational nature of things and the importance of being able to respond to whatever the situation is. And something you’ve written about, which I wanted to talk about tonight a little bit was one aspect of responding as a leader is performing at your best in terms of presenting, or when everything’s on the line, or there’s a project that’s going on, or if you’re an athlete, or whatever it might be. That race, race day, or whatever it is and you get up there, whatever’s going on, maybe you’re giving a presentation, maybe you’re meeting with a client, maybe you’re in the race, whatever it is and you need to perform and you need to respond. And maybe you feel the nerves or maybe fear kicks in, or maybe some doubts come up, or whatever it is. How can we respond really well or effectively in those moments?

Johann Berlin

Yeah, I love this idea of this kind of theme of showing up in the moments that matter and So one thing I think I was mentioning here. I’m going to do some writing on this but one thing is I would say we should really question what does matter what do we think those big moments are right. So there’s many approaches obviously to showing up but I’ll share a couple one I learned from Sri Sri actually, which is doing something incredibly mundane or small before something you put as important like watering a plant or something and just doing it with full joy and full simplicity and, or just being present with that person and think of this thing of putting so much meaning on stuff is it’s a cripple creates a self-fulfilling kind of problem like because it’s so important then we feel all this pressure and yeah, what if every moment is important? What if it’s just like a reorientation or reframe like, what if every moment is precious and important? And we put a value on that yeah, we have to show up for these other things that are maybe less comfortable or more comfortable. But even just had reframe totally changes things. Be careful what you put a lot of attention and energy into, because it’s it grows and it becomes very palpable and real for us and then knowing that we’re wired, you know, like we’re wired, that rejection that’s connected with pain centers in our brain or similar regions and knowing that those things are there. So we’re going to be afraid of rejection if we’re doing something in front of a lot of people or they’re high stakes. And so understanding our own wiring towards safety first as a primary function of the brain and how its evolved and yeah and then the other is this thing of letting go. You could argue that letting go is the reverse muscle before you flex. So that ability to like really let go allows us like how long can you hold your attention on something? Or how long can you hold your fist like only so long, right and then you got to let it go. So if you have something important the next day and you’re holding your fist or you’re mentally tense or like, you’re physically tense or, that’s how you’re showing up. Can you really be crisp and focused in that moment? So sometimes it’s about expanding out. Sometimes it’s about letting go being dispassionate and then fully be competitive. So Federer I’m a huge tennis fan. Federer run this 20th thing if you watch Roger Federer hit the ball. He’s so relaxed, He’s so relaxed. It’s wild, right and you think about longevity and excellence. Wow so you could say that thing, this muscle of letting go is the reverse muscle and many of us are so tense going into important things because we haven’t learned that. And then the other is just dispassion. Like just really not being there’s a beautiful saying in Sanskrit which is yoga’s established in yoga, perform action was yoga we think of like, you know, we’re here in Santa Monica like we think of like, you know, whatever beer yoga or hot yoga, but yoga, in the literal the more traditional definition means union, union of Mind, Body spirit and everything coming together once and being consolidated and then performing an action. So not just being in our head not to be. So we have that somatic awareness, we have that emotional expansion. We have that physiological and that cognitive focus. And so going into things very centered, grounded building those muscles. I think it creates a lot of dexterity and action. And you see that you see, some people just move with skill. You know, you could say they’re Yogi or whatever. But I think there’s a lot of different ways but I think putting too much meaning on it is probably the biggest if people want to start somewhere. Be careful what you put too much meaning and success or big fear of failure. It’s an arbitrary line that you’re putting on yourself of what you’re capable of. And I think that’s very dangerous actually and this goes back to those divergent patterns. We’re capable of things we don’t know. If we’re asking ourselves, how can I respond? How can I be of service? We could we can be in any given moment and small orders of magnitude or big orders of magnitude, a transformational figure in somebody’s life. And so just putting meaning in that and holding those mindsets of that that service orientation more so more open to what’s happening in front of us.

Interviewer

I think that’s a great place to kind of close if you’re good. I wanted to ask you just a little bit more off the cuff question, which is, we’ve talked about some different themes tonight. We’ve talked about letting go. We’ve talked about sort of mastery over our physiology in some way, turning on that parasympathetic response relaxing, so we’re able to respond. We’ve talked about leadership, talks about difficult conversations. So a lot of different themes here. I’m curious about what are some books, or documentaries or other resources that have inspired some of your thinking, or just inspired you in general along any of these lines?

Johann Berlin

Well, I’m a real nerd. So I don’t know if people are so interested in. And I’d also like to learn about a lot of divergent subjects that maybe aren’t so related to my life. There’s a beautiful book called celebrating silence. It’s just this it’s a series of kind of short, short stories or lessons and wisdom by Sri Sri and what I love is that you’ll have one on wander or one on surrender or one on silence and I think sometimes these just like simple understanding like more like Sutras, something like that you can just hold for a moment. And then let it go and see how it shows up in that day are very beautiful. So often we want to like learn and read something and then we store it in our brain and then we know it, right. It’s some but that’s some static information which we may draw on or we may not, we may apply or we may not. So I really love what like kind of sutras and one book that really influenced me and this is this is Sanskrit. It’s just a book called Bhakti sutras and it’s aphorisms of love. I remember kind of growing up around, you know, a lot of toxic masculinity. That book really opened my eyes that there are so many different types of love, love a mother, there’s a brother, there’s lovers, you know, a friend and there’s yeah. And this overly hyperly-sexualized hyperly masculine kind of world elite I grew up in, you know, playing football and being rowdy like that was a book that had a heavier influence on me. So it’s not your typical business book. But just in terms of redefining my criteria success and also what it meant to be a sort of human, human being and the, the range and possibility within that as a man and as a young man in that time and in this day and age and I think that opened a lot of new experiences for me. Yeah, I think there’s so many great books on these topics. I think those are the two that have probably and those interestingly, those are both more suture based books so that they’re less about knowing and they’re more about encouraging wonder and then seeing how those things show up in your day or show up in interactions. And I feel like that becomes very dynamic knowledge versus static knowledge right.

Interviewer

That’s awesome. And if people want to find out more about what you’re doing at TLEX or follow you or you’re writing, where can they learn more about what you’re doing

Johann Berlin

so you can Follow on LinkedIn would probably be one place where everything aggregates but Real leaders, I do quite a bit of writing for Real leaders and some PR Business Insider and occasional HBr article but on the personal thoughts, I write more on Huffington Post and then in terms of TLEX it would just be TLEXInstitute.com. And we have fantastic team and international team and it’s really a privilege to work to teach these type of things around, you know, this self-regulating and greater restoration and being able to let go and then what’s amazing is that it directly affects our ability to respond. So it’s less about like learning new tricks that and even creating more social connection. I think one of the things that’s really missing that we see is this thing of social isolation, you know, Emma Sepalla going to separate talks a lot about that and our mutual friend. But when we can get into that vagal tone space, our freedom, our courage, our agency can be a lot better to reach out and connect, which is we’re wired to and yeah, so www.TLEXInstitute.com and we have, we have great faculty all over the world.

Interviewer

You know what’s interesting, just kind of a final thought on tonight’s conversation is you talk about the importance of connection and the danger of isolation and I think about where do we connect? A lot of times we connect through imperfection or through challenge or through being vulnerable and not through the perfectly manicured life. So maybe there’s room to be a little bit more imperfect and connect with one another.

Johann Berlin

Yeah, that’s a perfect bow for this conversation.

Interviewer

All right, thanks, Johann. It’s been a privilege.

Johann Berlin

It’s been really fun I’m glad we did this.

Interviewer

Thanks so much for listening to another episode of the Courageous Life. I’d like to extend Special Thanks as always to my executive producer Matt Donner. For all of the incredible behind the scenes work he does to make this show sound great. He’s also responsible for composing the original music that you hear at the beginning and the end of every episode. Also, if you’re enjoying the show and the conversation, please do share with friends, because I believe that courage is contagious. And while you’re at it, if you happen to be on iTunes, make sure you click the subscribe button, or if you feel so compelled, leave a positive review. It encourages me to keep going and also helps others to find a valuable show amidst the many podcasts that are out there. Until next time, this is Joshua Steinfeld, with the Courageous Life.

Johann Berlin

Johann Berlin is a serial entrepreneur, international keynote speaker and leadership consultant specialized in human and organizational development, mental health and well-being, and sustainable business and investing. Johann is CEO of TLEX Institute, providing over 1 million digital users with evidence-based leadership, breathwork and emotional intelligence training. His clients include top business schools like Harvard Business Schools and Fortune 500 companies like Amazon and Microsoft. A leadership writer at Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Real Leaders and Huffington Post, Johann is also Consulting Chief Learning Officer for Cooper Investors, a $13 billion private equity fund where he is integrating values-based investing principles into the firm’s culture fund. He is also Consulting Chief Learning Officer at Total Brain where he develops mental health and well-being content for clinicians, large consumer groups, and organizations. Johann is a leading voice on human-centered leadership, founding the Future of Humans at Work conference and podcast. Previously, he served as CEO and co-founder of Sustainable CitySolutions and was SVP of Sustainability and Strategy for JDI. As a board member, executive advisor and community volunteer, Johann is passionate about social ventures dedicated to resilient schools, local economy, prisoner rehabilitation, and youth leadership. Johann's TEDx talk has been viewed over 100,000 times.

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