Teaching Sustainability Through Connection & Clarity with TLEX’s Johann Berlin
September 18, 2015
John Shegerian: Welcome back to Green Is Good, and we are so excited to have with us today Johann Berlin. He is the CEO of TLEX. Welcome to Green Is Good, Johann. Johann Berlin: Yeah. Hello. Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here. John Shegerian: We’re happy to have you. So, Johann, before we get talking about TLEX – and for our listeners out there that want to find you at TLEX, they can go to www.TLEXprogram.com – talk a little bit about Johann Berlin and your journey in sustainability, and how did you even get to this point? Johann Berlin: Yeah, great. I’d be happy to. So I think it was maybe 10 years ago I got very involved and decided – I started my first startup when I was 21 and decided at a young age – at 23 – that I wanted to commit my energy and my life really to programs that were socially and environmentally conscious and sort of moving the world forward in the right way versus just chasing profit. And I got involved in a lot of different things. I had an incredible privilege to have so many wonderful mentors in those early days. I was the youngest member of a Mayor-appointed commission in Fairfield, Iowa, where we came up with the Community Sustainability Plan looking at all areas of the community. I got exposed to so many different things, but I also – over the years – got incredibly frustrated with the pace of change and how long it takes. Especially stakeholder-engaged change, where there are lots of different pieces and perspectives and you have to sort of meet people where they are and kind of reframe things again and again versus just talking in circles where people are already totally onboard. And what I came to is that – really – change starts with the individual and in mindsets. So, for the last five years, I’ve been slowly committed to working with institutions on creating mind-shift change and broadening perspectives. And there is an analogy or a question that I always pose, which is, “What is more important?” In this case, let’s say a tree, or the mind that perceives the tree? I would argue that the tree is incredibly important, but it’s only important if the mind that perceives it values it and sees its inherent value in nature. So really that’s where sort of the evolution I took was more from a business point-of-view looking at “How can we grow green enterprise?” and had some success doing that but then really realized this is very much a people challenge and a mindset and consciousness challenge. John Shegerian: And so you founded TLEX. What is TLEX, so our listeners can learn what TLEX is? Johann Berlin: Yeah. So I didn’t actually found TLEX. It was part of a larger NGO with the International Association for Human Values. John Shegerian: Oh. Johann Berlin: Who do leadership, environmental work. We’re partners with the UN ECOSOC. Really using the model of leadership development, helping people lift themselves, connect with others and move into purpose and service to do good work in the world. So TLEX is actually the revenue generating arm of International Association for Human Values, and we are working within leading in large institutions, creating sort of mind-shift changes, increasing social connection and really driving people toward greater purpose. John Shegerian: Wow. So here, TLEX – I’m on your website now. For our listeners again, www.TLEXprogram.com. It’s “Transformational Leadership for Excellence.” That’s wonderful. And you’re the CEO. So how do people engage that really want to be mission-based now? How do they engage with your great organization? Johann Berlin: Well, so we work primarily with institutions. John Shegerian: OK. Johann Berlin: So, for example, various companies, government leaders and things of that sort. If people are looking for ways to bring in programming…. John Shegerian: Right. Johann Berlin: To both open mindsets around these kinds of topics or other topics or challenges that they’re taking on, increase the resilience and social connection within those organizations and then springboard them into action. We do a lot of different trainings and facilitation work globally, all around the world. John Shegerian: Wow. Yeah. So you do this work. And how do you approach sustainability, and making organizations move towards making sustainable changes, and making that part of their DNA? Johann Berlin: Yeah. So, one of the things that I learned early on in the sustainability movement is that it’s so multivariable and that it’s always changing, right? John Shegerian: Right. Johann Berlin: So, in many cases, your solution becomes the next problem and/or the ecosystem is changing – whether it be the environment or the people living on the environment. So, ultimately, what we really focus on is cultivating awareness and consciousness. Giving people tools – through breath, through meditation – so that they can increase their awareness. And whenever we can increase our awareness and sensitivity, ultimately, that allows us to tune in more both with ourselves but also with others and nature. Then, what that allows for is for us to adjust as things adjust. It allows us to be present real-time, because that is really where the challenges are, and it’s also where the solutions are. A lot of times something works and then we’re trying to recreate that box again and agai,n but maybe it’s outdated, maybe it only works in certain contexts, so how do we be present and sort of tuned in to the needs of the environment and the needs of various sustainability movements – whether it’s on the human side or on the environmental side? John Shegerian: And you’re consulting to large organizations – Fortune 100 companies, Fortune 500. Johann Berlin: Yes. John Shegerian: And also nonprofits and governmental entities, as well? Johann Berlin: Exactly. Exactly. So we’re doing a lot of work with global leaders around the world. We’re trying to integrate in ethics work into what we’re doing. But one of the things that we realized is that leaders who want to create change, often, they’re taking on tremendous challenges, which requires a lot of capacity and people who care tend to keep taking on more and more. So at the sort of heart of what we’re doing with them is saying, “How can we foster your own resilience so you can absorb those over the long haul?” Then, also “How can we engage others and then move in a more connected authentic space?” John Shegerian: Is this becoming more the norm now? I mean, years ago, this used to be called “crunchy,” this used to be “California stuff,” but are more companies now really getting excited about mindfulness and a 360-degree approach to a person and better leadership, which means a better work environment? Johann Berlin: Absolutely. And leading companies and leading brands. I think, actually, if you look at leadership development of any kind, and particularly in something as holistic as a goal as sustainability, if you don’t have this approach as part of it, it is considered very dated. Like, for example, we have offered full credit courses at MIT Sloan and did a number of programs at Harvard Business School and Yale School of Management. So absolutely. I mean, this is in the next generation of leadership, and it’s similar in the same way to sustainability. If you’re not present, you can’t be present to the dynamic interconnected world that we’re living in. So it’s really at the heart of that. John Shegerian: You get to see and meet a lot of people, and you have tremendous visibility into the state of affairs of where things are going with regards to the social structure of our companies and our NGOs and governmental entities. What concerns you the most about today, the state of the world, Johann, and what are you most hopeful about in terms of what you’re doing and the adoption of your great work? Johann Berlin: That’s a great question. I think just the sheer weight on people is what is most concerning. And, I think, it’s a lot of times we think of companies as sort of the bad guys, but it’s everyday people, it’s people with kids, it’s people with jobs, and that goes all the way from the very top of those entities down to the bottom. And tremendous stakeholder pressure on them. So I feel that almost a lot of the bad we see in the world or the negative choices is actually just a side effect of that pressure and just sort of the weight. And I also think a lot of people have kind of burnt out and maybe lose hope. What I find most promising is that I find people to be inherently sincere about wanting the world to be a better place and whenever they have tools to sort of – one – cope with the demands on them but ideally through building more individual resilience, through building more heart connection and authentic kind of community that the resonance with moving toward more purpose-driven initiatives is resounding, and it’s really what people are looking for. And to your earlier question – more and more people are looking for it. So that’s incredible. That sort of tick upwards in trend toward more individual consciousness and collective purpose-driven work is very encouraging. John Shegerian: So if one of our listeners is at a big company, or at an NGO, or at a governmental entity, and they want some training there in mental clarity, social connection and inspiration, they’re coming to you, TLEX. Johann Berlin: Yes. www.TLEXprogram.com. John Shegerian: Awesome. Yeah, www.TLEXprogram.com. So how many years have you been running this, Johann? Johann Berlin: Four years. I have been running the North America division. John Shegerian: So talk a little bit about your success. What milestones are you the most proud of during those four years, and what are you the most grateful for in the work that you’re doing which is so important? Johann Berlin: Yeah. So what I’m most grateful for – I’ll work in reverse – is the people. I love working with people, and I sincerely appreciate how much they’re willing to do to improve their lives, improve the outcomes of their companies but also improve the outcomes of the worlds in many cases. So people are definitely what give me my energy every day. And to the first part of the question – do you mind repeating it? John Shegerian: Oh, the first part was just – I guess the second part was “what were you most grateful for,” but the first part was your milestones. What interesting milestones are you the most proud of when you go to bed at night and you think about the last four years? Johann Berlin: Yeah. So I think it’s making these sort of topics very relatable to people and teaching them through experience versus just telling them. It’s one thing for me to say, “When you have more personal resilience you are able to take on bigger challenges.” John Shegerian: Yeah. Johann Berlin: It’s another thing when people lead feeling that. So, I think just meeting people where they are, making incredibly complex topics very relatable and integrating it in massive institutions around the world has been quite a challenge, but it’s also such an opportunity to really think about how we discuss these types of topics and how can we leave our own perspective and figure out how to bridge those communication and interpersonal gaps that often get in the way of letting good work happen. John Shegerian: We’re down to the last two minutes, Johann, unfortunately. Where do you want TLEX to be in the next five years? Where can it go? Johann Berlin: So, from my side, I would love to see us continue working with global leaders around the world, and I think that’s really a key piece is that the leaders see the benefit in these sorts of things. It’s easy to come up with systems, strategies and goals, but it’s incredibly difficult to come up with resilient, high-performing teams that can take on massive challenges. And so, to continue that work but at a very global level, I think. John Shegerian: Got you. And for our listeners out there that want to engage with TLEX or learn more about it, they can go to www.TLEXprogram.com. Any final thoughts, Johann, before we say goodbye today? Johann Berlin: No. I just want to thank both of you for the wonderful work you’re doing in promoting interesting ideas and people, and I’m so very appreciative of your work, and it was great to be with both of you. John Shegerian: Oh, that’s so nice. Thank you, Johann Berlin, for sharing the TLEX Program story with our listeners today. You are truly making the world a better place and truly living proof that Green Is Good.