Interview by Alison Berman, Founder of Anchor & Leap
“Some painters transform the sun into a yellow spot, others transform a yellow spot into the sun.” ―Pablo Picasso
Like the artist’s ability to transform a yellow spot into the sun, great leaders have the capacity to transform a group of individuals into a cohesive team, a hard business into a fluid organization. And a cornerstone of this ability to evoke transformation is authenticity.
But how do you identify those leaders?
When the word “authenticity” first entered the boardroom lexicon, it signified a new breed of leadership. It echoed the possibility of a more human element entering business. But talk of authenticity among leaders began to precede practice, and an overly simplified definition of the term came into popular use. The actual practice of authenticity in leadership requires tremendous effort, fortitude, and a willingness to engage in trial and error. And because of this, finding leaders who are truly practicing authenticity can feel elusive—even impossible at times. It is dedicated practice, rather than preaching, that sets these two groups of leaders apart.
Yoga Journal’s Publisher Jeff Tkach is determined to bring mindfulness, meditation, and humanity into the office; to introduce a more sustainable rhythm to our workplaces, one that emphasizes the spirituality to our work—the why we do what we do. Jeff lives with his wife Jackie in Boulder, Colorado and is completing Naropa University’s Authentic Leadership Certificate Program. The practice of self-inquiry, however, has been a core element of Jeff’s daily life for nearly two decades. Prior to Yoga Journal Jeff was the Group Publisher of Climbing Magazine and Backpacker Magazine and gained his roots in media at Rodale, Inc.’s Organic Gardening Magazine where he worked for seven years, and as Publisher for the last two.
Alison: How do you personally define authentic leadership?
Jeff: I don’t want to use cliché language, but I think it is to be your true self in all settings including at work. On a deeper level, I think authentic leadership is a willingness to go beyond the norm, to get out of your comfort zone and go the extra step to be the most loving, kind, patient, inspiring person you can possibly be, and amidst all the chaos. It takes a little more to be an authentic leader, it takes a lot more actually, and I think you don't ever get it fully right, but you strive for it.
Alison: Leadership is a largely discussed subject right now. What specifically attracted you to a program on authentic leadership?
Jeff: I feel like there is a real need in corporate America, in our professional lives, for bringing our whole selves to the workplace. I think that there is a lack of this in many places. We work in a culture that is moving way too fast and the pace at which corporate America is being forced to operate at is not sustainable. It’s not sustainable to our marriages, to our personal lives, to our families, to ourselves, to our health, to the environment. And I think that our speed is causing us to make a lot of mistakes and to do a lot of damage. When I say speed I mean not just the pace at which we work, but the lack of a real sustainable rhythm to our work cultures and our places of work; the demands we are asked to do, the margins we are being asked to make, the bottom line mentality that is so pervasive. I think that what is missing is the spirituality to our work, the beauty, the why we do what we do. I want to be part of a movement that brings more of that into our places of work. And that is really what the program is all about.
Alison: During the program at Naropa, has there been a myth about leadership that has been dispelled?
Jeff: I’m not sure that there is any one in particular that I can identify with, but I think what the program has done for me is that it has given me reassurance that the kind of leader that I want to be in the world is possible in the corporate setting, and that the ideas that they are bringing forth can be implemented. For example, one of the things we talk about is mindfulness and meditation and how that can actually help a leader to be more present with his people and how that can really change the whole dynamic. One of the things I do now is at the beginning of every meeting I do a moment of silence and pause. If you look at anyone’s Outlook calendar, every 30 minutes there is a meeting, and that rhythm becomes so unfocused. How much are you really listening after you just sat in a meeting right before? So I think the myth that has been broken down for me is just that it can be done.
Alison: So much has changed in the world of business even just in the past year. What do you think is a quality that is absolutely critical for an authentic leader today?
Jeff: Love. I love the author Tim Sanders; he wrote a book called, Love is the Killer App. He wrote the book about 10 years ago and he was an executive at Yahoo. His theory is that if you can literally focus on love, and in all forms, take that word for whatever it means, true compassion, presence, all the things that are adjectives of love—and bring that to work, that is what is game changing. A lot of people are afraid to do that because of how they might be perceived or the kind of humility that it takes, but I think that is what we are all striving for.