The stereotypical executive lives in his or her head. Jeff Klein is anything but typical. An enthusiastic surfer and martial artist who practices Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, he describes himself as someone who thinks with his body — and he feels strongly that this is one of the keys to his success in business. “Great business instincts start with sensing what’s going on around you, and what’s coming next,” he says. “They call it ‘gut instinct’ for a reason.”
Klein is the CEO of Working for Good, a conscious-marketing and business-development company. A trustee and member of the executive team of Conscious Capitalism, Inc., Klein produces the annual Conscious Capitalism CEO Summit for 140 business leaders from around the world. He’s also executive producer of BeingHuman.org and the host of a weekly radio program, It’s Just Good Business, and the author of Working for Good: Making a Difference While Making a Living (Sounds True, 2009), a book that trend analyst Patricia Aburdene describes as “a profoundly intuitive blueprint for making a difference at work.”
We connected with Klein to get his take on the keys to making work a place where bodies, hearts and minds can thrive.
EL | What is it about the world of work that interests you so much?
JK | Work is an expression and application of our creative, productive energy. If we approach it with a sense of purpose, to generate something meaningful — of value for ourselves and perhaps the greater good — it reflects our deepest desires made manifest.
Work is a human endeavor. When work is done in the context of human social organization, as in business, both the best and worst of humanity can be expressed.
EL | How is it that work can be such a force for good, but also produce so much strife and conflict?
JK | Human beings have tremendous capacity for love and creativity. We also have the capacity for abuse and repression. In the context of business and the workplace, people often act out their psychological issues on others. And the predominant paradigm and structure of business can foster depersonalization and alienation, making it easy for abuse to occur, without recognition or consequence.
EL | How do you define a healthy workplace?
JK | A healthy workplace is life enhancing, not life draining. The people who comprise the business are alive in the deepest sense. They’re creating more connections in their synapses; they have a sense of purpose and passion. They’re learning, developing and growing in their capacities. They’re communicating and collaborating. It’s a place where love and care are expressed, and where fun and celebration reign, in big and small ways.
Still, this is not Shangri-La, all rose petals and honey. People bump into each other. We all have places where our buttons get pushed. The question is: What happens when that happens? I’m a full-time single dad to a 14-year-old girl. We go at it all the time, but we’re over it in a minute. Getting upset is not violence. What we do when we bring awareness to relationships is that we allow for ourselves and other people to be human. We serve as mirrors for each other, without shaking fingers in judgment or shaming.
In an unhealthy workplace, people are repressed, living in fear, without energy. In a healthy workplace, energy flows.
EL | If a person works in an unhealthy workplace, are there things she can do to improve the environment for everyone?
JK | Absolutely. First, take care of yourself. A healthy ecosystem requires healthy organisms. By taking care of yourself — eating well, exercising, getting enough rest, and so on — you bring energy and vitality to work that positively affects others and influences the overall ecosystem. Next, care for others and encourage them to care for themselves. Human beings respond to love and care, as plants respond to water and sunlight. Caring for others deepens your connection, which also supports a healthy ecosystem. Ultimately, it feels better to be kind to others than it does to be cruel.
EL | You emphasize that how a person works is as important as what he does. What do you mean by that?
JK | My motto is “the process is the product.” In many cases, how we do things is as important, or more important, than what we do. Business is a form of human social cooperation, so how we engage with each other informs the kind of community and social fabric we co-create. If we work in ways that enhance life, the “what” will take care of itself. We make things or deliver services that resonate with the way we do things. If we’re coming to work with a positive orientation, we’re not going to create poison or bombs. We’re going to do something that makes sense to this orientation.
EL | You recommend being mindful in the workplace. How do people do that when they’re on deadline or have impatient customers?
JK | You can choose to be mindful and to reflect on your options in any situation, pretty much all the time. If you cultivate mindfulness when you’re not under pressure, you will respond differently when you are. You express what you practice. Practice enough, and even when the heat is on, that sense of calm will be there and you can call it up at any moment. Just relax your shoulders and take a breath. The more you practice, the more likely you are to respond mindfully under pressure.
EL | You’re a dedicated surfer. Which came first: surfing or business? And how do they inform each other in your life?
JK | I began surfing only about two years ago, after years of body surfing. But movement in one form or another has always informed how I relate to pretty much everything, including business. I learn through my body, through moving. Our brains don’t live in petri dishes.
Surfing and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are the principal ways I’m moving these days. They both require awareness, sensitivity, responsiveness, coordination, timing and a certain amount of surrender. You can’t control the wave, and you really can’t control your opponents. But if you tune in to how they are moving, you can connect and move with them. The same is true in business and all human relationships.