Welcome to our interview with Twan van de Kerkhof. Twan is the Founder of the European Leadership Platform (ELP). ELP is a platform to inspire and facilitate leaders in their journey towards new leadership. He is also the author of The You of Leadership, an intuitive approach to effective business leadership. In his book, Twan shares his personal story and invites more people to start their own inner journey.
I’m also joined by Mari Grigorjan who helped me create the questions and participated in the interview.
Welcome to this forum Twan van de Kerkhof.
Bill: What brought you to the now of your book?
Twan: I started writing because I felt the physical urge to write again. As you may, or may not know I have been a journalist for 15 years. Writing has been an important part of my life for quite a while. Once in a while I literally have the physical urge to write. It was something in me that wanted to unfold and wanted to have the form of a book.
It was maybe for the first time in my life, that I brought together the two important domains that were separated before in my life. One is the domain of leadership, and the other is the domain of spirituality. I merged with them for the first time and brought them together in this book.
Then there was the very practical thing that we celebrated the tenth anniversary of the European Leadership Platform (ELP) last year. I thought it would be nice to have a book to celebrate that occasion.
Bill: First, congratulations on the anniversary of the European Leadership Platform, Twan. That’s a very significant milestone, and I’m very happy for your accomplishment.
Twan: Thank you, Bill. ELP has evolved into a meaningful platform to inspire and facilitate leaders in their journey towards new leadership. We offer a safe haven that invites sharing of insights and experiences with peers from a wide variety of industries.
Bill: Getting back to your writing experience, Twan. It’s very interesting to me that you a felt a physical urge to write. How did you feel that? What did you sense?
Twan: It’s a physical urge that I need to write. I feel that, literally, in my arms usually. Mostly I feel it in my forearms. It seems that the hairs on my forearms are raised, wanting to get busy in my arms, and that’s the signal for me to go write.
Bill: That’s a very fascinating way to feel the urge to write. Does this relate to why your book is inviting people to take an inner journey?
Twan: I believe that nowadays you cannot lead an organization or a team of people anymore based on your position of authority or power anymore. You can only lead people by being the person who you are, then it helps to know who you are. To be able to know who you are, it helps to take an inner journey to discover what your talents are, what your strengths are, where you ask what weak spots need to be compensated by other people and team members.
Know thyself, that was already on top of the Temple of Apollo when the Oracle of Delphi wrote her messages. It’s already two and a half thousand years old. I think that in this age it’s more relevant than ever.
Mari: Now I have a question, Twan. Who are you? Who are you for yourself, and who are you for others?
Twan: I think one of my paths in my life is that the difference between what I am to myself, and what I am to others is as small as possible. I feel at my best when there is no difference at all, when the two flow together. I think, also for leaders, they are most effective if they are really in their behavior who they feel they are at their inside.
Mari: That’s beautiful—when people are true to themselves and others it brings peace of mind and clarity to them. It opens up the deeper part of You, the real You, and leaves behind the fake facade. That’s why we love little children, because they are true to themselves and others before they are molded by society.
Bill: Yes, I like that too Twan. I believe it also describes what I have been experiencing. I feel the best when the difference between what I am for myself and what I am is for others is less and less. Everything is changing to bring that into more alignment.
Mari: It starts the cleansing process, when you are true to yourself, old patterns which don’t serve you any more change the patterns which stuck to you like glue, start to loosen up and flow away.
And all of it starts from the inside.
Changes inside alter everything around you.
Bill: What has been the biggest surprise that you have experienced on your inner journey?
Twan: The thing with an inner journey is that once you start it, you go beyond a point of no return. I started my inner journey when I was in my early twenties, and it took very many different forms and shapes. I think my major steps occurred when I got acquainted with Tantra. That was a very, very important part of my inner journey, where one of my main discoveries there was that there was life below the neck. I was not constrained to my head and all the thoughts that are going on up there.
I learned that I actually have a body, and there is a lot of wisdom in that body: in my heart and in my gut with all the neuron centers there. There is a lot of sensing there that I can use to make decisions to do what I have to do in the world. I also sometimes feel that there was a bliss in the ignorance. Life hasn’t become less complicated. That there was a kind of ignorance in bliss, and that doesn’t exist anymore.
Bill: I so identify with what you are saying, Twan. There was a state of bliss when my inner journey started but now life has become a bit more complicated. But at the same time, it is something you know you don’t want to go back on.
Twan: I still wouldn’t have done it differently if I had known this.
Bill: How do you access the infinite source?
Twan: That is a very difficult question.
My own experience accessing infinite source is rare. They have happened when my mind was silent, and usually after or during a retreat. When I had some time to step back from the daily turmoil and really find a silence in my mind, and not getting distracted with all the thoughts that are going on all the time. But I also once had a session with my coach, that I really felt part of everything that is connected with everything.
So how do you access it?
It all starts with silence. I think that’s something you have to go through. You have to find that silence within yourself to be able to access that infinite source. After that I just don’t know why it sometimes happens and why it sometimes doesn’t happen.
Bill: When you felt you accessed the infinite source, how did you know it? What made you aware that you had accessed it?
Twan: There are no criteria, you just know. It feels so true and so old, and so rich, but I cannot prove it.
Bill: Your response is allowing me reflect on my own experiences accessing the infinite source. In my case it seems to mostly come when I’m awakened in the middle of the night. I simply receive a stream of ideas that come from outside myself, so to speak. They just flow out. That’s how I experience it most of the time.
Twan: I never experienced it in the way that you mention it now. I can imagine what you say. It brings to mind something else, that I sometimes do have ideas that I feel come not necessarily from my mind, but from a richer source. I sometimes have that when I take a long bath. I don’t think about things, but I let thoughts go through my mind like clouds floating in the sky, and sometimes then, something illuminates. I have a sheet of paper next to my bath. I write it down, and sometimes they’re really good ideas.
Bill: Twan, in your book you mentioned that Tantra had a big impact on you. How did Tantra change you?
Twan: The major thing for me was that I discovered the rest of my body. I learned to appreciate my finer senses. I could much better feel myself. For example, what I do want, and what I don’t want, and literally sense the quality of the air, or the temperature, or, if I was eating enough, or not eating enough. Literally sensing, but also being more sensitive to other people.
Bill: Are there other ways to experience ourselves more deeply?
Twan: There are many ways. Each and every person has to make his or her personal inner journey. For me, Tantra revealed a beautiful pathway to develop myself and all of people. Tantra has taught me a lot. It has been a beautiful experience. I also learned there that relating to nature is not my way, but I heard from many other people who’ve been with John Milton, or with the Foundation of Natural Leadership, from The Netherlands, that they discovered a lot about themselves while being in nature. The same thing with people that are long-distance runners. It’s definitely not my thing, but it’s also a way to find that silence in yourself. There are thousands of ways of making an inner journey, and each and every person has to discover his or her personal way.
Bill: I really appreciate those distinctions, Twan. What is the dividing line between being on an inner journey and everyone else?
Twan: I’m not sure. If we take it to the field of leadership, I don’t think that leaders who have made an inner journey are by definition better leaders than the ones who have not made an inner journey. I’ve seen leaders who have been very effective, and who have a very shallow self-awareness, and vice versa.
I do think that once you make that inner journey you will be a better leader, and even a better person than before you made a journey. I think the dividing line is not between the ones that did make the journey and the ones that did not make the journey, but the dividing line is in each and everyone’s life. You become a more whole person once you make that journey.
Bill: Thank you for sharing that insight, Twan. I’m not sure I had the perspective to answer this question.
Twan: One example which fascinated me always is Jack Welch, the legendary leader of General Electric. He had been at the helm of GE for 19 years, of which for 17 years he had been very effective. I remember his farewell interview he gave to Harvard Business Review, in which he said these historical words, “I never thought much about myself.” He didn’t have much self-awareness. On the other hand, he was extremely effective, during the period he was there.
Bill: I’m really interested in asking you our next question Twan, what question is at the heart of your book?
Twan: There are several, and let me try to think aloud, and see if I can bring them together into one.
There is one question about the command and control paradigm of leadership is coming into the end stages of it long lifecycle.
A new leadership paradigm is developing, but it’s not totally clear yet which way we are going exactly. Well, it is clear which way we are going, but the outlines are still quite blurred. A new kind of leadership that is much more personal than the command and control leadership was, but what exactly is it going to be? That’s one question that’s at the heart of the book.
One other question at the heart of the book is proceeding from this first question. If you are going to make an inner journey as a leader, how does that inner journey look? What can the elements be? I try to say something about my own personal journey, not to use that as a prescription about how an inner journey should be made, but to show what worked for me as an inspiration for others to think, “That could work for me too.” Or, “That would definitely not be my way”, and maybe get some other ideas of what would work for that person.
Those two questions bring me to one question. The question at the heart of the book probably is that the leadership of the future is going to be much more personal than the leadership of the past, and what does that mean for personal journeys that leaders have to make? Yes, I feel that’s the basic question in the book.
Bill: Yes, that’s beautiful. I love those questions and how they came together into one question, Twan. Thank you for walking us through your thinking. It gives me a whole new perspective on how to look at your book as well.
What is still inside of you that is not in the book?
Twan: A beautiful question, but also a very difficult one.
I don’t know. I think the thing I have to do in my life now is show to people what I really care about: what my inner journey is, what my beliefs are, and be very transparent in who I am, what I think, what I believe, and from there be kind of contagious that people feel not to do things like I do, or did, but to see that it’s worthwhile to be yourself.
I also try to do that in this book, so I don’t know what’s more inside me that is not in the book yet. There will probably be, but that still has to unfold.
Bill: Very interesting ideas to reflect on in terms of how you’re holding that and being transparent, being yourself, and being contagious. The word contagious really jumped out at me. I share parts of my inner journey simply because I want others to “catch” what I’ve received.
Twan, I know we only have four minutes left. Is there anything you would like me to ask you?
Twan: No, not at this moment. I thought you asked really beautiful questions. I made a choice not to think too much about them before, but to let the answers rise in the moment, and I really, really liked your questions.
Bill: Thank you for your generous feedback, Twan. The questions were really a co-creation. My initial questions didn’t look anything like what we asked you. Mari catalyzed me to make them simpler, shorter, and interesting. And that’s what happened.
Twan: You succeeded.
Bill: Yes, I really appreciated her involvement. And I really appreciate the time you’ve spent with us Twan. Your courage to so openly respond to our questions is very much appreciated. I know they are not easy questions to answer, but your willingness to answer them in the moment was beautiful. I love how it all unfolded.
Twan: Well, again, I really enjoyed it. I thank you for taking the time and attention to read the book and from that, coming up with these questions, and I really liked it. Thank you.
Bill: Okay, thank you, Twan. You are very welcome.
Mari: Yes, Twan. We enjoyed the interview and look forward to talking with you again.
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