Leading from above the line

“I have been thinking a lot lately about Jim Dethmer’s book, “The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership“, and the valuable lessons he shares about the masterful art of leading others. Considering his book to be one of reference in leadership, I will, in the following paragraphs, attempt to convey to you the TL;DR of what it means to lead from “above the line”.

In the image above, I love how clear and easily visible the horizontal line dividing the earth and the sky is. You can almost touch it. It seemingly separates two different planes of existence. And, reality and its physical laws aside, it’s like you’re looking at an upper world (the one above the line – the sky), and a lower one (the one below the line – the earth).

This simple idea of a line diving two spaces is one of the most powerful leadership ideas I have ever come across. In the book, this takes the form of two complementary expressions. Thus, an individual can, at any moment in time, be “above the line” or “below the line”.

For starters, let’s look at this from a purely semantic perspective. And we will, together, slowly discover what the author means by these two expressions. It is important to say, however, that this duality mainly refers to one’s actions and mindset. Being “above the line” implies demonstrating certain behaviours and traits. Similarly, being “below the line” demonstrates complementary behaviours and traits. Intuitively enough, the book argues that the best leaders of the world are not only aware of this duality but are also actively seeking to position themselves, at all times, “above the line”, where their actions and behaviours best serve others and their companies.

Let’s dissect this duality a bit further.


First of all, the model is binary: it is either/or. As mentioned, at any point, a leader is either “above the line” or “below the line”. If you are above it, you are leading consciously, and if you are below it, you are not. Consciously is the keyword here. In the author’s opinion, it is what makes or breaks a leader.

When leaders are “below the line”, they are closed and defensive, and when they are “above the line”, they are open and curious. Further, when leaders are “below the line”, their primary commitment is to be right, and when they are “above the line”, their primary commitment is to learning.

Hopefully, it seems clear that the place to be is “above the line”. But every leader goes through both states at various times and in various situations. This is a humane thing to experience. You cannot be in either state all the time. Thus, it matters far more that leaders can accurately determine whether they are “above” or “below the line” in any moment than where they actually are. Distortion and denial are cornerstone traits of unconscious leaders and self-awareness and the ability to tell themselves the truth are traits of conscious ones.

Self-awareness creates the possibility of shifting, a master skill of good leaders. Shifting is moving from closed to open, from defensive to curious, from wanting to be right to want to learn, and from fighting for the survival of the individual ego to leading from a place of security and trust.

Shifting is the process by which, a conscious leader, realizes that he is, in the moment, “below the line” and takes decisive action to shift his mindset and behaviour to be “above the line”.”

Continue reading on Strongbytes’ blog.