Leading from Above the Line

by Peggy Penberthy

Hot Topics,  Leadership

As uncertainty continues, threats loom, and tensions rise, there is no better time than now to do a leadership gut check. In their book, The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman, and Kaley Warner Klemp encourage leaders to observe whether they are leading from “above the line” or “below the line.” According to the authors, leaders are operating below the line when they are closed, defensive, and committed to being right. Leading from below the line is quite common, even in the best of times, especially when a leader’s identity or ego feels threatened. When we experience real or perceived threats to our safety and security, we shift into a state of hyper-vigilance in which the limbic brain scans the environment for danger. In a state of hyper-arousal, we experience anxiousness and increased adrenaline levels, and as a result, lose our ability to be creative, open-minded, and collaborative. This fuels below-the-line behavior.

When leaders are leading from above the line, they are open, curious, and committed to learning. In this state, leaders perceive experiences with fewer distortions and are ultimately more effective problem-solvers. This is not easy, especially given the very real emotional and physiological limbic hijacking that occurs in stressful situations. To operate above the line, the first critical step is to recognize where you are in any given moment, above or below the line. While making a decision, communicating a message, responding to an email, or interacting in a meeting, pause for a moment, observe your behavior, and objectively ask yourself, “Am I leading above or below the line right now?”  This question alone increases consciousness and allows us to make an informed choice in the moment. The authors describe 15 commitments that help leaders shift to leading above the line. The first two, and most important commitments are taking radical responsibility and learning through curiosity. Now more than ever, there is a wonderful opportunity to step back, assess, and become more conscious and intentional leaders.

If you are interested in learning more, join us for an upcoming session of Collaboration Skills: A Radical Approach to Problem Solving and Conflict Resolution.

About the author
Peggy Penberthy