Above and Below the Line
Locate yourself using this self-leadership tool
by Greg Mutch | April 2023
We are all amazing humans with the capacity to be open, curious, empathetic, creative, and intentional. But not all the time. We are all going to get triggered, flip our lid, and lose our shit (at work and at home).
It’s in those moments that so much unintended impact and collateral damage happens.
We react strongly. We point fingers. We go quiet. We people please. There are a zillion ways the suboptimal version of ourselves shows up and leaks out – and it’s unintentional. We don’t mean for it to happen. It just happens. But it is this unintentional impact that is killing our organizations and creating havoc in our lives. Our creative and resourceful thinking suffers. Our collaboration lags. The culture corrodes. Relationships get out of alignment. So what’s going on?
Life on Autopilot
Have you ever made a familiar commute home from somewhere, pulled into the driveway and realized, “I do not remember any part of that trip!”? That is our brain on autopilot. And it’s a perfect metaphor for how most of us live day to day, minute to minute.
We are on a kind of autopilot treadmill where one thing is just happening after another without much intentional thought or conscious awareness. When we function on autopilot nearly all of the time, we end up being in “reaction to” our lives rather than “responsive in” our lives. When we are aware and responsive, we are at our best.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
For most of us, there is almost no space between stimulus and response. All day long we are bombarded with stimuli. Like whack a mole we hammer away with our reactions. But if we could snap out of autopilot and get off of the treadmill with a bit of awareness in the moment, we could be responsive. In our conscious and creative response lies our growth and freedom.
And if I were “yes…and-ing” Frankl here, I would say not only our growth and freedom, but better leadership, rewarding collaboration, better solutions, greater innovation and stronger relationships.
So how do we get this space? How do we get ourselves off of autopilot and into being more aware? How do we increase our self-awareness so that when we do feel triggered, stressed, and reactive we can show up with the better version of ourselves?? Ready for an amazing tool? Let’s dig in.
Here it is: a horizontal line.
You’re welcome. Simple. Clean. Easy to remember!
Am I Above or Below the Line?
OK, there is a little more. The line creates a binary for us to consider. Above the line and below the line. A simple way to think about it is that the better version of ourselves in life is when we are above the line and that autopilot and reactive part of ourselves is below the line.
The “get off the treadmill” question for us to be asking ourselves in key moments is “Where am I? Above or Below the Line?” Self-checking is a powerful tool. Hear what the originators of this model, The Conscious Leadership Group have to say, “We suggest that the first mark of conscious leaders is self-awareness and the ability to tell themselves the truth. It matters far more that leaders can accurately determine whether they are above or below the line at any moment than where we actually are.”
In the book that deeply explores this model, 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, the basic version of the model is described by the image above. When we are above the line as leaders we are open, curious and committed to learning. Here we take responsibility, practice empathy, speak candidly and tune into our feelings. And when we are below the line we are closed, defensive, and committed to being right. Or, for me, committed to not being seen as wrong. Below the line we blame, fingerpoint, use the silent treatment, and have more rigidity or a fixed mindset. Here is a powerful reflection from a program participant about how this tool not only helped at work, but they also used it at home:
“This tool has been helpful at work and I can see where it can really help our team be more effective. What I didn’t expect was that it would be transformational for my teenage son. I took the tool home and shared it with him. Because of some challenges our son has, there can often be an intensity and exhaustion for all of us with the amount of energy it takes. We began exploring the tool together and practicing it. He’s now using it for himself and with us and it has been a game changer.”
This tool can radically shift how you work and beyond. It has become a pillar in the people and leadership development we are doing with organizations. Here’s how you can explore and practice it for yourself.
4 Ways to Begin
Watch this short video as an intro and explore some of the others on the page
Listen to The Knowledge Project Podcast – it’s long form but explores the model really well.
Draw a horizontal line on a blank sheet of paper and begin taking some notes on both
- Who am I above the line? What am I like at work and at home above the line?
- Who am I below the line? What am I like at work and at home below the line?
- If you are feeling stumped and a little risky, invite a colleague or partner/friend that is close to you to help fill out the two halves
- Come up with ways you can shift from below the line when you discover yourself there. What works for you?
Once the tool lands for you, it is remarkably easy to teach and share with others. Once it becomes a shared tool with shared language, it can radically shift both our individual leadership but also the collective/collaborative work we do on a regular basis.
Want to help your team get above the line?
A great place to start is bring Manage Like a Boss to your company. Great change can happen when your management team is living above the line and leaning into their strengths.