Years ago, a friend shared a video from the Conscious Leadership Group about being above the line or below the line that I found enormously helpful and have shared with many others. Two years ago, another friend shared that The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership was one of the best she had ever read. One of the authors, Jim Dethmer, interviewed on this podcast is one of the most helpful podcasts I’ve ever listened to. So when I finally got around to reading (listening) to the book, The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, my expectations were very high. They were exceeded. I enjoyed, appreciated, was challenged by, and learned so much from listening to this book. Even though I listened to the audiobook, I purchased a hard copy so I could go back to particular points readily to reference. I am sure I will re-listen as well. I’m already adding this to the list of my most recommended books. Here are four of the lessons I keep coming back to from The 15 Commitments to Conscious Leadership by Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman, and Kaley Warner Klemp.
1. Above the Line, Below the Line
Two foundations frame all 15 of the commitments: above the line/below the line and the shift from to me to by me.
This illustration of above the line/below the line simplifies many complexities of when we are at our best and what is possible. It also contrasts when we are not at our best and the difficulties, mess, and harm that can come from that place. I continue to return to this as a self-awareness tool to inform my self-management. I find that despite the full range of complexities of my emotional state, surroundings, momentary well-being, and more, I clearly know when I am above the line and when I am below the line.
When I am above the line, I give myself permission to fully engage, not hold back, dance in the moment, and fully express myself. When I am below the line, I am more careful about what I say, how I say it, and how I show up to avoid regrets and causing harm to myself and others.
2. To me, By me
The other foundation for the 15 commitments is shifting from ways of leading and experiencing the world from a perspective of to me to by me. The authors point out that a fundamental shift for most people is moving from experiencing the world as something happening to you to experiencing the world (including the challenges) as something to learn, create, problem solve, and navigate from a place of empowerment. There are also additional states of through me and as me, but these states of being are rare and difficult to understand and are for advanced leaders and humans.
3. Taking 100% Responsibility. No more, no less.
The very first of the 15 commitments is taking 100% responsibility. Taking 100% responsibility is what shifts us from to me to by me.
At first, this can seem scary, impossible, and even out of touch with reality. Taking 100% responsibility does not mean taking responsibility for what is beyond your control. It does not mean taking responsibility for the hurtful thing your father said to you, today’s weather, or the racism in your community. It does mean taking responsibility for how we navigate those realities.
Taking 100% responsibility means taking 100% responsibility for you, nothing less and nothing more. The nothing less and nothing more part is critical here. Nothing less means not blaming others, circumstances, the news, or anything else for how you show up. It also means taking full responsibility for your words, actions, inactions, choice, and decisions. Nothing more means not taking on responsibility for your partner’s happiness, your child’s success, or your business partner’s moodiness. It means taking 100% responsibility for how you show up, communicate, and interact with your partner, your child, and your business partner. What conversations are you going to have? How are you going to have them? What conversations are you not going to have? In conflict, can you take 100% responsibility for your share – nothing more, nothing less? If this sounds simple, give it a try.
4. “All drama comes from the need to be right.”
This 100% responsibility leads to the most powerful line of the book for me, “All drama comes from the need to be right.” I was listening on an airplane when I heard this, and I audibly groaned out loud. I listened again and wrote it down. I listened again and underlined and then circled it. I’ve thought about this at least once each day since then.
The authors’ point is not that being right causes drama, but the need to be right causes drama. If I tell you that 2+2 = 5, notice what happens. Most people feel no need to argue or be right about that because they know they are right. No drama. However, if I tell you that you are not a very good listener, notice what happens. Most people feel a need to be right about that (which you may or may not be). However, your need to be right causes the drama.
I can’t stand drama, which I define as unnecessary conflict. Here is what I’ve learned putting this into practice each day: I have a pretty strong need to be right. This need definitely causes drama. When I remind myself to let go of this need to be right (whether I clearly am or it is debatable), the drama evaporates. When a finance office argues that I didn’t fill out a form that I’m sure I did, I remind myself that all drama comes from the need to be right. Then, rather than argue the point, I just resend the form. When a friend remembers the initial stages of a conflict differently than I do, I remind myself that all drama comes from the need to be right. Then I am able to focus the conversation on how we can move forward.
I’ve also used this line with every coaching client at some point in the past month. Noticing and letting go of the need to be right has helped folks focus conversations on where they want to go and be much more productive resolving issues with partners, colleagues, and supervisors. It is freeing cognitively and emotionally. It has resulted in less drama. It has led to better conversations and better relationships of all kinds.
You can learn more about all 15 commitments here.