Are You an ‘Above the Line’ Leader?

by Stephanie Freeth

Great leaders ask great questions. Conscious leaders ask great questions and listen deeply. Conscious leaders stay present in the moment, untriggered by what happened 20 minutes ago or might happen 20 minutes later. Conscious leaders have self-awareness and an ability to locate themselves in each moment as coming from a state of fear or trust.

These qualities of conscious leaders are described in my favorite leadership book, The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership by Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman and Kaley Warner-Klemp. One of the primary tools conscious leaders learn to use moment by moment starts with a line, a simple black line.

When we are below the line, we are facing a threat. Someone or something out there is threatening our safety, security, approval or control. From below the line we are closed, defensive and committed to proving we are right. When we are above the line, we are open, curious and committed to learning and growth. We are in a state of trust.

In the midst of what is being called The Great Resignation, I imagine that some leaders are asking questions from a place of threat and fear whereas conscious leaders are asking different questions from a state of trust, wonder and curiosity.

From a state of threat, below the line, the questions leaders ask sound like:

  • How can I retain my employees?
  • How can I get my people to keep doing more with less?
  • Why do they keep leaving?
  • Whose fault is it that we’re losing some of our best talent?

Stop and feel into the energy behind these questions when they are motivated by fear, doubt and worry.

By contrast, conscious leaders ask different questions with different energy. Conscious leaders ask wonder questions. Conscious leaders start with trust and curiosity. They are open to learning something new that they don’t know before they ask the question.

From a state of trust, above the line, the questions conscious leaders ask sound like:

  • I wonder what it would feel like to work in a company that welcomes our whole selves?
  • What might it look like to create deeper, more satisfying connections with each other?
  • How can we make sure our employees are living in and working from their zones of genius and not just their zones of competence?
  • What do we get to learn about our company culture that we haven’t been willing to face if our workers weren’t leaving now?

When conscious leaders ask these kinds of wonder questions, new solutions emerge that may not have been accessible from a state of threat and fear.

Companies say they want to retain their employees. They say they want innovation and growth, but which set of questions are they asking? Are they asking how they can retain employees and create innovation from below the line or from above the line?

Which set of questions are you asking?

Stephanie Freeth is an adjunct professor at The Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine & Health Sciences, where she teaches a Leadership Development course. This course in its Masters in Nutrition Business Leadership program focuses on conscious leadership and the Enneagram as key tools that help students build their self-awareness and learn to become conscious leaders in the natural products industry.

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