top of page

Leading from Above the Line: How to Wake Up to and Claim Your Agency as a Leader for Positive Change

Based on the work by Conscious Leadership Group

There is a concept I want to introduce you to, living and leading from above the line.

It’s a framework, really.

It isn’t complicated. Although it appears straightforward, don’t be tempted to discount it as not worth your time and attention. It has proven incredibly valuable to me in my own life.

It looks like this . . .


Yep, that’s it. One simple line that represents a divide into a binary that indicates where we are at any point in time, either above or below. If you are above the line, you are leading consciously, if you are below, you are not.

A conscious leader is one who sees what is really happening around her. She is authentic, connected to her truth, and honest with herself and others. She regulates her emotions and is open about what she thinks, feels, and is choosing to do that impacts others. She makes choices that are aligned with her values and vision.

Conversely, an unconscious leader is unaware of her impact. She is reactive to the “story” she tells herself about the circumstances, uncurious about the truth, but very concerned about how her reputation will be impacted by the handling of the situation. She wants to maintain a controlled appearance. She is the victim of her unrelenting ego-driven compulsion to succeed.

Our location either above or below will fluctuate, just as our awareness fluctuates at different moments.

According to the Conscious Leadership Group, in their seminal book The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, being a conscious leader begins with being an honest one: “We suggest the first mark of conscious leaders is self-awareness and the ability to tell themselves the truth. . . Distortion and denial are cornerstone traits of unconscious leaders.” (Dethmer, Chapman, & Klemp 15).

In order to be truly honest, leaders have to be willing to release the need to be right, which is a hallmark of getting stuck below the line.

First, let’s look at each side of the line.

Above the line is a place where leaders who are open, curious, and committed to learning are firmly rooted.

From this place, they can hear constructive feedback and glean insights about how they can grow a weakness into a strength.

These leaders tend to value collaboration, creativity, and innovation, respecting the diverse perspectives among individuals filling a room. They hold the perspective that they have just as much to learn from the wisdom in the space, despite their high rank as CEO.

Above-the-line leaders are willing to be wrong, fail, or feel vulnerable for the sake of building trust, a sense of connection, and deepening learning for all.

Below the line is a place where leaders who are defensive, committed to being right, and closed-minded are stuck.

Leaders who are often below the line, are unconscious of their own fear-inducing behaviors that limit the feedback colleagues and friends could offer that would be critical insight to being able to shift above the line.

It is a normal state of affairs to find yourself below the line often, as we are on guard, scanning our world for threats to our sense of self and security. But finding yourself below the line doesn’t mean you have to stay there.

According to the research conducted by Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence (1995), humans are constantly scanning the environment for threats. No longer are the most prevalent threats physical as they once were we hunted animals for food and lived off the land. Now the threats we scan for daily are imagined threats to the ego or our identity.

The job of the leader is to discern what is the real threat and what is imagined in order to invite a shift in perspective to be able to move above the line from below.

Below-the-line leaders tend to control outcomes, blame others when things aren’t right, and over-identify their ego with the role. These leaders blame, criticize and move fluidly around the points of the Drama Triangle as Bully, Victim, or Hero. Unfortunately, these leaders get stuck below the line more committed to the adrenaline of the drama than understanding the appeal of being alert and alive in the present moment.

Now, let’s take a closer look at what it means to be . . .

Leading Consciously

These are two very different versions of how to be in the world, but only one is generative, allowing you to bloom into who you are becoming at your best.

I espouse the model of leadership by Conscious Leadership Group, an organization that shares thought leadership about what it means to live and lead from a place of deep awareness and integrity regarding our own individual impact and our ability to be at choice about what we feel, believe, and behave.

Understanding our location as leaders above or below the line at any point in time is a method of auditing how awake we are in the present moment to our choices and impact. CLG offers a great PDF with guiding questions that helps frame the experience above and below the line. You can find that here.

As conscious leaders, we are responsible for our impact. By being committed to being open, aware, honest, and engaged, we will shift our location to above the line at any moment.

If you feel the same, consider this question or bring it to your next journaling session:

Q: How does thinking and choosing behaviors from above the line support you to feel and be your highest self in all that you do?

Where Am I?: Locating Yourself Above or Below

Follow these four steps to assess your location above or below the line at any time.

  1. Notice how you feel in your body. If you notice tightness, shallow breathing, and quickness of heart rate, you may be below the line. If you feel calm, grounded, and open, you are likely above.

    1. Ask yourself: What does your body need in this moment to feel grounded and nourished?

  2. Check-in with your thinking. Are your thoughts positive and encouraging you to open up, or negative and causing you to close or lash out?

    1. Ask yourself: What is the underlying belief I am holding that my body is responding to?

  3. What are the statements you are telling yourself at this moment? Are they helpful or harmful?

    1. List out what your inner voice is saying. Next, if negative, rewrite the statements into positive affirmations supporting your shift to above-the-line thinking and feeling.

  4. Notice your overall physical demeanor and attitude. Do you feel light or heavy, bright or dull, open or closed, collaborative or controlling?

    1. What can you do for yourself to feel your best—loved, appreciated, wise, kind, essential?

Shifting to Above the Line

In order to shift from below to above the line, you need to be willing to take responsibility for your choices (conscious or not) at every moment in time. Every moment in time. Really. It’s a tall order, but it's tall for a reason. There is no wiggle room to make up stories to justify blaming others or circumstances.

The agency is all yours, my dear. It’s confronting and empowering at the same.

This is a choice to release the perspective that life is happening to you, i.e. you are living in a state of victimhood. This is not you, but it may be at times, and we are all there. It’s normal.

What we are embracing instead is the perspective that life is being led by me, i.e. I am the agent of choice and execution of action. If something doesn’t land, fails or there’s fallout for a choice I made, I handle it by raising my hand and saying “Mea culpa. I apologize. I’m here to clean this up.”

This is captured in the graphic below which illustrates that our sense of agency in the present moment lives above the line and below we exist in a role somewhere on the drama triangle.

I hope in reading this and learning about what it means to be above or below the line, you feel encouraged and supported to be fully YOU in all your positive, creative, loving energy.

Be the change you want to see in your life by taking responsibility to create it “by me” and accept the outcomes, whatever they are.

To learn more about what it takes to move from below to above the line, watch this great and informative video from Conscious Leadership Group here.

Let me know how your journey living above the line goes for you. Leave a comment or send me a message.

Come coach with me!

Join my ALIGN 6-month coaching program, an in-depth personal coaching program to guide you in the positive pursuit of your optimal vision for your life. With this package, you will be a Whole Body Yes! for work that highlights your deepest motivators for change. Within coaching sessions and between, you will dive deep to discover more of who you are at your best and what you most yearn to create in your life when you give yourself permission to dream big.

Create a new path forward that feels true to you and offers a sense of freedom and fulfillment as you elevate your impact and amplify your voice to create an impact aligned with your values.

Book a 30-minute strategy call to learn how coaching can support you in 2023.


bottom of page