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Lego My Ego


The Line. As a model there's not much simpler than a single horizontal line but, for Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman, and Kaley Klemp, it's sufficient in any quest to become a more conscious leader: at any given moment, a person is either above the line and conscious, or below it and unconscious

In their book, The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, they elaborate. Being above the line means being open, curious, and committed to learning while being below it means being closed, defensive, and committed to being right. To operate above the line is to have a By Me state of mind (to take responsibility for being in any situation, to let go of blame) while below it is To Me (to believe that external factors caused the situation, to have a "victim consciousness"). Above the line leads to healthy and trusting relationships while below the line leads to toxic and fear-based relationships.

Shane Parrish, interviewing Dethmer on the Knowledge Project podcast, suggested his own snappy summary of the opposition: above the line is about outcomes while below it is about ego. I think this captures the essential idea of the book well and fits with my personal trajectory, albeit one that I feel has been underway for a long, and very slow, time.

My own experience has led me to a place where I try to recall Jerry Weinberg's quote "things are the way they are because they got that way" when encountering a situation, to encourage me to see it as the state that just is irrespective of how it was arrived at. Despite not always managing to either recall it or act on it I still do my best to be motivated by achieving congruence, to resist the temptation to make comparisons, and, particularly, to avoid judging others.

I additionally find humility in this definition of an idiot from Bob Marshall: "Anyone who is just trying to meet their needs, in the best way they know how, where their way makes little or no sense to us."  But it's not easy to let go of ego and I fail frequently.

Recognising that I've slipped below the line on a particular occasion is a positive according to Dethmer and his partners (Kindle location 248-249, 250-251):
We suggest that 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.
Strategies for dissolving the ego to reach a dispassionate view of the context, other participants, and yourself are the thrust of the book after the core concepts have been introduced. It consists of 15 commitments that signify consciousness and, if I could boil it crudely down to a single sentence, it's about finding ways to frame situations as learning opportunities or cultivating behaviours that naturally lead to those kinds of framings.

Note that commitment is a loaded term here. It's not a statement of intent, but rather the result of behaviour. The commitment is satisfied by being above the line with respect to it, not by saying you will attempt to be so.

Interestingly, despite apparently aligning with my own motivations, I found a strong negative reaction to aspects of the book. There's a thread of spirituality running through it that I find hard to accept. To pick just one example:
Again, if the universe is benevolent, always organizing for the highest good, then other people are part of this collective support for your personal growth. (2905-2906)
I have a similar issue with energy:
Energy flow is our natural state, but when it’s blocked or interrupted, the life force so essential to great leadership is dampened, and effectiveness wanes immediately and drastically. (1688-1690)
Fortunately, accepting the premise of a benevolent universe or some other higher agency (they also mention Source, Allah, God, Love, Jesus, Presence, and The Tao) is unnecessary for practical purposes.

On that practical side, anecdotes are offered to show how actions can lead to desirable outcomes. Again, my intuition is that above the line is a better place to be than below it but, with an analytical background, I found myself yearning for stronger data.

Despite these and other misgivings  I persevered with the book and still find the central messages compelling. Another quote towards the end seemed to address this point:
When we own our resistance, we see that we simply need more motivation: more vision or dissatisfaction. This is not a problem. It is just what is so in this moment. (3390-3392)
Image: Mercury Rev at Discogs

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