"Commitment is a statement of what is. From our perspective, you can know your commitments by your results, not by what you say your commitments are. We are all committed. Conscious leaders own their commitments by owning their results."
I was first introduced to Jim Dethmer, one of the three co-authors of The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership (and the co-founder of the Conscious Leader Group) in an online coaching course I was taking. I now use the terminology and practices that he shared in that class—and that are beautifully captured in this book—in almost all the work I do with my clients.
This is not a book designed to be read once—or at one time. Each commitment requires significant practice and is worthy of frequent review. The book provides many practices to work with—all of which are simultaneously accessible and challenging. After introducing the core terminology (which I’ll focus on in this summary,) the authors devote one chapter to each of the 15 increasingly demanding commitments referenced in the title.
Living these commitments requires us to become more truthful, more aware of when we are not living them, and more adept at shifting states so that we can live them more fully. That is the meaning of being conscious. The authors make an important distinction between what we “want to be” (e.g., “wanting to be thinner”) and what we are “willing to be” (e.g., “willing to actually lose the weight”)—the difference often being hard work and profound honesty. They emphasize, as in the quote above, that our commitments are lived, measured by results, rather than desired.
The rewards of conscious leadership are as much for ourselves as they are for our organizations. The more we work at becoming conscious, the greater the possibility of living creative, curious and productive lives—of achieving the results we really want.
Are you Above the Line or Below the Line?
"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 in any moment than where they actually are."
The model at the core of this book is exceptionally simple. It’s a horizontal line. At any given moment, we are either above or below that line. When we are below the line, we are in a defensive and closed posture, committed to being right. We are in a “to me” state—the world acts upon us. When we are above the line, we are curious, wanting to learn. Below the line everything is very serious; above the line, there is humor. When we are above the line, we’re in a “by me” state—we are authoring our lives.
The first step in becoming a conscious leader is learning to locate yourself either above or below the line. All 15 commitments introduced in this book have two versions—one that operates from above the line (e.g., taking full responsibility) and another that operates from the below line (e.g., looking to place blame.)
If we are not conscious—not aware—we will gravitate below the line and not even notice that most of our time is spent there. We’ll wonder why we aren’t getting the results we want. Conscious leaders go below the line all the time. They also quickly notice it, accept where they are, and learn to shift to being above the line.
The first step in becoming a conscious leader is to get familiar with what each location feels like. Noticing and naming your feelings, your thoughts, your beliefs and your motivations are among the practices that you’ll learn. With even this introduction, you can already begin. Where are you?
Note: For a wonderful introduction, check out this video from the authors.
Learning to Shift
"Leaders are always drifting and shifting. Shifting is the master skill of all conscious leaders."
While shifting is the master skill, it’s not really all that hard. Once we recognize that we’re below the line, genuinely accept it, and are willing to shift, the most powerful thing we can do is make a physical shift—change our body chemistry.
How do we do that? The authors provide two simple techniques.
Technique #1: Conscious Breathing
In a threatened state, we tend to hold our breath or breathe shallowly. Conscious breaths break the hold of that reactive state. The method offered up here is simple:
“Four conscious breaths with a four second inhale and a four second exhale deep into our belly literally shift our blood chemistry and breathing pattern.”
Technique #2: Shifting Posture
When we’re in a defensive state and committed to being right more than to learning, our body assumes a specific pose. While we may not be aware of this at first, it’s actually not hard to identify a defensive posture. Try it now! Then, just shifting your posture can help you to shift your state. This can mean stepping away, walking for a minute or two, just shifting back if you’re leaning in (if you can’t actually get up and move around.) Try it, it’s kind of amazing!
The bottom line: Shifting perspective is much, much easier after you’ve shifted your physical state.
Speak Unarguably—Listen with Curiosity
"Great leaders and teams become experts at revealing their unarguable experience (‘I’m having a thought…’) without forming any attachment to being right about it… When this candor is met with curiosity and deep listening ‘Tell me more about that thought. I’m curious to know what you think,’ amazing breakthroughs of insight and innovation often occur."
Candor is a key to conscious leadership and living above the line. Withholding keeps us below the line. However, conscious leaders do more than simply reveal rather than withhold. They speak unarguably. Sentences that begin with “I’m having the thought that…” or “I feel…” or “I am sensing…” are, by definition, inarguable. In other words: “that the thought occurred is unarguable. That the thought is true or right is highly arguable.”
As we learn to speak what is true for us, recognizing that it is not necessarily right, and as we learn to listen to others, knowing that they are speaking their truths (and that we can be curious about those truths) we can extract ourselves from a pattern that we are often stuck in—the drama triangle. When we are convinced of our “rightness” we will typically find ourselves oscillating among the roles of hero, victim or villain. For an introduction to the triangle—and its conscious alternative—here’s another great little video from the Conscious Leadership Group.
It’s challenging to summarize a book that offers as much as this one. I hope that you explore both the book and the videos, and that you find it as useful and meaningful as I have. While being a conscious leader and human being may not be easy, it’s also not that hard if we practice. Using this book as a practice manual is a great way to start!