The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking

Summary Written by John Petrone
"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."

- The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, location 303

The Big Idea

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 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, location 239

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.

Insight #1

Learning to Shift

"Leaders are always drifting and shifting. Shifting is the master skill of all conscious leaders."- The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, location 817

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.

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Insight #2

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."- The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, location 1360

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!

Read the book

Get The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking on Amazon.

Edward B. Burger

Edward Burger is the President of Southwestern University as well as an educational and business consultant. Most recently he was the Francis Christopher Oakley Third Century Professor of Mathematics at Williams College, and served as Vice Provost for Strategic Educational Initiatives at Baylor University. He is the author of over 60 research articles, books, and video series (starring in over 3,000 on-line videos). Burger was awarded the 2000 Northeastern Section of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) Award for Distinguished Teaching and 2001 MAA Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo National Award for Distinguished Teaching of Mathematics. The MAA also named him their 2001-2003 Polya Lecturer. He was awarded the 2003 Residence Life Teaching Award from the University of Colorado at Boulder. In 2004 he was awarded Mathematical Association of America’s Chauvenet Prize and in 2006 he was a recipient of the Lester R. Ford Prize. In 2007, 2008, and 2011 he received awards for his video work. In 2007 Williams College awarded him the Nelson Bushnell Prize for Scholarship and Teaching. Burger is an associate editor of the American Mathematical Monthly and Math Horizons Magazine and serves as a Trustee of the Kenan Institute for the Arts at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. In 2006, Reader’s Digest listed Burger in their annual “100 Best of America” as America’s Best Math Teacher. In 2010 he was named the winner of the Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching—the largest and most prestigious prize in higher education teaching across all disciplines in the English speaking world. Also in 2010 he starred in a mathematics segment for NBC-TV on the Today Show and throughout the 2010 Winter Olympic coverage. That television appearance won him a 2010 Telly Award. The Huffington Post named him one of their 2010 Game Changers; “HuffPost’s Game Changers salutes 100 innovators, visionaries, mavericks, and leaders who are reshaping their fields and changing the world.” In 2012, Microsoft Worldwide Education selected him as one of their “Global Heroes in Education.” In 2013 Burger was inducted as a Fellow of the American Mathematical Society.

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