As a Coach, I listen to clients describe the problem or issue they are trying to tackle. For ‘A’ the pandemic provided a big bang opportunity for her business, yet productivity is slipping because attrition rates are high. As CEO of the company, ‘D’ is struggling to address resistance and fear amongst her colleagues to return to a physical office, even though they are double vaccinated. ‘V’ is dealing with a team leader who is brilliant one-man show, excellent at sales, but is not great at building teams within the company – how to move him forward?
As I listen to the stories from ‘A’, ‘D’, ‘V’ and several others, each gives me a detailed brief on how he or she sees it. The challenges around the problem. The people who are involved or integral to resolving it. The strategies that have not worked so far. What seems possible to change and what is difficult to move. I see how embedded this problem is in their lived reality. Their minds are deeply entrenched in the details and nuances around the issue they are facing. I see a stuck-ness. I hear the mental load as they work to resolve the matter, which seems more and more daunting and intractable if the progress on it slow.
Recently I came across Jim Dethmer’s work with developing conscious leadership. He highlights that in his work with leaders, the ‘real’ issue to be addressed is not the specific problem a client is struggling with. To start with, the answer lies in the client delving deeper into discovering, and accepting how the client is ‘being’ with the issue they are confronted with. His classic question is “Are you above the line or below the line on this matter?”
When below the line – I am defensive, threatened, rationalising, blaming, avoiding conflict or pursuing it head on. I am closed and wanting to prove myself right. I seek validation, I play the victim. I am scared, contracted.
When above the line – I am open, curious. I question what I know and my beliefs. Learning and growing is valuable. I am purposeful, creative, collaborative. I take responsibility. I see people and circumstances as allies, not adversaries.
Let’s try and make this practical. Here’s a test for you – around the issue that is topmost on your mind – what of the following applies?
1. When you talk of the issue or the situation – how often do these statements make up the description?
2. Reflect on it a bit more. How do you respond or behave around this issue or the persons who make it difficult for you?
3. Lastly, as you dig your heels on what you know of the problem – which one of these apply?
How many have you marked in the above the line or below the line? Go ahead and calibrate – how moderately or significantly are you below the line? It is perfectly fine if you are below the line. Good show if you are above the line!
Most of us spend our time below the line. It is very primal — of being human. We perceive threat and we rationalise, justify, blame, protect – so that we are secure. Being below the line is great for surviving through a challenge and coasting along, but it is not an optimal condition to unleash creativity, collaboration, feeling purposeful. That’s why locating where you are on what is happening to you is important.
Once you know where you are located – do you accept yourself being there or are you beating yourself up? Give yourself space to acknowledge and know the struggle of being below the line on the issue that is before you.
Now that you know where you are located – how do you move? Are you willing to shift from below to above the line. That is your choice alone. When you are willing, how do you shift?
It is fine if you aren’t willing today. In my next post I will explore the willingness to make the shift, why that matters, and and how will you know you are shifting from below to above the line.