Above-The Line Leadership, How To Consciously Lead From The Heart

By Sam Otieno

Covid-19 has been with us now for almost two years. If there is one area of our lives or work that has been tested during this time, then it has been leadership. Whether you are the head of an organization, a team leader, a project manager or the head of a family, your leadership capabilities amidst uncertainty have been tested to the core.

Your knack to stay calm, to effectively handle chaos and instil hope where there is none, have been deeply scrutinized aspects of our lives during the pandemic. The crisis has pushed leaders to purposefully develop their soft skills.

Have you for instance stopped to think about how your inner state has been during this pandemic? How has it influenced the way you show up in work and social spaces? What has helped you to change your mode of operations as a leader? I reflected on these questions recently when my colleagues and I in the leadership team at the Regional Education Learning Initiative (RELI) attended a leadership training.

The training delivered by Perennial leadership development organization taught us an uncommon approach to social change. Its aim was to equip leaders and practitioners to be transformed in their sectors.

The session about leading consciously was particularly intriguing as it provided insights about how we are wired and how this affects the way we view and deliver leadership as well as our general wellbeing. That, who we are, is how we lead. Using a self-diagnostic tool adapted from the Conscious Leadership Group demonstrated that as leaders we are often at different levels of the leadership line from time to time. There are times you get above the line and sometimes below it.

When one is below the line, they are likely to be more reactive, defensive and sometimes dramatic. They are likely to think about impossibilities and want to take less ownership of decisions. One also thinks they are being unfairly judged. It doesn’t come as a surprise when one constantly uses statements such as; “It’s hard, I’m trying my best, It’s not my fault, I’m confused, The “truth” is, I have to, You made me and so on.

On behavioural aspects, one often sees others as needing help, they find fault or blame, cling to an opinion, argue a lot and they try to mobilise others to affirm their beliefs. They also avoid all disconfirming data and evidence and are very judgmental.  Here one often believes that being right is the most important thing. Furthermore, one feels that their safety and security comes from outside themselves yet they want to be in control of things outside their control.

It was interesting to know that when one is above the line, they are more responsive, curious, open to growth and learning new ideas. Here, one constantly used statements such as : what can I learn from this? I appreciate you for…. I take responsibility for… What I hear you saying….

Your behaviour here indicates that you are freely taking responsibility, you question your own beliefs,  listen consciously,  speak unarguably, appreciate people’s inputs and create a ‘win for all’ solutions. One’s beliefs at this level shows that one is the creator of their own well-being. One understands that there are more than two possibilities. The value of questioning one’s thoughts and beliefs is appreciated. Feelings are intelligent,  approval control and security are things one already has, and all people and circumstances are their friends.

This tool provided a reality check for us and it was clear, that depending on your context, situations and circumstances, we will often find ourselves in both levels. Below and above the line. And being in any of the levels at any given time isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The tool gives us the language to describe ourselves and to see who we are, know what takes us below the line and ways we can use to stay above the line.

My most important takeaway was that, as leaders, we must be radically honest about ourselves and do our own self-assessment. We are wired to detect danger, but sometimes we can read things wrong. Work pressure can sometimes threaten our ego. Simple things such as someone having a different opinion can be taken as a threat which leads most of us to become defensive or act in survival mode. This may  stop us from making radical decisions. When our negative emotions, take the best of our brains, we go below the line.

However, our capacity to stay above the line can always be strengthened if we have positive optimism, when we adapt a demeanour of acceptance and trust for the processes, the organizations and the people that we work and interact with. That’s leading consciously!

I am grateful for this learning opportunity came just at the right time as I take on the leadership mantle as RELI Kenya country co-Lead. I am excited and honoured to be taking on the role at a time when the network is rapidly expanding and gaining recognition as a thought leader in  education and youth development space in East Africa and beyond. I am hopeful that we will strengthen the network, and build on the work that has been carried out by my predecessors. I will work with my colleagues to strengthen  collaboration among member organizations in the three areas of our collective work; transforming institutions, creating evidence of what is working and engaging at policy level.

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