Leading Above the Line: My Interview with Author and Leadership Expert, Jim Dethmer – The Knowledge Project

Check out The Knowledge Project Episode Page & Show Notes

Jim Dethmer is the founding partner at the Conscious Leadership Group

Key Takeaways

  • Conscious leaders are self-aware enough to identify when they’re above or below the “black line”
    • When you’re above the line, you’re open, curious, trusting, and committed to learning
    • When you’re below the line, you’re defensive and attached to proving you’re right
  • To increase your self-awareness:
    • Become more self-reflective – practice pausing, quieting the mind, and turning attention back on itself 
    • Create a feedback-rich environment where you’re constantly getting feedback
  • After receiving feedback:
    • Do NOT ask yourself – “Is this feedback true?”
    • DO ask – “How is this feedback true?”
  • “Underneath these incredibly driven and successful people is a scared little 5-year-old kid who is terrified”
    • For many type As, fear is a driving motivator 
    • Just know – “The antidote to fear is not courage, the antidote to fear is acceptance”
      • Until you can give love and acceptance to the scared 5-year-old inside of you, they won’t stop controlling your life
  • Making clear agreements is important for allowing teams and relationships to thrive
    • Each agreement needs to answer the question – Who will do what by when?
    • In addition –Only make agreements that you have a whole body “yes” to
    • “All drama in relationships, personal and professional, is caused by unaligned commitments, or unclear/unkept agreements”
  • Many people avoid conflicts in their intimate relationships not out of fear of hurting their partner, but more so because they don’t want to live with the consequences of dong so
  • Live in creative consciousness, not victim consciousness
    • Victim consciousness = Living from the belief that life is happening to you (you’re at the effect of people, circumstances, conditions)
    • Creative consciousness = YOU are responsible for your emotions and experiences
  • On Emotional Intelligence:
    • If you don’t feed the the emotion you’re feeling with thought, it’ll exit the body fairly quickly (in <90 seconds)
    • On the other hand – If you do feed the emotion with thought and don’t allow the feeling to pass through you, it calcifies and turns into a mood (i.e., anger turning into bitterness, resentment, and hatred)
  • If you spot it, you got it
    • “If you were willing to eat the projection and internalize how the things you’re complaining about in relation to others are true about you, you’d increase your learning agility exponentially”
    • “If you really want to grow in self-awareness, eat your projections”

Books Mentioned

The Black Line Metaphor

  • At any moment in time, you’re either above or below the line
    • When you’re above the line, you’re open, curious, and committed to learning
      • You’re experiencing a sense of trust – you’re able to trust yourself, the environment, and those around you
    • When you’re below the line, you’re experiencing a state of threat and close-mindedness
      • You’re defensive and attached to proving you’re right
  • “The first key skill of conscious leaders is self-awareness… the first act of self-awareness is being able to locate yourself in the moment [above or below the black line]”

Self-Awareness

  • What does it mean to be self-aware?
    • To accurately as possible see yourself and the state of your consciousness 
    • You might ask: “Can I see whether I am totally in service of outcomes or am I contracted in egoic defensiveness?”
  • To grow your self-awareness:
    • Become more self-reflective
      • Practice pausing, quieting the mind, and turning attention back on itself 
        • Jim adds – “I don’t work with anyone who doesn’t have some sort of mindfulness practice”
      • “Most people live on autopilot. They’re in a trance walking through life at the effect of their personality and ego structure.”
      • The goal – just quiet the mind enough to where you can ask: “What do I want?”
        • Notice what comes up, and then dig deeper. Ask: “What do I really want?”
      • Other questions you might ask (following a conversation, for example)
        • “Was there any place I got reactive/self-protective in that conversation?
        • “Was there any place where I got more interested in control and approval (or defending the ego) than learning in that conversation?”
    • Use an instrument (like a personality test – Jim is a fan of enneagrams)
    • Create a feedback-rich environment where you’re constantly getting feedback – how?
      • First, identify your feedback filters – make them conscious
        • For example – “In order for me to value your feedback, I need you to be a subject matter expert”
        • “The more unconscious feedback filters we have, the less feedback we’re open to”
      • Decide which feedback filters you want to keep
      • Ask for feedback
        • For example – After a presentation, ask for a rating between 1-10 in addition to one thing you might do to improve
      • After receiving the feedback…
        • Do NOT ask yourself – “Is this feedback true?”
        • DO ask – “HOW is this feedback true?”

What happens after awareness?

  • Ask yourself: “Can I accept myself for being where I am?”
    • (Through self-awareness, you’re able to determine whether you’re above or below the black line)
  • “Awareness needs to be followed by acceptance”
    • But more often than not – you’ll feel self-criticism
    • Jim recommends, if you recognize you’re below the line and have since become aware of it, to take a deep/conscious breath (it’s the “breath of acceptance”)
  • Once you accept – then move above the line

Self-Acceptance is a Problem For Many World-Class Leaders

  • Many world-class leaders have this lingering belief that if they grant themselves a moment of self-acceptance, they’ll lose their edge 
    • But Jim has found the opposite to be true – “The more you can do whatever it is you’re doing from presence rather than reactivity, the more is available to you to be your highest and best self in the moment”
  • What drives many of these type A leaders? – A belief deep down that things aren’t okay the way they are (with them and their environment)
    • Usually this manifests itself as – “Just the way I am isn’t okay. I need X to happen to win the approval of Y.”
    • Or – often times there’s this fuel to “even the score” based on a past event
  • For many – the same fire that gives them their edge and has propelled them to their success keeps them from sleeping at night or being intimate with their significant other

Motivation

  • The Sources of Motivation:
    • Fear, guilt, shame, anger, and rage
      • “If you’re self-aware at all, you’ll eventually come to realize these all leave a toxic residue”
    • Extrinsic rewards (fame, money)
      • These also leave a toxic residue over time
    • Intrinsic rewards (doing things for the sake of a purpose or calling)
      • These are healthy motivators 
    • Play (when your work feels like a child at play)
      • This equates to a low level of self-consciousness, a high level of learning, and a sustainable/rechargeable energy
    • Love (love of the thing)
  • So….after acceptance, start to shift your motivation away from the first two categories to the latter 3
  • Think about professional athletes:
    • The truly great ones are motivated by a love of the game and a love of their team 
      • “When people start to get motivated by that, an entirely different sustainability and impact starts to occur”
  • Jim adds:
    • The first two categories (extrinsic rewards and fear/guilt/shame/anger/rage) are most rooted in fear
      • The fear of life without approval, control, or safety/security
      • “Underneath these incredibly driven and successful people is a scared little 5-year-old kid who is terrified”
      • “Inside each of us is a scared little kid”
    • And know this – “The antidote to fear is not courage, the antidote to fear is acceptance”
      • Until you can give love and acceptance to the scared 5-year-old inside of you, they won’t stop controlling your life

How can you reflect on your decisions to improve for the future?

  • Ask:
    • “From where did I make the decision – did I make it from above or below the line?”
    • “Did I make the decision from victim, villain, or hero?”
      • Victim = Making the decision from feeling like you were at the effect of a person, circumstance, or condition
      • Villain = Making the decision from blame, judgement or criticism
      • Hero= Making the decision to rescue people/relieve their difficulties or the fact that they’re upset
    • “Did I allow all of my emotional intelligence (EQ) to totally inform this decision?”
      • Jim adds:
        • “Unless people are equally valuing EQ (in addition to IQ) the best decisions don’t get made”
        • There are 5 core emotions – anger, fear, sadness, joy, and creative energy
      • To clarify the above, you might ask: “Were all of the core emotions involved in the decision process and did we get the wisdom of them?”
        • The wisdom of anger is that something isn’t of service 
        • The wisdom of sadness is that there’s a loss which you’re not fully facing/feeling
        • The wisdom of fear is that something isn’t being paid attention to
    • “Did we reveal everything we had to say about this?”
      • Horrible decisions get made when people don’t reveal their thoughts, judgments, opinions, feelings, desires and other relevant data
        • And when trust is low within a team – people withhold the above, leading to wrong decisions being made
    • “Did I say everything I had to say?”
      • This is more in context to group decisions – did you get everything you needed to out on the table?
    • “Are there any integrity breaches that are touching or effecting this decision?”
      • For example – are you keeping your agreements and are they clear?
        • Jim adds – Organizational teams waste so much time by not making clear agreements 
      • A lot of decisions get made where people don’t acknowledge that they’re making the decision on top of a broken agreement

Making Clear Agreements

  • Agreements need to be INCREDIBLY clear
    • Each agreement needs to answer the question – Who will do what by when?
  • Only make agreements that you have a whole body ‘yes’ to
    • When you make agreements you don’t really want to make either:
      • You won’t do it
      • You’ll struggle to do it
      • You’ll do a crappy job
  • “Most people in organizations keep between 40-60% of their agreements”
    • “There’s no such thing as a small breach of integrity” 
    • “To me, broken agreements are a breach of integrity”

What unstated agreements cause friction in intimate relationships?

  • “All drama in relationships, personal and professional, is caused by unaligned commitments, or unclear/unkept agreements”
    • A commitment is more like a “north star” (it doesn’t have a who, what, when)
      • For example – “My commitment is to be totally transparent” 
  • Unless you’re clear about ALL your agreements, they’re just going to keep recirculating in drama

If you realize you’re in an unhealthy relationship with your partner or spouse, what should you do?

  • Remember = After awareness comes acceptance
  • “Most people are unwilling to fully face what’s going on in much of their life”
    • (like the condition of an intimate relationship) – Why?
      • On the surface – not wanting to hurt their partner
        • BUT – “What they really don’t want to do is live with the effects or consequences of hurting their partner”
          • (They don’t want to live with what’s coming back their way)
  • On close relationships
    • “You can’t have a truly intimate, close relationship without being authentic”
      • “If you really want closeness, candor and closeness go hand in hand”
      • You need to realize – “I can only be as close as I’m willing to be revealed”

Victim vs. Creator Consciousness

  • Victim (below the line)
    • Living from the belief that life is happening to you 
    • You’re at the effect of people, circumstances, conditions
    • For example – Your joy being dependent on people/circumstances/conditions
    • This is where the vast majority of people live the vast majority of the time”
    • Realize – “When you’re living in victim consciousness, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re having a bad day”
      • You can be happy because of external circumstances
  • Instead – aim to have live in creative consciousness (above the line) (choosing to be responsible for your experience)
    • With this mindset – “Nobody upsets you, you upset yourself”
    • When people move from victim to creator consciousness, they start taking 100% responsibility for their experiences
  • How do we switch from a victim to a creative consciousness? – It’s easy:
    • “Living in a victim consciousness requires MASSIVE amounts of energy” – (it takes an unbelievable amount of energy to resist reality)
      • Living in a creative consciousness is actually energy replenishing – you’re no longer resisting what life presents
    • Here’s what you do
      • 1) Locate yourself in victimhood
      • 2) Take responsibility for putting yourself there
      • 3) Ask yourself if you’re willing to shift to a creative consciousness
      • 4) Identify the recipe for how you’ve created the situation
        • For example – Having relationship problems because you’re not giving enough appreciation for your partner
      • 5) In the very creation of the recipe, you’ve given the prescription for how to change to a creative consciousness
        • Just do the opposite of the above

How can we develop and hone our EQ (emotional intelligence)?

  • Here’s what you do:
    • 1) Decide if you’re actually willing to develop your EQ
    • 2) Before you can become emotionally intelligent, you have to be emotionally literate
      • This is just the ability to know what you’re feeling in any moment, and name it
    • 3) Once you name your feelings, you have to acknowledge you can feel your feelings
      • Feelings = energy = sensations in the body
      • To learn more about this, check out the book –  My Stroke of Insight
      • As it turns out, most feelings last <90 seconds
        • If you don’t feed the feeling with more thoughts, the energy will exit the body in <90 seconds
    • 4) Feel what others feel
  • Emotional intelligence is the ability to know what you’re feeling at any moment and have a receptive relationship with the feeling, allowing it to pass through your body
    • If the feeling gets stuck – it calcifies and turns into a mood
      • For example – anger turns into bitterness/resentment/hatred
    • (This also applies to positive emotions – if you don’t let them flow through you, you’re prone to cognitive biases when it comes to future decisions)
  • Emotional Empathy
    • What does it mean? – You can only be as compassionate with another as you are with yourself (this has to do with step 4 of how to develop you emotional intelligence)
      • For example – if you’re not comfortable feeling your sadness as a parent, you won’t allow your children to feel theirs

If You Spot It, You Got It

  • “If you were willing to eat the projection and internalize how the things you’re complaining about in relation to others are true about you, you’d increase your learning agility exponentially”
  • “If you really want to grow in self-awareness, eat your projections”

Parenting

  • Jim has 6 kids (he’s a step dad)
  • It all comes back to the line (see way above)
    • Frequently ask yourself about your interactions with your kids – “Was I above or below the line here?”
      • “If you’re below the line, the possibility of having a meaningful conversation that produces tangible, lasting results is very slim”
      • And if you’re below the line… there’s a real probability your kid will go below the line as well
        • This just results in two reactive/scared people trying to prove they’re right
  • “Most parents are not interacting with their child at the center of their consciousness, they’re interacting with their child with themselves at the center of their consciousness and their embarrassment”
    • For example – If your child is throwing a tantrum in public, your anger is largely fueled by your embarrassment that you’re outsourcing your sense of approval to strangers surrounding you
  • Realize – your kids are there to teach you just as much as you’re supposed to teach them
  • Making CLEAR agreements with your kids is crucial

Tips For Thriving in a Blended Family

  • You need to prioritize the relationship you have with your spouse over the relationship you have with your biological children
  • The primary parent has decision rights with the biological children
    • The secondary parent serves as an adviser/consultant
  • Have a long time horizon
    • There’s almost always a tumultuous adjustment period – know it’s going to get messy
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