Above the line

November 8 2023

As a manager I have always tried to work towards the concept of leading from a place of being 'above the line' and I have written about this previously in wellbeing messages. On re–reading this concept recently, I was reminded how useful this is for general wellbeing in any part of your life, so I thought it was time to revisit the idea.

The concept is simple, at any point, we are acting from a place of being either above the line or below the line. If you are above it, you are leading or simply living consciously, and if you are below it, you are not. Above the line, one is open, curious, and committed to learning. Below the line, one is closed, defensive, and committed to being right.

Working in this way allows you to be more interested in learning than being right. When our egos make us afraid to be wrong, that fear leads us to defend our ideas at all costs, and to work too hard to convince others that we are right—often with anger.

Being above the line is about recognising when these emotions (fear, anger, sadness) have gripped our thought processes, releasing these emotions and shifting back to a state of curiosity where we are receptive to all ideas and creativity, even if they seem to contradict our own.

It is in a state of playful curiosity that truly elegant solutions are achieved.


Shifting is moving from closed to open, from defensive to curious, from wanting to be right to wanting to learn, and from fighting for the survival of the individual ego to leading or simply living from a place of security and trust.

Shifting first requires a degree of emotional intelligence, realising that you’re feeling below the line (angry/scared), and then taking a moment to pause before reacting.

To shift from below to above the line, you can focus on your breathing and take a few big breaths in and out. Alternatively, to get the blood moving, take a walk around the room.

Conscious Principles

The following are principles to live your life by in order to shift yourself above the line…

Taking radical responsibility

  • Commit to taking full responsibility for the circumstances of your life and for your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wellbeing. Commit to supporting others as they take full responsibility for their lives.
  • Taking full responsibility for your circumstances (physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually) is the foundation of true personal and relational transformation. Blame, shame, and guilt all come from fear.
  • Radical responsibility means locating the cause and control of our lives in ourselves, not in external events.
  • Instead of asking who’s to blame, ask, “What can we learn and how can we grow from this?”

Learning through curiosity

  • Commit to growing in self-awareness. Commit to regarding every interaction as an opportunity to learn. Commit to curiosity as a path to rapid learning.
  • Be passionately committed to knowing ourselves, willing to live in a state of curiosity.
  • Being “right” doesn’t cause drama, but wanting, proving, and fighting to be “right” does.


Feeling all feelings

  • Commit to feeling your feelings all the way through to completion. They come, locate them in your body then move, breathe, and vocalise them so they release all the way through.
  • Don’t allow feelings to be viewed as negative, feelings are natural and expressing them is healthy. Emotion is energy in motion; feelings are simply physical sensations.
  • The four primary emotions are anger, fear, sadness, and joy. Knowing how to express them all of the way through to completion helps you develop emotional intelligence. Each primary emotion has a unique energy pattern and set of sensations in and on the body. Every feeling we experience invites us in a specific way to grow in awareness and knowing. Repressing, denying, or recycling emotions creates physical, psychological, and relationship problems.
  • To release emotion, first locate the sensation in the body and then vocalise the feeling.


Speaking candidly

  • Commit to saying what is true for you. Commit to being a person to whom others can express themselves with candour.
  • Aim to see reality clearly. Be truthful and not lie about or withhold information. Reveal thoughts, feelings, and sensations in an honest, open, and aware way, not because you feel you are right, but because you wish to be known.
  • Commit to ending gossip, talking directly to people with whom you have a concern, and encouraging others to talk directly to people with whom they have an issue or concern.
  • Gossip is an attempt to validate the righteousness of a person’s thinking and is below the line; it is not a comment designed to serve the person being discussed.
  • People gossip to gain validation, control others and outcomes, avoid conflict, get attention, feel included, and make themselves right by making others wrong. In short, people usually gossip out of fear.


  • Commit to the masterful practice of integrity, including acknowledging all authentic feelings, expressing the unarguable truth, keeping your agreements, and taking 100% responsibility.
  • Integrity is the practice of keeping agreements, taking responsibility, revealing authentic feelings, and expressing unarguable truths.


Generating appreciation

  • Commit to living in appreciation, fully opening to both receiving and giving appreciation. Committing to appreciation, along with avoiding entitlement, helps grow value and connection.
  • Appreciation consists of two parts: sensitive awareness and an increase in value.
  • Entitlement arises when rewards and benefits become an expectation instead of a preference. Living in appreciation has two branches: being open to fully receiving appreciation and being able to fully give appreciation. For most, it is more difficult and people are more afraid to receive appreciation than to give it. To avoid receiving appreciation, people strategically deflect it. Masterful appreciation is sincere, unarguable, specific, and succinct. Appreciation allows the unique gifts in the community to be recognised.

Living a life of play and rest

  • Commit to creating a life of play, improvisation, and laughter. Commit to seeing all of life unfold easefully and effortlessly. Commit to maximising your energy by honouring rest, renewal, and rhythm.
  • Creating a life of play, improvisation, and laughter allows life to unfold easily and energy to be maximised. Play is an absorbing, apparently purposeless activity that provides enjoyment and suspends self-consciousness and a sense of time. It is also self-motivating and makes you want to do it again.


Exploring the opposite

  • Can you commit to seeing that the opposite of your story is as true as or truer than your original story? Recognise that you interpret the world around you and give your stories meaning.
  • Practice simple ways to question the beliefs that cause suffering, starting with “Is it true?” and “Can I absolutely know it is true?” The turnaround exercise allows us to practice shifting their beliefs from knowing to curiosity.
  • Exploring concepts like living Above The Line can give you insight into ways that you can reflect on your own habits, relationships and ways of working and look for ways to help improve your own day to day wellbeing.


‘Above the line’ concept and leadership principles are taken from The Manager’s Handbook, written by Alex MacCaw and Clearbit.

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