Leadership Library Review: The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership

January 2019

The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership by Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman and Kaley Warner Klemp (Chapman, Dethmer & Klemp, 2014)

What are the big take-aways?

The authors posit that there are two “locations” of leadership consciousness: above the line (open, curious and committed to learning) and below the line (closed, defensive and committed to being right).  “As a regular practice,” write the authors on page 43, “conscious leaders notice when they are below the line and choose to shift to above the line.”

Leaders do this by consistently checking in on their “Way of Leading”: To Me, By Me, Through Me and As Me.  In the chapter “Leading from Above the Line,” the authors are clear that these Ways of Leading are four ever-changing states of being, not successive or cumulative developmental stages, and that it is possible to toggle among them – particularly To Me, By Me, Through Me (because As Me is a rarer state of unity/oneness, interconnectedness and peace) – in short periods of time, like hours or minutes. The authors argue that the most key, common and needed shift in a leader, a team, an organization, or even the world at any given moment is the Way-of-Leading shift from To Me (a victim posture) to By Me (a creator posture). Awareness of the line is “conscious leadership,” which the 15 commitments further define and support.

Why do I like it?

I like that “Taking Radical Responsibility,” along with “Learning Through Curiosity,” is a foundational commitment of conscious leadership.  (The other thirteen can be found here.)  Although conscious leadership is not an adult development framework like Susanne Cook-Greuter’s or Robert Kegan’s – and it may share more similarities to growth mindset research than to any theory of psychological development – in my view the authors’ stance regarding why conscious leadership is so effective hinges upon an ability to take the kind of responsibility for one’s learning and leading that might also be described as self-determining.  (In other words, I wonder whether a leader who is very mindful of the line, skillfully interrupts inevitable drifts below the line, and whose Way of Leading is at least in the By Me state most of the time, might correspond to certain stages of adult development?  Just a question to play with…)

In what situations would this be useful? 

This book would be probably most useful to you if the concept of conscious leadership intrigues you, and/or resonates with what you’re currently experiencing (e.g., something is impeding your effectiveness, you’re not sure what it is, and you’re truly open to finding out).  It could also be a helpful resource if you don’t “get” the concept of conscious leadership as I attempted to outline it above, but nonetheless know in your heart that you’re ready to do whatever it takes to bring more flexibility, authenticity, and ease to your leadership – as well as abundance to your organization – and could benefit from a coherent structure to help you effectuate those changes. The book makes these complex ideas seem quite straightforward.  For just one example, the authors ask on page 52, “What if there is no way the world should be and no way the world shouldn’t be?”  They go on to explain (page 53):

[T]he first step in taking responsibility is to shift from believing that the world should be a particular way to believing that the world just shows up. Second, we need to shift from rigidity, closed-mindedness, and self-righteousness to curiosity, learning, and wonder (which naturally occurs once our beliefs change).  All drama in leadership and life is caused by the need to be right.  Letting go of that need is a radical shift all great leaders make.

What other resources might “pair” well with it?

For an excellent three-and-a-half-minute graphical depiction of the authors’ “above the line and below the line” idea, see this video on YouTube.  For an astute summary of Carol Dweck’s book Mindset, on the neuroscience of transforming a fixed mindset into a growth mindset, see this Brain Pickings blog post by Maria Popova.

There are also several books and articles I’ve reviewed in the Leadership Library that would pair well with The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership.  A dense but flabbergasting argument for love, oneness, connection and abundance as the nature of the universe is made by Joseph Jaworski in Source: The Inner Path of Knowledge Creation.  For more on the “business case” for love, see Bob Anderson’s Mastering Leadership, and consider taking The Leadership Circle Profile self-assessment or ideally the 360-degree assessment, of which Anderson is an architect.  The Leadership Circle Profile – which also draws a significant line (between reactive tendencies below, and creative competencies above) – intentionally incorporates Robert Kegan’s adult development theory as described in this white paper, also by Anderson.

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