Book Review: 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership

Updated: Jul 8

When ATG launched our LEADin3 program (pilot currently in progress at time this post was published), this book became one of our important resources. When asking leaders to consider their impact on the systems they lead, the idea of staying above the line is an easily understood method of rapid self-assessment for most leadership challenges.

Let’s say you’ve decided to read a book on Leadership. You Google “Best Books on Leadership” and up comes a truly baffling array of titles, and it quickly becomes apparent that numbers are very important in this genre: 4 Agreements, 5 Levels, 7 Habits, 8 Dimensions, 11 Laws, 15 Commitments. It’s a little funny how often the essence of leadership is reduced to a list of qualities to check off. Yet some of these titles have become perennial favorites among book clubs and leadership groups for good reason.

One such volume is The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership by Jim Dethmer, Kaley Klemp, and Diana Chapman. Published in 2015, it’s become a staple in the Conscious Leadership movement. Stated simply, their premise is that all leadership behavior can be classified as “above the line” or “below the line”--above the line meaning conscious, positive, and growth-oriented and below the line meaning unconscious and therefore more likely to be driven by motivations such as fear, comparison, or reactivity. The authors devote chapters to 15 concepts, and for each, they ask the reader to deeply think about behaviors and skills that keep you above line.

Be forewarned that this is no 7 Habits type of inquiry. Exploring topics like Curiosity, Feelings, and Integrity, some chapters may feel a bit metaphysical to a quantitative-minded, data-driven leader. If so, it might be even more of a good idea to pick up this book and stretch yourself to new ideas about what leadership can look like.

If possible, read this book with a group of people. When the ATG team first read this in our book club, everyone found food for thought and discussion. We began with some healthy skepticism about how realistic some of their suggestions are, especially the initial description of the perfect executive's perfect day. (Skip it.) But the discussions that came out of putting skepticism aside and allowing ourselves to play the “yes and” and “what if” games led to a deeper understanding of each others’ values and an awareness of how many dimensions of our lives this idea of “above and below the line” could apply to.

In the long run, there’s nothing super new in this book. The authors acknowledge this, citing their inspirations and sources liberally. What’s new is the way they express and connect these ideas into the simple concept of the line dividing seeing life as happening "to you" or "by you". Presented with a brisk writing style and accessible graphics, this book provides a framework to grow in self-knowledge and become a leader who stays "above the line" and helps other to want to do the same.

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