Above The Line, Below The Line – Elevating Mindsets And Behaviors


Conscious leadership is a multifaceted approach that encompasses self-awareness, emotional agility, and interpersonal savvy. It requires leaders to understand both their conscious and unconscious selves, enabling them to navigate their thoughts and feelings flexibly. This emotional agility serves as a guide for decision-making aligned with personal values and goals, while also fostering strong interpersonal skills. A key concept in conscious leadership is the ability to choose between "above the line" and "below the line" thinking and behaviors. Above the line represents positive, constructive approaches, while below the line refers to distorted thinking and negative behaviors. To maintain this consciousness and strive for above-the-line leadership, conscious leaders must engage in regular self-reflection. This introspective practice helps them understand their thinking patterns, personal comforts, and emotional triggers, ultimately contributing to more effective and mindful leadership.


At any given moment, leaders operate either above or below the line. The most crucial aspect is self-awareness – recognizing where one currently stands and implementing strategies to shift towards an "above the line" approach if previously exhibiting "below the line" tendencies. The framework aims to help teams and individuals recognize unproductive "below the line" patterns and consciously shift towards more constructive "above the line" ways of thinking and behaving. It promotes accountability, emotional intelligence, and a solutions-oriented approach to challenges.


The "above the line, below the line" framework applies to leadership styles and mindsets. Leadership above the line means a leader is open-minded, curious, and committed to continuous learning. In contrast, leadership below the line means a leader is closed-off, defensive, and fixated on being right at all costs.  The default position for most people is to function below the line due to evolutionary psychology and the amygdala – the brain's threat detection center. Although modern-day threats rarely endanger physical survival, perceived threats to our ego or sense of control can trigger the amygdala, eliciting a survival response akin to facing a predator. Above the line behaviors are positive, accountable, and growth-oriented. They include:
  • Taking responsibility for one's actions
  • Adopting a growth mindset and being open to learning
  • Proactively asking for feedback
  • Focusing on solutions rather than blaming
  • Demonstrating curiosity and open-mindedness
  • Exhibiting emotional intelligence and self-awareness
Below the line behaviors are seen as negative, defensive, and lacking accountability. They may involve:
  • Making excuses and blaming others
  • Displaying a victim mentality 
  • Being closed-minded and resistant to change
  • Gossiping or complaining without offering solutions
  • Lacking self-awareness and emotional intelligence
  • Awareness of our individual and collective mindsets and behaviors can help us shift to a more conscious and positive engagement with ourselves and others.

Sample Activity

Here are some activities that can be used to teach and practice the "above the line, below the line" mindsets and behaviors:
  • Conscious Listening: Have participants pair up and practice conscious listening, switching between ‘above the line’ and ‘below the line’ listening.  Listening above the line occurs when the listener is aware of what’s happening in the moment for themselves and with the person they’re listening to, without any alternate motives. Listening from below the line is to focus more on your own thoughts and agenda rather than really listen to the speaker’s expressions, emotions, and needs. (See handout for more.)
  • Personal Reflection: Have participants write about a recent situation where they exhibited "below the line" behavior. Ask them to reflect on what triggered that response, how they could have responded more constructively ("above the line"), and what they learned.
  • Role-Playing Scenarios: Create scenarios depicting various situations (e.g. classroom, workplace, family) and have participants role-play how they would respond in an "above the line" or "below the line" manner. Discuss the differences and consequences of each approach.
  • Using Film Clips and Videos:  Show short video clips from movies, TV shows or real-life situations that exemplify "above the line" and "below the line" behaviors. Pause and discuss what made those behaviors constructive or unproductive.
  • Group Discussions: Facilitate group discussions around common ‘above the line’ (listening, appreciation, co-creating) and ‘below the line’ behaviors a team may practice (e.g. gossiping, blaming, making excuses). Brainstorm strategies to shift to more accountable "above the line" mindsets.
  • Behavior Tracking: Provide participants with a simple tracker or journal to self-monitor their "above the line" and "below the line" behaviors over a set period. Periodically reflect on patterns and areas for improvement.
Please see the following downloads from HOPS International for some additional resources.


This draws on the work of Charles Walsh of HOPS International and the Conscious Leadership Group.

Target Audience:

  • Leaders
  • Teams
  • Trainers
  • Coaches

Got feedback or input? Please share!