Whether we realize it or not, as accountant moms, we are all leaders – at work and at home – which is why it's so important to learn the keys to becoming a conscious leader. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an accounting employee, an entrepreneur with a team, or a solopreneur with a team of one, learning how to be a better leader is incredibly important for you both professionally and personally.
But the question is – what makes a good leader? If you ask 100 people what they think makes a good leader, you’re going to typically have very different definitions, often depending on the person’s experience with good and bad leadership.
Some of the buzzwords or qualities you’ll commonly hear when talking about what makes a good leader in a work setting include integrity, accountability, empathy, humility, resilience, vision, influence, and positivity. You’ve probably got your own list when it comes to the qualities you believe make a good leader, especially when it comes to being a leader at work.
The same thing goes when we’re talking about being an effective leader at home – you’ll typically hear qualities like a sense of integrity, compassion, honesty and understanding. While being a leader at home comes with its own unique set of challenges, especially when you have children, there are still many qualities in common between good leaders, whether it’s at the office or at home.
But no matter what ideas you may have about what makes a good leader, in this episode I’m going to discuss the book “The 15 Commitments Of Conscious Leadership” by Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman, and Kaley Warner Klemp. This is the book we’ve chosen for the CPA MOMS book club discussion in January and I also wanted the podcast audience to get the benefit of this enlightening book, whether you join us for the book club or not.
The simple, but powerful truth that this book shares is that leadership operates from one of two places – above the line or below the line but not in the way accountants think of those terms. As I work together with my clients on my coaching program, The Balanced Accountant Program, they thankfully begin to see that the tools taught in the program empower them to learn how to switch from operating below the line, to operating above the line.
In order to understand the difference between operating above the line versus below the line, the authors share the following distinctions:
- Above the line leadership is open, curious, and committed to learning
- Below the line leadership is closed, defensive, and committed to being right
It’s important to know that leading from below the line isn’t wrong – it’s actually a very common state for most of us. But the question is, why do we spend more time below the line? If you’ve been listening to this podcast then you’ll know the answer, but if you’re new to the podcast then let me share the answer – because we have a human brain.
We are hardwired to use the lower, primitive part of our brains more often than not, creating a good amount of our time spent below the line. But here’s the best news – you also have a higher, executive functioning part of your brain that, when utilized more often, will help you to lead from above the line.
As I work with my coaching clients, I always remind them that we all go below the line, but it’s your ability to catch yourself when you’re drifting down into a closed, reactive mode that’s important. As they practice becoming aware and making the shift from being below the line to above the line, everything becomes easier, especially the ability to be a good leader.
I promise you that if you choose to go through the Balanced Accountant Program, you’ll understand that as a regular practice, conscious leaders notice when they are below the line and choose to shift to above the line. With the help of the tools of that program, you’ll know exactly how to make that shift.
This week I’m going to discuss each of the 15 commitments of conscious leadership so that you might be able to implement them into your own approach and grow in your leadership role, both as a leader at work and at home.
Commitment #1 – Taking Radical Responsibility
When I’ve run leadership programs for accountants and am asked what I think the most important commitment is from the 15 commitments I’m going to share with you, honestly this first commitment is the one I believe is the most important – the commitment to taking radical responsibility. This commitment is about taking full responsibility for your thoughts, feelings, actions and results, which are all key elements in the tools I teach all my coaching clients, whether they are leaders or not.
Basically radical responsibility means locating the cause of the problems we have in our lives (hint: it’s never the people, places, things or situations in your life that are the problem). When you’re committed to taking radical responsibility, there is no place for blame, and instead it allows for innovation, creativity, and collaboration.
When you lead above the line, as opposed to below the line, you don’t ask, “Who’s to blame?” you ask, “What can we learn and how can we grow from this?” Radical responsibility means understanding that external events aren’t the cause of our issues and that by utilizing that higher, executive functioning part of our brain more often, we can control so much more of our lives and how we show up as a leader.
Commitment #2 – Learning Through Curiosity
One of the biggest stumbling blocks that I see for a lot of accountants is that because of our intelligence, we tend to think we know the answer to things when we don’t, or we’re afraid of what others will think if we admit that we don’t know the answer. But the commitment to learning through curiosity is less about your accounting knowledge, and more about being committed to understanding and knowing yourself more than anything else.
This commitment is all about self-awareness because at any point, leaders are either above the line (open, curious, and committed to learning) or below the line (defensive, closed and committed to being right). What this book shares is that being “right” doesn’t cause drama, but wanting, proving, and fighting to be “right” does.
With this commitment, it’s important to recognize that even though conscious leaders get defensive like everyone else, they regularly interrupt this natural reactivity by pausing to breathe, accept, and shift. The issue isn’t whether we drift to being below the line, but how long we stay in a drift before we shift to being above the line.
Commitment #3 – Feeling All Feelings
As I shared in podcast episode #138 – Feelings Are Information, Not Problems – one of the reasons that a lot of men in leadership roles will often discount feelings is that they’re not making the important connection between how they feel and what they do or don’t do; between how they feel as they achieve a level of success. They’re often equating success with hard work and hustling, focusing much more on the actions taken than on the feelings that fueled those actions.
The truth is that great leaders have emotional maturity and emotional intelligence, which means they take 100% responsibility for how they feel. When you learn how to delineate the facts and your thoughts about the facts, you know exactly where your feelings come from and how to manage and master them.
The key is that conscious leaders don’t blame circumstances for how they feel. They learn to locate, name, process and release their feelings, making it easier for themselves and those around them to be supported and grow.
Commitment #4 – Speaking Candidly
I think one of the qualities that is missing in a lot of leaders is the ability to be authentic, to not be an edited version of their true selves when they’re in a leadership role, and to support truth and candor for themselves and others. In my experience, being willing to be open, honest, and vulnerable is one of the most endearing qualities of good leadership.
By also learning how to listen consciously and hold space for others to share truthfully and candidly, you offer them an opportunity to be heard in a way that they may not experience anywhere else. When you can become aware of the “filters” you often use to listen, and drop the preconceived notions you have about who you’re listening to and what they’re saying, you become fully present with the other person.
Speaking candidly and allowing others to do the same takes courage, but it’s well worth the initial uncomfortability. When you become more comfortable with being uncomfortable, you become a better leader.
Commitment #5 – Eliminating Gossip
Even though gossip has long been a part of office culture, and is a large part of our social culture as well, it is a key indicator of an unhealthy organization and one of the fastest ways to derail motivation and creativity. In podcast episode #22 – How Gossip Affects Your Brain – I shared that when you practice gossip you train your brain to focus on other people’s shortcomings which then creates the filter through which you experience life.
As far as leadership goes, gossip is basically an attempt to validate the righteousness of a person’s thinking – it is below the line, and is not a comment designed to serve the person being discussed. The key is that typically, gossip is done out of fear or frustration when someone isn’t managing their emotions properly.
By committing to eliminating gossip, both professionally and personally, you can increase the likelihood of a more collaborative, supportive environment both at work and at home.
Commitment #6 – Practicing Integrity
In this book the authors share that integrity consists of four pillars – the practice of keeping agreements, taking responsibility, revealing authentic feelings, and expressing yourself respectfully. They explain that conscious leaders make clear agreements, keep them, renegotiate them when needed, and clean them up when broken.
Whether you are a leader at work or at home, the practice of integrity allows those you influence to trust your intentions, your words, and your actions. If an organization, or a family unit, is to succeed and thrive, integrity must be a fundamental cornerstone.
Practicing integrity in leadership means being humble enough to admit mistakes, but also being strong enough to move forward, helping others feel secure and confident in you as a person.
Commitment #7 – Generating Appreciation
With this commitment of conscious leadership, it’s important to see appreciation in two ways – being open to fully receiving appreciation and being able to fully give appreciation. As women, we often tend to downplay appreciation, worried what others will think if we fully accept a compliment, and opting to give appreciation more than receiving it, or deflecting it when it’s given.
But in order to be a more conscious leader, you need to become masterful at giving and receiving appreciation, allowing the unique gifts of everyone, including yourself, to be recognized. The authors suggest that masterful appreciation be sincere, unarguable, specific, and succinct.
The best part about generating appreciation is how it makes the giver and the receiver feel. So don’t short-change yourself or others by not generating appreciation from a genuine space.
Commitment #8 – Excelling In Your Zone Of Genius
Whether it’s at work or at home, being a leader that not only allows team members to realize their full potential, but also is committed to their own growth potential, is incredibly important. As you may or may not know, people tend to work and live in four zones: incompetence, competence, excellence, and genius.
The more you can maximize your zone of genius – the place where you are at your best, doing what comes naturally to you, and where you’re in the “flow” – the better it is for everyone. As best-selling author, Gay Hendricks, refers to as “The Upper Limits Problem”, it’s natural to have limiting beliefs about what’s possible, unfortunately keeping you stuck.
Conscious leaders spend time with themselves and team members to assess, understand, and appreciate their own unique genius qualities and talents, allowing everyone to excel on all levels. The more time you spend being “above the line” the better you’ll be able to excel in your zone of genius.
Commitment #9 – Living A Life Of Play And Rest
This is a tough one for a lot of accountants, especially due to the seriousness of the work that we do. We also tend to work in a deadline-driven culture that has us putting off play and rest until all the boxes have been checked and there’s nothing left on the ever-growing to-do list.
The issue is that most leaders resist play because they think they will fall behind if they aren’t seriously working hard. But the truth is that organizations that take breaks to rest and play are actually more productive, efficient, and creative when energy is maximized with rest, renewal and honoring people’s personal rhthyms.
As the accounting industry is experiencing right now, a self-imposed nose-to-the-grindstone culture will lead to higher levels of stress, guilt, employee burnout and turnover. Thankfully conscious leaders who value and encourage an atmosphere of play and joy within themselves, their organizations, and their families create high functioning, high achieving cultures.
Commitment #10 – Exploring The Opposite
As a CPA who also coaches other accountants, I can tell you from experience that being open to seeing something differently is one of the most challenging things for an accountant's brain. We are trained to look at the facts of various situations and formulate a solution, however, once we believe we’ve found an answer, we have a difficult time being open to seeing things differently.
The importance of this commitment is that by exploring the opposite – which means being open to the notion that the opposite of your story (your thoughts, beliefs, and opinions) could be as true or truer than your current story – you become much better at leading others to do the same. By taking responsibility for being the “labeler” of your experience, you then learn to question all your labels, becoming a more powerful leader.
Commitment #11 – Sourcing Approval, Control and Security
As humans, our core wants are approval, control, and security, with all other wants being a version of these three basic desires. The challenge though, is not in having approval, control, and security, but in the belief that they are missing because this then causes you to seek these core desires outside of yourself.
When you outsource your need for approval, control, and security, you give your power away. The key with this commitment is understanding that anything you want is because of how you believe it will make you feel, and that you can always create that feeling on purpose without needing anyone or anything to be different.
The feeling of approval, of control, and of security are all available to you without needing to outsource it elsewhere.
Commitment #12 – Having Enough Of Everything
For those committed to conscious leadership, their experience of life is not weighed down with a scarcity mindset. When you become a conscious leader you experience having enough of everything – time, money, love, energy, space, and resources.
An abundant mindset not only lifts you up, but also those you lead. The more time you can spend above the line, where you are aware of how often you may think that there is never enough, that more is better, or that it’s always going to be this way, the easier it is to recognize when scarcity creeps in and be able to shift from below the line to above the line.
To those committed to conscious leadership, the belief and experience of sufficiency creates a profound shift in their relationship with others, as well as with work, life, and themselves.
Commitment #13 – Experiencing The World As An Ally
As author Byron Katie famously said, “Defense is the first act of war”, therefore, conscious leaders make the commitment to see people and circumstances as allies in their growth, not as enemies. On the flip side, unconscious, reactive leaders view other people and circumstances as obstacles to getting what they want.
Most leaders start with this reactive mindset – they are convinced they will feel happy once they get what they want, and if they can’t get what they want, it’s because others are standing in their way. But the truth is that challenges can create the positive pressure often needed for conscious leaders to expand beyond their comfort zone, allowing them to shift out of the state of comparison to see everyone and everything as equally valuable.
When you make no one and nothing your enemy, you save so much energy by not assuming the worst.
Commitment #14 – Creating Win-For-All Solutions
In order to be a conscious leader, you need to commit to moving beyond the zero-sum game into a creative solution that serves all, creating win-for-all solutions. In essence, win-for-all solutions require the building blocks of the other conscious leadership commitments, providing a concrete example of how conscious leaders integrate all the commitments into a way of being in the world.
The energy resulting from win-for-all collaboration allows solutions to be implemented quickly. In addition, a win-for-all culture allows an organization to thrive as creativity, collaboration, vision, and achievement are optimized.
Conscious leaders who do their best to create win-for-all solutions if possible, see the bigger picture and look beyond what might be an easy fix in the moment.
Commitment #15 – Being The Resolution
Being the resolution means that conscious leaders recognize what is missing in the world and view that as an invitation to become what is needed. Unfortunately, most of us have worked for unconscious leaders where team members who don’t feel heard, stop caring about making changes, and give up on creating solutions that could benefit the organization.
The commitment of being the resolution takes place from a conscious leader’s YES! It’s not about being blind to problems, but instead being open to solutions and being open to other people’s ideas and suggestions as well. It’s creating an environment that moves forward.
As my coaching clients work with me on The Balanced Accountant Program, they begin to learn how to lead, and live, above the line. Not only do they grow professionally, but they also see amazing shifts in their personal life as well.
Just know that in order to be a great organization, or a great family unit, you have to grow the leaders in that organization or family. These 15 commitments are some of the best ways to become the type of above the line, conscious leader you can be at work and at home.
- Above the line leadership is open, curious, and committed to learning while below the line leadership is closed, defensive, and committed to being right
- We all go below the line, but it’s your ability to catch yourself when you’re drifting down into a closed, reactive mode that’s important
- As you practice becoming aware and making the shift from below the line to above the line, everything becomes easier, especially the ability to be a good leader.