Episode #49: The Biggest Mistake Conscious Leaders Make
Welcome to Allowed. I am your host, Caneel Joyce.
Fearless leaders, thank you for showing up here again today. I am excited that you’re here for this episode because I want to address a common misconception that I may have been contributing to in some way without knowing it, and I want to clear it up right away.
As you have probably heard me mention on past episodes, I do have an online group coaching program. It’s currently called Forward Fearless, soon to be renamed, TBD dot, dot, dot. In that program today, when I was coaching the group that was there and we meet on Zoom for two hours, twice a month so we know each other pretty well at this point, everyone’s been in the program for several months, I heard people say a few things that stood out to me, and I wanted to share them with you and tell you how I addressed it because this might be something that’s coming up for you, too.
Here’s some of the words that I heard. I heard someone say, “I was trying not to hero.” I heard another person say, “I try so hard to be present.” All right? “Try so hard to stay above the line. I’m really pushing myself to not be in victim mode.”
All right. What do all of those statements have in common? Well, there’s two ingredients. One of them is they’re referencing some way of being in drama, being below the line. If this is your first time listening to the Allowed podcast, you may not have heard the descriptions of what those terms mean, so bear with me. But you can return to previous episodes where I did major deep dives into those episodes, and those episode numbers were 6, 7, 12, 13 and 14. Those are all deep dives into those topics, and I will link to all of that in the show notes @allowedpodcast.com where you can find the show notes there.
They all refer to being below the line, so I might be in hero mode, or I might be in victim mode. The third mode would be villain mode. I might be not in a state of presence. All of those are synonymous with I’m below the line, I’m out of presence, I’m in a state of drama, I’m in a state of threat.
The second ingredient in all of those statements that I heard this morning were about effort. It’s all effortful. It’s like I have to try. I have to push. I have to strain. I have to make myself. I have to make sure of. So the effort piece is what it reflects is that there’s some lack of ease to it. It’s not just that there’s effort put in. It’s there’s effort with some attachment, some attachment to try and control an outcome. I need to be in a certain place. I need to be above the line. I need to not be below the line.
That is such a common misperception of this work of conscious leadership. Now, I have said it to this group many, many, many, many, many times, as it has been told to me many, many times, there is no right or wrong place to be. It’s okay to be above the line, it’s okay to be below the line. Neither one of them is good or bad, right or wrong. Neither one of them is better or worse. They’re just different locations where you’re going to have different experiences.
When I’m above the line, I’m going to be in a state of presence, ease and flow. I have access to a type of learning that is transformational in nature. I am focused on learning and I’m curious. Below the line, I’m focused on being right. I might even be focused on being right even if I am wrong. Above the line, I’m in a state of trust. Below the line, I’m in a state of threat. Sounds uncomfortable, and it often is. Suffering is found below the line, but suffering is not bad, and being in a state of threat is not bad. It is human.
We are hard-wired to be in a state of threat. Most of the time it’s bred into us because of the types of creatures that humans are. We are these bipedal creatures who are born very, very early gestationally. When you look at the size of our bodies and our brains, we come out of our mommy’s tummies and we are completely incapable of taking care of ourselves. It takes us about five years to be able to really survive on our own and, believe me, it’s probably more like 25 years. But physiologically speaking, we’re going to be able to fend for ourselves and run away from predators and climb and make basically good judgment decision calls in states of emergency once we’re five. So if you think about it, that’s a long time to be in a state of threat. And it’s true, it’s genuine, so it makes sense that we’re scanning for threats.
Compare us to a horse or a goat, or almost any other animal, when they come out, they are basically ready to go. They can walk, they can run, they can eat on their own. If you’ve ever seen a baby breastfeed, they can do it on their own, but someone’s got to hold of them. Even a baby hamster, they can lay on the floor, no one needs to hold them. They can lay on the floor and nibble at the teat. They can crawl around over their little brothers and sisters in the litter, and they can get there. But human babies, if you walk away from them, that’s it. They’re a goner. So we’re human for being in a state of threat, we’re human for being below the line. It’s okay.
Not only is it inevitable, what I want you to get with this, it’s beautiful, it’s lovable. It’s not just human meaning, oh, unfortunately, sometimes I’m below the line. It’s how glorious and wonderful and beautiful that I get to experience being below the line.
Now, why would it be a wonderful experience? You know, I have a few theories for this. One of them is it reminds us of our own vulnerability and mortality. That can really give us access to a much greater sense of appreciation and gratitude for when we do have life and we have health and we have safety and abundance.
Another one is the below-the-line-experience is something that’s easily relatable. It tends to be surrounding these existential moments in life. So I can relate to if you’re nauseous and I’m nauseous and I don’t speak your language, I still know what you feel like. I think I do, at least. We have this connective tissue of these relatable suffering experiences. It also opens up opportunities for us to help each other and helping is just such a… It’s the greatest pleasure in life.
There are many other kind of more cosmic things I could point to, but for the purposes of this show, what I really want to convince you of is there is no need to try so hard to be above the line all the time. There’s no need for you to make yourself stop heroing.
Instead, what I want you to recognize is if you are trying so hard to, say, stay present, that trying so hard, by definition, means you are not present. Because if you were present, you would just be present. If you’re not present, you have to try hard.
The hard part of it, the trying hard part of it, that strain of trying hard is the opposite of what I think is the definition of presence, of being in ease and flow without attachment to outcomes. So if I’m really attached to this outcome of if I do this and this and this, I’m going to get to be in presence, then I’m trying to control an outcome I’m not in the present moment right now. If I genuinely were in a state of presence, then there would be no better or worse way to be than how I’m being right now. That’s the big paradox of all of this.
You know, we grow up in such a dualistic society and culture and mindset where, and I think especially our puritanical roots here in the US are just so strong, and we do tend to see things as good or evil, and right or wrong. The nature of the universe is non-dual in so many ways. It’s like the only way up is down. It’s a spirally-weird, always-changing universe, and it’s not black-and-white dualistic.
But dualism exists certainly conceptually, and it shows up all over the place in nature as well. It’s also true, but it’s not the only truth. Now, okay, I think I went way deep into concept land there. Let me pull myself back into a little bit more of a concrete reality.
I want you to stop thinking you need to put in so much effort. There is something to be said for I want to have a different experience. I want to see what it’s like when I am above the line. I want to see what different experience that has in store for me. So I’m going to do some practices. I’m going to question my stories. I am going to focus on that, which I can control. I am going to ask myself how did I create this current situation that I’m claiming I don’t want? I’m going to say how can I create something that I do want? What do I want? I’m going to do that as a practice, I’m going to be committed to those practices because I would like to have that experience of being above the line.
But here’s the thing. The second that I become attached to that, and I think that it’s the right place to be, I have just begun thinking that there is a right and a wrong, and I’m thinking I’m pretty right about that. And how do you get below the line? Bingo. You believe there’s a right and a wrong, and you think you’re right about it. Being right is my number one goal and I’m below the line. Being curious and learning is my number one goal when I’m above the line. So the second I think there’s a better place to be, I am below the line. So you can’t get above the line by trying to not be below the line. It doesn’t work that way. It just doesn’t work that way.
In this example of I’m really trying not to hero, okay, “How are you trying not to hero?” I asked this client. “Well, I didn’t want to get in and try to fix and save and solve everything. I wanted to kind of coach them and have them figure out how to do it for themselves.” I’m probably butchering this story and forgive me. I might be oversimplifying for the purposes of this podcast. The second I’m trying to control an outcome, I am below the line. So my hero move may have changed, I may not be heroing by trying to fix somebody. But instead I’m trying to hero by giving them tons and tons of space and making myself hold back, when really I could possibly do something in my own span of what I can control to make a positive impact.
It’s a different behavior. One of them might look more overtly like heroing, but both of them are below-the-line stances because above and below the line is not a set of behaviors. It’s context. It’s your context. It’s am I in a state of trust, or a state of threat? What’s my main goal? Is it to learn, or is it to be right? So the second I’m making myself wrong for trying to get in and help somebody or fix something or any of the kind of typical hero moves, now I’m in villain mode. Now I’m making myself wrong. I’m shitting on myself. I’m saying there’s a right way to be and a wrong way to be, and heroing is the wrong way to be. Boom, I’m below the line.
Here’s the thing also. If there is not a better place to be, if it’s just as good to be above the line as below the line, and if I find myself heroing, what’s the conscious leadership approach to handling that? Well, one would be, okay, cool. I’m heroing. So I notice it and I allow it. Notice and allow. I’m heroing right now. Then it’s like, I’m curious about it. Interesting. I’m heroing. I wonder what I can learn from heroing? I wonder what I’m trying to learn right now? I wonder how I got myself into this heroing situation? How did I create this? What might I be trying to achieve? It’s kind of like you’re zooming back, and you’re observing yourself with this playful, lighthearted, detached curiosity of, like, interesting. I’m just amused. I’m heroing.
I’m not going to try not to hero, but I might find in observing myself, you know, this doesn’t actually feel as good as I may have thought it felt like. I wonder what it would feel like to not hero? Let’s try that. Well, what would that look like? Well, one, I need to stop seeing this person as a victim. Am I willing to stop seeing them as a victim? I may find, no, my victim story is pretty strong, and I’m sticking to it, and I’m not willing to see that person as empowered, resourceful, creative and whole. If that’s the case, okay, cool. I’m committed to seeing them as a victim. I wonder if I could play that up and own that even more? Can I take responsibility for that? Can I get to know the part of myself that wants to see this person as a victim? Am I seeing something in them that’s actually something I really see in myself, but I’m not willing to admit it?
There’s so many different directions you can go with this, you guys. But the point is from the stance of conscious leadership, it’s not good or bad, right or wrong to hero or to be out of presence or whatever.
All right. Now I want to speak about this “I’m trying so hard to be present” comment that I heard. So, I’m trying so hard to be present. If you’re trying so hard, as I’ve already addressed, you’re not present. However, it could be that what you’re calling non-presence actually is presence.
I remember back in grade school and they used to do the roll call, the attendance check in the morning. They’d list the names in alphabetical order, and then you had to say “Present.” When you heard your name, “Present.” “Bueller, Bueller, Bueller.” Yeah, not present. I think we all got so used to that definition of presence that we often think that present means that whomever around us is trying to get our attention, we’re supposed to pay attention to them. That if we’re not interested in paying attention to them, and instead we’re paying attention to, let’s say our own thoughts, our own body sensations, some beautiful light that’s coming in through the window, our emotions, our energy, maybe we’re praying, we’re calling all those things not present, just because there’s a teacher at the front of the class talking to us and trying to whip us with a ruler.
No. Presence means you’re in this now moment, and there are so many aspects to this now moment. It could be any of those things I just named. Us, ADHD kids, we were often told, “You’re not paying attention.” Guess what? I was always paying attention, I knew I was paying attention. But I just was not paying attention to the thing that they wanted me to pay attention to. I was paying attention to something else. I was noticing something different than the other people around me. I may have been paying attention to some big scheme I was dreaming up in my head, or to the lyrics in a song that I was playing inside of my brain. I may have been paying attention to something that somebody had told me out on the playground and I was unpacking it in my head. Or I might’ve been paying attention to the feeling inside my body, but I was attentive. I just wasn’t attentive to that person or to the thing that the rest of the class was attentive to.
So we can be in present in a variety of ways. The key to doing that consciously is I make a conscious choice of where I put my attention, so I can make those conscious choices. But don’t be so fast to judge yourself as being distracted because, let’s say, you are in a meeting and you keep finding yourself not thinking about what’s happening in the meeting. If that’s happening and you’re sitting in the meeting and you really don’t want to be there, well, I guess the way that you’ve left presence is you’re still there. You’re acting like you’re in the meeting, but really you’re not in the meeting. You have not yet aligned yourself with your internal reality, and you probably don’t have a whole body yes to be in there.
So as a teammate of yours, I would really not really want you to be in the meeting. I’d rather that you’re not in the meeting if you don’t want to be there and that we talk it out, we find some other way for you to participate in the way that’s a win for all solution, that’s valuable for all players. It may take some time and creativity to get there, and we may or may not be willing to invest that time. But the presence piece of it, if you keep finding that you’re not wanting to be attuned to these situations and environment that you’re in, then you might want to look at that and say, I wonder if I’ve organized myself within my life and made choices that are really in line with me being my most alive and most present? That might be a life- redesign thing. But if you’re trying so hard to be present all the time, then I would really just kind of try to unpack that story that you need to try hard to be present.
So it’s just such a common misperception that we need to look like some, I don’t know, a guru, if we are going to be walking the path of conscious leadership. But the primary and first step and the foundation of all of it is I’m choosing to be aware of my context. I am choosing to practice noticing if I am above or below the line. I’m choosing to notice that. I have a bunch of different ways that I can really check and see if it’s true that I’m above the line.
More often than not, I’m going to be below the line, and then I have so many options. I have so much I can learn from down there, and it’s totally fine. Sometimes, you guys, I am completely committed to being below the line and I want to stay down there. I want to be deep down there, and I want to be just in it. I’m not doing myself any favors by acting like I’m above the line, and I’m certainly not doing you any favors.
So if I’m interested in shifting above the line at some point, then I’m going to milk that below-the-line moment for all it’s worth. I might even make it bigger. I might really express all of the below-the-liness that I have. That’s a lot of the work that we do in conscious leadership coaching on the drama triangle, is we make it hilariously huge, hilariously huge how much drama we’re in. We don’t do it forever and ever and ever and ever. We do it for about two and a half minutes, and we just find out what’s down there, who’s down there, what parts of me are in victim mode.
And it’s funny, you guys. It’s funny. And once it’s funny, and once we can actually laugh at it as no better or worse, but just another amusing experience of being a human who’s conscious on the planet, now we have the beginning of access to a choice of where we want to be.
So I want you guys to know I very much love all of you. I love the parts of you who are above the line. I love the parts of you who are below the line. And when you can give yourself that same amount of love, you can integrate and bring all of it with you. You are only alive on this planet for some amount of time, and you may or may not come back. I don’t know, but while you’re here, this is a big piece of the experience. We can do beautiful work from below the line. We can learn a ton. We can be good humans to each other. We may suffer. That’s life. It’s okay. It’s beautiful. It’s beautiful. And so are you.
Thank you for listening. I would love to hear your thoughts on today’s episode. You can leave me a note, a review on iTunes, that would be really, really helpful or Spotify or Stitcher, wherever you’re listening to this. It would be really helpful also to help other people find the show who would find this show valuable.
I have heard many of you reaching out lately that you’re sharing these episodes with people you work with. I think that’s amazingly helpful, and thank you for doing that and spreading this work. I am but a recipient of this brilliant work, and I do my very best to champion it. Thank you to my forefathers before me who handed this stuff down, and let’s all do this together, hey? It’s more fun that way.
All right. Have a great week. I’ll see you next time.