Above-the-Line Below-the-Line Thinking

By People Leaders | People Leaders Podcast

Many, many years ago we read ‘Walking the Talk,’ a book by Carolyn Taylor, which was our first introduction to the concept of above-the-line and below-the-line thinking. Since that time we’ve incorporated the principles of this style of thinking into almost everything that we do.

We built the model into many of our programs and have done countless workshops purely on the subject. The simplicity of the model makes it seem less powerful than it really is, but everywhere we turn, we find somewhere that it can be applied.

We’ve had a lot of leaders reach out to us over the years and tell us how powerful they think it is too, but they’ve been frustrated by their efforts to get their teams working and thinking above the line. 

We’re about to fix that, and are currently pre-launching our new Above-the-Line Leaders’ Toolkit. It will be available for release in January 2022, but between now and December 17th we’ve got a prerelease offer giving you the opportunity to secure it for half price. You can find out more about that here

In the meantime, we wanted to use this episode to give a bare bones look at the model and share some examples of how it’s been applied.

The Line of Choice

If you can imagine a line drawn across the middle of a sheet of paper; we’ll call that line ‘The Line of Choice’.

Above that line, are all behaviours and thinking styles that have a positive impact on the culture and effectiveness of the team - collaboration, responsibility, initiative, positivity, etc. And below that line, would be the not so positive behaviors and thinking styles - competitiveness, denial, blame, sarcasm, and so on. 

Obviously the goal is to reduce the below-the-line behaviours, and increase the above-the-line behaviours. Simple to understand yet difficult to implement, because… people!

Teams are made up of people, and all of us have our habitual ‘flaws’ that cause us to repeat behaviours, often unconsciously, that might be below the line. So the first step into shifting above the line, is to develop an awareness of these habitual patterns and to make a choice, hence ‘the line of choice’, to do something else.

Above the Line in Action

For example, someone operating above the line would communicate effectively. S/he would listen attentively, speak articulately, and express her/himself optimistically. Someone operating below the line might be abrupt, s/he might interrupt and speak superficially, leaving it up to the listener to work harder at understanding what was being said.

During our workshops, we’ll often do an interactive exercise where we have the team identify above- and below-the-line behaviours, and write them up on a wall chart. On at least one occasion, the participants chose to leave the chart up on the wall, as a reminder, a tool to help maintain awareness of below-the-line behaviours. They also updated the list over time and used it to keep each other on the ball.

No matter what the makeup of your team currently is, no matter how well or how poorly they might be performing, getting your team above the line is the fastest way to lift standards and elevate performance even further.

Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of the model though. Having worked with it for so long, we’ve been applying it at a much deeper level than most people would even think of. In fact we’ve ‘married it’ with the nine dimensions of our popular High-Performing Team Indicator tool, making it probably the most comprehensive application of the above-the-line model that you’re likely to come across. 

Find out more about our Above-the-Line Leaders’ Toolkit and take advantage of our pre-release offer before December 17th. You’ll thank us later.

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