Leading Above the Line

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the concept of operating (and leading) above or below the line, however for those of you who are not, here is a diagram to explain it.

Above and below the line

Often the most simple things are the most effective, and this leadership tool has stayed with me since I learned it many years ago, so if you are new to the concept, I encourage you to embrace it.

Why is it so powerful? As leaders, if we operate above the line, we take ownership of issues, accountability for our actions, and responsibility for outcomes produced by ourselves and our teams.

Below the line is the opposite of successful leadership.  We blame others, make excuses for under-performing, or deny that which we must front up to.

Carolyn Taylor, a world renowned expert on cultural change, discusses the repercussions of above and below the line behaviour in her book Walk The Talk.

She says when presented with a situation which does not work out the way we planned, we can choose to respond in an above or below the line manner, and this choice will certainly have an impact on the corresponding outcomes.

When people choose below the line behaviour, their language involves words such as “they”, “them” and “you” – because everything is someone else’s fault.

“They”                                                                                                                                                                     No learning

“Them”                                                                                                                                                                   Problem Oriented

“You”                                                                                                                                                                       Can’t Affect Change

Comparatively, above the line language uses words like “I”, “we” and “me” – a simple yet powerful approach for leaders to adopt.


Solution Oriented

I can make a difference

The Above the Line/Below the Line model can be an especially useful tool to incorporate if you are managing non performance within one of your team members.  But it is a great concept to adopt for yourself and incorporate into your day to day management regardless.

If you are currently achieving great results from implementing the model I would love to hear from you. 


  1. […] thing is, we all have a responsibility.  See here for what I mean. And we all know what happens when these inklings are left unchecked, or when […]

  2. […] my ‘above the line and below the line blog’, I discuss how looking through the window and pointing the finger at others actually makes us feel […]

  3. […] Leading Above the Line (theleadersdigest.me) […]

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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