The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership by Jim Dethmer

The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership by Jim Dethmer

The Book in A Few Sentences 

There are two ways of leading: Above the line and below the line. When leading from below the line, or “To Me,” we are unconscious, closed, defensive and committed to being right, and when leading from above the line, or “By Me, we are open, spacious and committed to learning. While neither is technically “better” than the other, learning to lead consciously requires a wholehearted pledge to embodying the 15 commitments outlined in the book.

The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership summary

This is my book summary of The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership by Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman and Kaley Warner Klemp. My summary includes what I believe are the key lessons and most important quotes from the book.

  • Today’s leadership models can achieve certain desired ends quite effectively, such as creating shareholder value, increasing market share, developing new products.
  • But we have found that these outcomes are not enough because the models are unsustainable on three critical levels: Personal, Organizational and Planetary.
  • Most people live life largely unconsciously in the habitual trance of their personality, their regret and anger about the past, and their hope, fear, and greed about the future.

Leading From Above the Line

  • At any point, a leader is either above the line or below the line. If you are above it, you are leading consciously, and if you are below it, you are not.
  • …when leaders are below the line, they are closed and defensive, and when they are above the line, they are open and curious. 
  • …when leaders are below the line, their primary commitment is to being right, and when they are above the line, their primary commitment is to learning. 
  • …the first mark of conscious leaders is self-awareness and the ability to tell the truth to themselves.

What’s Wrong With Being Right

  • …the ego firmly believes that if it is not “right,” it will not survive. Being wrong equates to being dead.
  • …knowing when you are below the line is more important than being below the line.

Choosing to Shift

  • …creativity, innovation, and collaboration (all keys to high-level problem solving) occur best when we operate above the line.
  • And people who lead from above the line are both healthier and happier.

A Road Map

  • …we are suggesting that at any moment, you are living either from the “above the line” commitment or from the “below the line” commitment. The results occurring in your life provide the evidence of which one.

Content vs. Context

  • From our perspective all of life is occurring as one big conversation. 
  • All conversations have both content and context. 
  • Content answers the question, “What are we talking about?” Context answers the question, “How are we talking about the content?”

The Four Ways of Leading

  • Unconscious leaders have a “complete or near complete lack of responsiveness to people and other environmental stimuli.”
  • …conscious leaders experience what is here now and respond in the moment.
  • Most people live life largely unconsciously in the habitual trance of their personality, their regret and anger about the past, and their hope, fear, and greed about the future.

The “To Me” Way of Leading

  • From our perspective, 95% of all leaders (and people) spend 98% of their time in that state….the cause of my conditions is outside of me.
  • We call this To Me mindset “victim consciousness.”
  • Victim consciousness is a choice…most people choose to live this way.

The “By Me” Way of Leading

  • …they believe they are the cause of their experience.
  • To Me leaders think that the world should be a certain way, and if it isn’t, something needs to be different.
  • The By Me leader chooses to see that everything in the world is unfolding perfectly for their learning and development.
  • We suggest to leaders that life is like one big learning university, where we all enroll in the classes that are perfectly designed to support our education.
  • …defensiveness and being right (two cornerstones of To Me consciousness).
  • Instead of asking “Why is this happening to me?” The By Me leader asks questions like, “What can I learn from this?” “How am I creating this and keeping this going?”
  • The gateway for moving from To Me to By Me is responsibility—actually, what we call radical responsibility: choosing to take responsibility for whatever is occurring in our lives…

The “Through Me” Way of Leading

  • The key to Through Me is that leaders begin to notice something beyond themselves.
  • …surrender, or letting go, is the gateway to move from By Me to Through Me. For most leaders, this means letting go of control.
  • The letting go of control—or more specifically, letting go of wanting to be in control of people, things, and circumstances we were never meant to be in control of and have never really been in control of—is powerful and often chaotic.
  • Letting go is an action that is taken again and again.

The “As Me” Way of Leading

  • As Me consciousness has two aspects. The first is oneness. The second aspect of As Me is the absence of a personal “me.”
  • If you think you can read this book and become a conscious leader without practicing you’re kidding yourself. This is an ongoing process.

Commitment 1: Taking Radical Responsibility

  • Blame, shame, and guilt all come from the same source: TOXIC FEAR.
  • When we take responsibility, we locate the cause of control of our lives inside ourselves.
  • Most people believe that there is a way the world should be and the a way the world shouldn’t be. In fact, we would assert this is the most common belief among human beings.
  • All drama in leadership and life is caused by the need to be right.
  • …making the choice to take full responsibility is the foundation of true personal and relational transformation. The entire game changes when we choose to see that we’re creating our experience…

Commitment 2: Learning Through Curiosity

  • Our brains are hardwired for self-preservation—we are constantly seeking to protect not only our physical well-being but our ego as well.
  • …wanting to be right, being seen as being right, and being validated and appreciated for being right are what they [unconscious leaders] really want. 
  • This attachment is all about ego. What is “right” doesn’t need to be defended.
  • …conscious leaders regularly interrupt this natural reactivity.
  • …awareness and acceptance are the first two steps of all transformation.
  • The issue is not whether we will drift but how long we stay in a drift before we shift.

Commitment 3: Feeling All Feelings

  • Geat leaders learn to access all three centers of intelligence: the head, the heart, and the gut.
  • Resisting and repressing feelings is standard operating procedure in most organizations. 
  • Conscious leaders know that feelings are natural and expressing them is healthy.
  • The five primary emotions are anger, fear, sadness, joy, and sexual feelings. Knowing how to express them all of the way through to completion helps us develop emotional intelligence.
  • Each primary emotion has a unique energy pattern or set of sensations in and on the body.
  • Every feeling we experience invites us in a specific way to grow in awareness and knowing.
  • Repressing, denying, or recycling emotions creates physical, psychological, and relationship problems.
  • Conscious leaders learn to locate, name, and release their feelings. They know feelings not only add richness and color to life but are also an essential ally to successful leadership.
  • If you repress or recycle emotion, it can harden in a mood: Anger becomes bitterness. Fear becomes anxiety. Sadness becomes apathy. And these moods can last for years.
  • Learning to release feelings is the key to experiencing the calm spaciousness that is always in and around the next wave.
  • Sexual feelings are the energy of creativity and creation.

Commitment 4: Speaking Candidly

  • Candor is one of the great antidotes to boredom.
  • So the first problem of withholding is energy depletion. The second problem is relational disconnection.
  • Our judgments about the world tell us a great deal about ourselves and very little about the world.
  • Projection is a psychological defense mechanism, and like most defense mechanisms, it was designed to save our lives—or at least the life of the ego.
  • To grow in awareness…we must learn to recognize our projections.
  • We accomplish this by listing our beliefs and complaints about others and then asking ourselves, “How is this true about me? How am I not facing this myself?”
  • We choose to withhold because we’re afraid of losing approval, control, or security.
  • Leaders and teams have found that seeing reality clearly is essential to being successful.
  • In order to see clearly, leaders and organizations need everyone to be truthful and not to life about, or withhold information. They need candor.
  • Candor is the revealing of all thoughts, feelings, and sensations in an honest, open, and aware way.
  • Speaking candidly increases the probability that leaders and teams can collectively see reality more clearly.
  • Withholding is refraining from revealing everything to all relevant parties.
  • Withholding also decreases energy in leaders, which often shows up as boredom or lethargy in them and relational disconnection in the team.
  • Rather than withholding, conscious leaders practice revealing.
  • Conscious listening is one of the most important skills for effective leadership.
  • Conscious listening takes courage.

Commitment 5: Eliminating Gossip

  • …people who gossip like this are attempting to validate the righteousness of their thinking.
  • Agreeing to listen to gossip is the same as speaking it.
  • It is not gossip if your comments are serving the people you’re discussing. 
  • 1. Is there any negative intent? If so, stop. You’re gossiping. 
  • 2. Would you be willing to speak directly and in exactly the same way to the person? If not, stop. You’re gossiping.
  • Drama and stress are caused by stories, and stories are made up. We are the story maker. 
  • Even though gossip has long been a part of office culture, it is a key indicator of an unhealthy organization and one of the fastest ways to derail motivation and creativity. 
  • Gossip is a statement about another made by someone with negative intent or a statement the speaker would be unwilling to share in exactly the same way if that person were in the room.
  • Gossip is an attempt to validate the righteousness of a person’s thinking and is below the line; it is not a comment designed to save the person being discussed.
  • People gossip to gain validation, control others and outcomes, avoid conflict, get attention, feel included, and make themselves right by making others wrong. In short, people usually gossip out of fear.
  • If you gossip, clean it up by revealing your participation in the gossip to everyone involved.
  • Use the issue-clearing model as a tool to separate fact from story and to learn to speak directly to one another.
  • When leaders and teams learn to speak candidly with each other, they benefit from the direct feedback about issues within the organization that otherwise could derail creative energy and productive collaboration.

Commitment 6: Practicing Integrity

  • Integrity is the practice of keeping agreement, taking responsibility, revealing authentic feelings, and expressing unarguable truths. It is essential to thriving leaders and organizations.
  • Integrity is not defined here as conforming to a moral or ethical code, but rather as facilitating wholeness and congruence.
  • Integrity is an unbroken flow of energy and life force, congruence between what is experienced and expressed, and alignment with life purpose.
  • Organizations have a natural flow of energy, but when it is interrupted by integrity breaches, leadership is dampened and employee engagement decreases.
  • Conscious leaders are masters at managing energy, which leads to an organizational culture that is alive, engaged, passionate, on purpose, creative, innovative, intuitive, clear, visionary, playful, relaxed, and refreshed.
  • There are four pillars of integrity: taking radical responsibility (Commitment 1), speaking candidly (Commitment 4), feeling all feelings (Commitment 3), and keeping agreements (Commitment 6).
  • Conscious leaders are impeccable with their agreements. They make clear agreements, keep them, renegotiate them when needed, and clean them up when broken.
  • Integrity is fundamental to conscious leadership and successful thriving organizations.

Commitment 7: Generating Appreciation

  • Commitment to appreciation, along with avoiding entitlement, helps leaders and organizations grow value and connection in the workplace.
  • Appreciation is comprised of two parts: sensitive awareness and an increase in value.
  • Entitlement arises when rewards and benefits become an expectation instead of a preference.
  • Living in appreciation has two branches: being open to fully receiving appreciation and being able to fully give appreciation.
  • For most, it is more difficult, and people are more afraid, to receive appreciation than to give it. To avoid receiving appreciation, people strategically deflect it.
  • Masterful appreciation is sincere, unarguable, specific, and succinct.
  • Appreciation allows the unique gifts in the community to be recognized.

Commitment 8: Excelling in your Zone of Genius

  • Conscious leaders build an organization that allows all team members to realize their full potential—and they support and inspire others to do the same.
  • People tend to work and live in four zones: incompetence, competence, excellence, and genius.
  • Conscious leaders are committed to maximizing their zone of genius, where their full magnificence and creativity can be expressed without hesitation.
  • Unconscious leaders get stuck in the zones of excellence, competence, and incompetence, never living up to and expressing their extraordinary brilliance.
  • The Upper Limits Problem, named by Gary Hendricks, identifies fears and beliefs that keep people from stepping into their zone of genius.
  • We can program our nervous system to allow for greater happiness, fulfillment, and relational connectedness.
  • Becoming aware of our unique giftedness, as well as the environments where that is most valued, (the Best Stuff Exercise) helps us spend more and more of our time thriving.
  • Conscious leaders who spend time with team members to assess, understand, and appreciate their own unique genius qualities and talents create organizations that excel on all levels.

Commitment 9: Living a Life of Play and Rest

  • Creating a life of play, improvisation, and laughter allows life to unfold easily and energy to be maximized.
  • Play is an absorbing, apparently purposeless activity that provides enjoyment and suspends self-consciousness and a sense of time. It is also self-motivating and makes you want to do it again.
  • An imposed nose-to-the grindstone culture will lead to higher levels of stress, guilt, employee burnout and turnover.
  • Energy exerted with this type of “hard work” is wrought with effort and struggle, whereas energy exerted through play is energizing.
  • Most leaders resist play because they think they will fall behind if they aren’t seriously working hard.
  • Organizations that take breaks to rest and play are actually more productive and creative. Energy is maximized when rest, renewal, and personal rhythms are honored.
  • Conscious leaders who value and encourage an atmosphere of play and joy within themselves and in the organizations create high-functioning, high-achieving cultures.
  • Workaholism is just like any other addiction, and it is an epidemic in the corporate world.

Commitment 10: Exploring the Opposite

  • Exploring the opposite means being open to the notion that the opposite of your story (thoughts, beliefs, opinions) could be as true as or truer than your story.
  • It is not the issue itself that causes pain, but your interpretation of it.
  • Conscious leaders take responsibility for being the labeler of their experiences and their life, and they learn to question all their labels.
  • The Work of Byron Katie ( is a powerful tool in learning how to question beliefs that could likely be holding us back.
  • Conscious leaders practice simple ways to question the beliefs that cause suffering, starting with “Is it true?” And “Can I absolutely know it is true?”
  • The turnaround exercise allows leaders to practice shifting their beliefs from knowing to curiosity.
  • When conscious leaders let go of the righteousness of their beliefs, they open to curiosity and align with their deepest desires. 

Commitment 11: Sourcing Approval, Control and Security

  • Humans have core wants of approval, control and security. All other wants are versions of these three basic desires, which show up in a multitude of ways.
  • Security is about survival, approval is about belonging and being part of something, and control is the ego’s last resort if it cannot achieve security through approval.
  • The challenge is not in having approval, control and security, but in believing that they are missing. This causes people to seek these core desires outside themselves—somewhere “out there.”
  • The “If Only…I Would” exercise can help leaders wake up from the trance that their happiness is located outside themselves.
  • It’s not the wants but the “wanting” of something different that leads to an unsatisfying life.
  • The Sedona Method ( offers questions and practices to source security, approval, and control from within.
  • All leaders are any moment are operating from one of two experiences: either they think they lack something and seek to get it from somewhere or someone, or they believe they are already whole, perfect, and complete and move into the world from love and creativity.

Commitment 12: Having Enough of Everything

  • Conscious leaders experience their lives as having enough of everything: time, money, love, energy, space, and resources.
  • The scarcity belief that there is “not enough” causes leaders to focus on making sure they get what is “theirs.”
  • The myths that feed scarcity are that there is never enough, more is better, and it will always be this way.
  • Conscious leaders notice this focus on the toxic myth of insufficiency and shift form a mentality of scarcity to one of sufficiency.
  • To unwind scarcity, conscious leaders notice their reference pointed check in with themselves, actively challenging their beliefs.
  • To those committed to conscious leadership, the belief and experience of sufficiency creates a profound shift in their relationship with others, work, and life.

Commitment 13: Experiencing the World as an Ally

  • Conscious leaders commit to seeing all people and circumstances as allies in their growth.
  • 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. 
  • Rather than seeing all people as allies, unconscious leaders think either/or: “people are either with me or against me.”
  • This does not mean competition is nonexistent, but that even competitors are supportive catalysts for growth and that adversaries can be extremely beneficial.
  • Challenges create the positive pressure often needed for conscious leaders to expand beyond the comfort zone and into their full magnificence.
  • Conscious leaders are able to shift out of the state of comparison to see everyone and everything as equally valuable.
  • The perspective recognizes that all people and circumstances are allies in learning and growth.

Commitment 14: Creating Win for all Solutions

  • Win-for-all solutions are a goal of conscious leaders and organizations.
  • Conscious leaders commit to moving beyond the zero-sum game into a creative solution that serves all.
  • Unconscious leaders see situations as win/lose and create a culture that promotes competition and compromise.
  • 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.
  • Within an organization, win-for-all coaching questions help create a culture that supports and encourages everyone.
  • The energy resulting from win-for-all collaboration allows for solutions to be implemented quickly.
  • A win-for-all culture allows an organization to thrive as creativity, collaboration, vision, and achievement are optimized.

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.
  • When unconscious leaders grow weary of an intense version of the victim-villain-hero triangle, they often shift to an “indifferent” experience of drama, characterized by apathy and resentment.
  • Many unconscious leaders, who have spent their entire careers problem-solving, delivering results, and pulling people along, often feel drained and want to disconnect.
  • Team members who don’t feel heard by unconscious leaders stop caring about making changes and give up on creating solutions that could benefit the organization.
  • Conscious leaders see what is missing, not from a perspective of lack, but of opportunity. They then follow a calling to respond to the perceived need.
  • Being the resolution takes place only from a conscious leader’s whole body YES!
  • Being the resolution incorporates the mastery of living from several of the other commitments and, once mastered, allows conscious leaders to move the world to greater beauty, alignment, productivity, and grace.

The Change Formula

(V x D) + FS  > R = C

C = Change

R = Resistance

  • This resistance to change is rooted in fear.
  • If I change, what am I afraid would happen?

V = Vision 

  • What is your picture of a future that is so compelling it motivates you to overcome your resistance to change, to let go of control and step into the unknown?

D = Dissatisfaction

  • In our experience, most To Me leaders avoid and anesthetize their dissatisfaction.
  • How are you denying your pain and dissatisfaction? 
  • What conversations are you avoiding with the important people in your life, and with yourself, so you can maintain the status quo?

FS = First Steps

  • People avoid facing their lack of willingness by asking “how” questions. This is a subtle and significant trap because it keeps people thinking that they want to change—if they only knew how—and not facing their real resistance to change.

Willingness to Change

  • Many, many people want to change, but most are not willing to change.
  • What in your life do you want to change? Make a list.
  • Now ask yourself, “Am I willing to change? Am I really willing to change?"
  • “Trying is wanting credit for something you never intended to do.”

Willingness In Action

  • If you don’t have some anxiety, you’re probably not really wiling to change, and you don’t understand what it means to let go of control and step into the unknown.

Practice the four A’s:

  • Can you simply acknowledge that you are where you are?
  • Are you willing to allow yourself to be just where you are?
  • Can you accept yourself for being just the way you are?
  • Can you appreciate yourself for being just where you are?

Reading Suggestions

This is a list of books and resources mentioned in The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, which might be useful for future reading.

  • Getting Things Done by David Allen
  • Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown and Christopher Vaughan 
  • Getting Real: Ten Truth Skills You Need to Live an Authentic Life by Susan Campbell
  • The No Gossip Zone: A No-Nonsense Guide to a Healthy, High-Performing Work Environment by Sam Chapman
  • The Power of TED by David Emerald
  • The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level by Gay Hendricks
  • Conscious Loving: The Journey to Co-Commitment by Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks
  • Conscious Living by Gay Hendricks
  • Loving What Is by Byron Katie
  • Immunity to Change: How to Overcome it and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey
  • True Purpose: 12 Strategies for Discovering the Difference You are Meant to Make by Tim Kelly
  • The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types by Don Riso and Russ Hudson
  • The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle
  • A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
  • The Soul of Money: Reclaiming the Wealth of Our Inner Resources by Lynne Twist and Teresa Baker