Have you ever had the experience of an issue that keeps recycling? A recycling issue is one that keeps coming up over and over. It could be the trust issue between marketing and legal or the drama between your CFO and the EVP of Operations. It could also be specific issues like the quality of one particular product that never meets expectations or one customer that never seems satisfied.Recycling issues are not just a professional problem; they’re personal as well. You and your wife talk over and over about her mother and every time you do an argument erupts. Your 10 year old just won’t do their homework no matter what you do. You keep recycling your own issue around exercise and weight loss.Recycling issues sap huge amounts of energy in organizations, teams, families and leaders. Conscious leaders have learned the key to ending recycling. The key is to pay more attention to context over content. If we just pay attention to content the issue will keep coming back.All leadership is a conversation. All conversation has content and context. Content is “what” we’re talking about and context is ”how” we’re talking about it. Content is what a video camera would capture or the transcript from inside your own head. It is the stuff that we’re fighting about, or laying awake at night thinking about or talking to our coach or therapist about.Context is the way we are being with the conversation. To assist leaders in understanding this concept we introduce them to the idea of above and below the line. Above and below the line are contexts. When I’m above the line I’m open, curious and committed to learning. When I’m below the line I’m closed, defensive and committed to proving I’m right.When marketing and legal teams talk about what they can and can’t say in marketing materials—that’s content. Whether their conversation is occurring with openness, curiosity and a commitment to learning or defensiveness and wanting to prove I’m right—that’s context. Great leaders pay attention to where people are speaking from and they invite people, beginning with themselves, to wake up and become conscious of context.Whenever we’re below the line issues will keep recurring. So the first task of leadership is to invite people to identify context. The second task of leadership is to invite people to shift their context to above the line. What leaders discover in themselves and in their organizations is that as people spend more and more time above the line issues resolve themselves faster and don’t come back.
The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership map the territory of above and below the line. This map allows leaders and teams to become increasingly expert at identifying their current context and shifting to higher states of collaboration and creativity if they choose. One simple application of this leadership principle is if you’re paying attention to content you’re asking yourself and others:
What are we talking about?What are the issues? Who’s right?
If you’re paying attention to context the questions your asking are:
Where are we? Above or below the line?Are we willing to shift?
For more information on the value of paying attention to context as much as content check out our latest video.