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March 27, 2023

What Motivates A Conscious Leader

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People often ask us, “What motivates a conscious leader?” The question comes as they begin to realize that so much of their motivation has been coming from below the line. Below the line motivation is any motivation that comes from fear, threat or lack. If I’m doing what I do because I feel a lack of approval, control, security or oneness then I’m being motivated from below the line. I’m lacking something very important and I think the need will be met by something or someone out there. If I’m motivated by guilt or shame or someone else’s agenda, I’m motivated from below the line. 

You can see why we say that most of us are motivated from below the line most of the time. 

No problem. This is part of being human. And yet, there is another option.

As I do my work, including my deep healing work, I start to experience much less fear, guilt, shame, people pleasing, and overall threat to my ego-identity. I start to experience a basic trust in life. I realize that one more raise or one more zero won’t make me fundamentally secure and safe. One more promotion, award or accolade won’t make me feel deeply okay, loved and cared for. I realize that all my striving to control the variables of life is resulting in me feeling less in control, and that everything that needs to be controlled is already being controlled. There is nothing for me to do to get more in control. The things that used to drive me no longer do. 

As this happens we can enter into a period of motivational malaise. We lose our edge, our passion, our reason to do it all again. This is a common experience on the way to finding a new source of motivation, a new reason for doing something. I coach people to expect this period of low motivation, and to simply allow and welcome it. When we don’t resist it, it passes and a new possibility of motivation begins to emerge. 

What are the new reasons for doing something, the new source of motivation?

Let me suggest several…


Mammals love to play. Just watch a dog with a ball. We all loved to play as children, even though many of us have forgotten that time of life or question whether it ever existed. But life became serious and we lost touch with play. Being serious is one of the characteristics of being below the line. A better way of saying this is that from below the line we make things serious that don’t need to be serious. As we let go of making things serious we can return to our natural state of play. Play starts to motivate us. We begin to ask questions like, “How can I play more?” “How can more of what I’m doing feel like play?” The answer to these questions from above the line is not, “I need to play more golf or Words With Friends.” It’s not about changing our activities, it's about seeing that almost everything can become more like play. How can you do the next deal and have it be more fun? How can you make budgeting more playful? Play is so much more than a thing we do, it’s a state of consciousness. 

We like this definition from Stuart Brown: “Play is an absorbing, apparently purposeless activity that provides enjoyment, suspends self consciousness and a sense of time.” 

We say that one reason people keep drama going in their lives is that it’s entertaining. Play is more entertaining than drama. 

Play is not the same as frivolity. It is not an “I don’t give a shit” orientation to life. Play can, and often does, include tremendous focus and intentionality and even a desired outcome. It is not just random activity.  It is absorbing and enjoyable, with a loss of a sense of self and time, and it’s self reinforcing, which means the more you play, the more you’ll keep playing. 


When we stop being primarily motivated by fear, threat and lack we can open to being motivated by a sense of purpose. Someone once said that pain pushes us until a vision pulls us. Once we stop being pushed by pain we open to a vision, a purpose. We ask the question, “What is it that I/we are to do, to be, to create?” Again, this question can be asked from below the line, and it often is. When it is, it is rooted in the assumption that something is lacking or that there is a problem. 

From above the line the question of purpose is rooted in our desire to create. 

Another aspect of purpose can be surrender. This is what we point at in Through ME leadership. In Through ME we start to play the game of listening and responding to what LIFE wants to do Through ME. Again, because we’re living more and more in basic trust we can play with letting go and opening to being a conduit through which life wants to pour itself. When being danced by life becomes our purpose, every moment can be an improvisational response to what is occurring. This is BIG FUN. 


Presence is the experience of being a fully awake, aware being in this now moment. Presence is what is always here when the ego-identity begins to soften and fade, when we identify less with being the subject to which everything else is object, the small self. Presence is exquisite. Resting in and as presence becomes the game for many conscious leaders. It becomes the purpose for being. Resting in presence is what motivates everything. All doing comes from being. Being in presence or being Presence is the basis of play and purpose and all other forms of motivation. 


Another motivation I see emerging in leaders who play above the line is partnership, playing together, co-creating. From below the line most relationships are co-dependent; my happiness is dependent on you and yours on me. From above the line, where we see that happiness and well being is an inside job, relationships take on new possibilities. I no longer need you to be okay, I don’t try to control you, and I don’t take responsibility for your well being. Rather, I experience you as a playmate, another whole being with whom I can experience life and create possibilities. Learning with you becomes highly motivational, including learning from our chaotic, messy, triggered encounters. Playing the “relate, rupture, repair” game becomes a fun motivation. 


Love is the ultimate motivation. When we teach this to teams we talk about the difference between doing your work because you get extrinsic or intrinsic rewards (money, perks, prestige, promotions, accolades and appreciation) or doing your work because you actually love the work itself. Coding is fun, negotiating is pleasurable, cold calling is a delightful game.  

When we love the thing itself—not for what it gives us, but just for what it is—we are deeply motivated and don’t need anyone or anything else to motivate us. 

There is an even deeper kind of love. As we do our work and our ego-identity softens its grip, as we rest more in trust and less in fear, love emerges. Love is our natural state. It’s been covered over but it’s there. This love that we’re talking about is not personal love. It’s not the love that most of us experience, a love that says, “I love you because ……” That kind of love is love below the line. It’s conditional love. In other words, it’s love that says “If you stop doing or being the thing that I love you for I’ll stop loving you.” Of course, it doesn’t say this out loud, but it is the basis of personal love. Just ask any couple that once loved each other passionately who now can’t stand to be in the same room, or the team member who thought the new company was what they had always wanted (they loved it) but after being let go they hate everything about what was once so great. 

This love is unconditional. It’s not dependent on the object loved. It just is.  

My experience is that these new motivations begin to slowly replace the old ones. More of life is being motivated from above the line, even though I periodically find myself motivated from below the line. One thing I suggest to you is that motivation that occurs from below the line usually leaves a toxic residue in one form or another, motivation from above the line doesn’t. This is good news because this toxic residue becomes a motivation for us to shift our source of motivation.

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