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Business Strategy

Book Review: The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership

Book Review: The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership

In this article, we share our top takeaways from The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership: A New Paradigm for Sustainable Success by Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman, and Kaley Klemp.

Leading from above the line

The authors differentiate what it looks like to lead from above and below the line. Above the line welcomes a “by me” mindset where a leader embraces that they make life happen. Above the line or conscious leadership is:

  • Open
  • Curious
  • Committed to Learning

Below the line adopts a “to me” mindset where a leader believes that life happens to them: Something is wrong. Someone is to blame. And that someone is not us. It is them. And we are right, they are wrong. Below the line or unconscious leadership is:

  • Closed 
  • Defensive
  • Committed to Being Right

The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership

We will list the 15 commitments shared in the book below and do a deeper dive into three of them in the following sections:

  1. Taking Radical Responsibility
  2. Learning Through Curiosity
  3. Feeling All Feelings
  4. Speaking Candidly
  5. Eliminating Gossip
  6. Practicing Integrity
  7. Generating Appreciation
  8. Excelling in your Zone of Genius
  9. Living a Life of Play and Rest
  10. Exploring the Opposite
  11. Sourcing Approval, Control, and Security
  12. Having Enough of Everything
  13. Experiencing the World as an Ally
  14. Creating Win-for-All Solutions
  15. Being the Resolution

Taking Radical Responsibility

Above the Line: I commit to taking full responsibility for the circumstances of my life and for my physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being. I commit to supporting others to take full responsibility for their lives.

Below the Line: I commit to blaming others and myself for what is wrong in the world. I commit to being a victim, villain, or a hero and taking more or less than 100% responsibility.


Blame, shame, and guilt all come from the same source: toxic fear. Leaders can choose from five levels of motivation:

  1. Toxic Fear: blame, shame, and guilt
  2. Extrinsic Motivation: money, title, the corner office, and other perks
  3. Intrinsic Motivation: learning, fulfilling purpose, and autonomy
  4. Play, creativity, and expressing our “genius” in the world
  5. Love

Conscious leaders avoid using toxic fear as a motivator and strive to build organizations that incorporate the other four levels. It is important to note that motivation is assumed to be stronger as you work towards level 5. Simply put, how long would you last at a job that pays you handsomely, but you despise every minute of it as it is not aligned with your skills and passions?

As you make the shift toward taking radical responsibility, the questions that you and your organization ask will shift from, “How can we fix this?” or “How can we keep this from happening?” or “Who’s to blame for this being this way?” to “What can we learn from this since life is all about learning and growing?” Or “Hmm… I wonder what this is here to teach me about myself and life?”

Feeling All Feelings

Above the Line: I commit to feeling my feelings all the way through to completion. They come, and I locate them in my body then move, breathe, and vocalize them so they release all the way through.

Below the Line: I commit to resisting, judging, and apologizing for my feelings. I repress, avoid, and withhold them.


The authors define emotion as “e-motion.” Energy in motion. At its simplest level, emotion is energy moving in and on the body. Or said another way, feelings are physical sensations. These emotions can be bucketed into categories like anger, fear, sadness, and joy.

When we repress one emotion it can often influence the flow of other emotions. Our emotions flow through the body as water does through a hose. If you kink the hose, water stops flowing or slows to a trickle. Similarly, if you kink your emotional “hose” (repress emotion), all emotions are affected. Many people would like to block anger but still feel joy. This is very difficult to do.

It is important to feel all your feelings and express them fully in an appropriate way to release them. If you repress or recycle emotion, it can harden into a mood: 

  • Anger becomes bitterness. 
  • Fear becomes anxiety.
  • Sadness becomes apathy.

Another way to think about emotions is to view them as data and approach them with curiosity. You may feel sadness about a team member sharing that they are leaving. Sit with that emotion and approach it with curiosity to see what you can learn. You may find that your sadness is rooted in a deep appreciation for that person and what they contributed to your team over the years. This may then lead you to express and release the emotion by finding a thoughtful and personal way to send them off as they embark on their next adventure.

What emotions may be telling you

Anger may tell a leader that something is not, or is no longer, of service. Or, that something is not aligned, and must be changed or destroyed so that something more beneficial can replace it. This emotion tells a leader that a boundary needs to be set or an existing one is being violated. Without access to anger, leaders are dangerous because they don’t have a clear “NO.” They don’t have a “sword” for cutting and destroying when both are called for.

Destruction opens the possibility for new birth -- when a wildfire burns a dead forest, the heat releases the seeds into the newly created fertile soil. That is the intelligence of anger.

Fear may tell a leader that something important needs to be known. One form involves something that is not being faced. Fear is the body’s way of saying, “Wake up!” Like the pedestrian who comes to a curb and feels a wave of fear run through his body as he sees an oncoming car run a red light. Leaders who lack access to this fear are more dangerous because they don’t adequately sense danger and are often living in denial of reality.

Sadness may tell a leader that something needs to be let go of, said goodbye to, moved on from. Sadness is the energy of loss. Something once meaningful is going away. It could be a person, a dream, a vision for the company, a belief, an opportunity. Leaders who can’t feel sadness are dangerous because they hang on to old ideas, people, projects, and dreams long after they have served their purpose. Also, such leaders have a very difficult time connecting with people at a heart level, a critical missing piece of their leadership.

Joy may tell a leader that something needs to be celebrated, appreciated, or laughed at, or someone needs to be patted on the back. Countless leaders fail to create a culture of celebration and appreciation because they’re cut off from their joy. In our experience, people are as afraid of feeling their joy all the way through to completion as they are their fear, anger, and sadness. They mistakenly believe that it is inefficient or boastful to feel this emotion. Leaders who can’t experience joy are dangerous because they can’t adequately celebrate and appreciate themselves and others, unconsciously committed to limiting things that would be celebratory.

Eliminating Gossip

Above the Line: I commit to ending gossip, talking directly to people with whom I have a concern, and encouraging others to talk directly to people with whom they have an issue or concern.

Below the Line: I commit to saying things about people that I would not or will not say to them. I commit to talking about people in ways I wouldn’t if they were in the room. I commit to listening to others when they gossip.


To establish a shared definition, Gossip is either…

  • Any statement about another made by someone with negative intent, or
  • Any statement about another that the speaker would be unwilling to share in exactly the same way if that person were in the same room.

Gossip is like a ping-pong game: the speaker and the listener each hold a paddle. If a listener says they don’t want to listen and symbolically puts down his paddle, the game is over. So the listener is just as responsible as the speaker.

People can gossip for many different reasons such as:

  • Make others wrong
  • Gain validation
  • Control others
  • Get attention
  • Divert attention
  • Avoid conflict
  • Avoid feelings and/or expressing authentic emotions
  • Create (pseudo) alliances

Conscious Leaders take ownership of conversations they are a part of and clean up gossip by:

  • Revealing to those to whom you have been gossiping
  • Revealing to the person about whom you have been gossiping
  • Revealing to the gossiper to whom you have been listening

Eliminating gossip is essential for a healthy organization to prevent systemic issues such as erosion of trust, low morale, team dysfunction, turnover, and litigation. Top talent will not stay at an organization where they don’t feel psychologically safe.

Who should read The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership?

We recommend The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership to leaders who are looking to continuously improve their practice. We use the term “leader” loosely here as someone does not need to have positional power to lead. We also recommend this book after building a strong initial understanding of leadership generally. The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations is an excellent first read to begin with and we have a book review coming soon!