“Are you above or below the line?”

There is a well known method of challenging behaviours and encouraging personal accountability in business leadership referred to as ‘above or below the line’.

The model is simple. Picture a horizontal line.  At any moment in time a person is metaphorically either above the line or below the line.  A leader operating above the line, is open, curious and committed to learning. When they fall below the line, they’re closed, defensive and insistent on being right. A conscious leader should, at any moment be able accurately locate themselves by asking, “Am I above or below the line?” and regulate their behaviour accordingly.

I have been pondering this concept in relation to the startup community recently – if we were to collectively determine a metaphorical line between the open, collaborative, growth focussed behaviours that help a community to thrive and the closed, competitive, restrictive behaviours that stifle community growth – would this allow an entire community to self regulate, regardless of physical distance, communication barriers, economic, political and social influences?

Great leaders and great entrepreneurs have clear purpose, strong motivation and defined goals that they are working towards. Communities also come together collectively with a shared sense of purpose, motivated to achieve a set of goals.

In a world where so much of what we strive to achieve and attain are material ‘things’ it is easy to forget that a community is not a place, a building, or an organisation – it is a set of relationships among people. Lots and lots of individual people, all with their own hearts, minds and voices.

Each and every person that participates in the community has a role to play in nurturing its growth, strength and influence and this is where I get back to my above the line thinking.

The act of nurturing a community cannot be governed by any one party, it is governed by each person’s sense of responsibility and desire to contribute, whether they are an innovator, an entrepreneur, a student, a technologist, an investor, a volunteer, an employee or a public servant.

The first step in achieving the community growth and prosperity that we are looking for in our cities is for each and every one of us to check in with ourselves as we encourage our great leaders to do.

To look at our actions, behaviours and motivations within the community and ask “Am I above or below the line?’.

To keep myself and the members of the Gold Coast Innovation Hub accountable to each other and the broader community, we created a poster which I display and refer to. You can download the PDF version here if you would like a copy.

It reflects positive and negative attributes, attitudes and behaviours identified through published studies of successful innovation communities and through my own interactions and observations of what really works at the Gold Coast.

I encourage you to take a look at the poster and imagine if everyone that we interacted with during our startup and ongoing business journey – every colleague, customer, supplier and partner – was operating from a place ‘Above the Line?’ Where would we all be in a year from now?

Are there leadership practices that you have implemented in your community to increase communication and collaboration? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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