Above + Below The Line Exercise

Every leader has a slightly different path to move their career and team from one point to another, which qualifies as their definition of success.

How well have you defined your destination, path to get there, and are progressing towards it?

You are in one of two situations:

(1) You are demonstrating some level of mastery as you navigate the river rapids of your business adventure, rising and falling with the outcomes of your decisions powerfully flowing around and under you, while avoiding the rocks and not getting sucked into hole. Or…

(2) The river of your events is pushing and pulling you in directions and to destinations more than you are maintaining control, and piloting your way through it.


The rudder for mastery as a leader is how and when you make tough decisions that lead to your behaviors and create the results of your legacy.

Let me give you a discussion exercise you can use with your team to build their ability to make better decisions based on what you feel is important.

One good example for this exercise is your company values. These values define HOW everyone, and I mean EVERYONE (including you) should be behaving. If you have worked candidly as a team with wisdom to define meaningful values, then these core behaviors are great for this exercise.

For instance, let’s say you have INTEGRITY as one of your core values.


Question #1

What result as individuals and an organization are we trying to achieve by consistently demonstrating integrity?

Discuss and list outcomes of behaving with integrity. (Do NOT list the behaviors of integrity, but the results.)


On a large whiteboard, or presentation Post-It pad list the Outcomes of Integrity.

Next, you are going to create two opposing lists. There are typically two ways to create a visual result of this part of the exercise. Below your list of outcomes, you can first list Dishonest behaviors below a horizontal line and Integrity behaviors on top of the line. Or, you can list Dishonest behaviors on the left or right, and Integrity behaviors on the opposite side, even writing directly opposing behaviors in the same row / line.

Question #2

Let’s make two lists to better comprehend the behaviors, and subsequent outcomes of demonstrating integrity at all times.

First, what are some behavioral examples of dishonesty, the opposite of our core value of integrity?

NOTE: Dishonesty is a soft skill failure. People who allow themselves to be tempted into dishonest behaviors lack training and accountability on the value of integrity. They have bad habits that need to be overcome with new, more powerful, good habits so they can live with integrity at all times.


Have your team create a list. It should be at least five behaviors. It might be dozens or up to 100. Try not to limit people’s ability share their thoughts. Allow similarities because sharing specific behaviors expands people’s comprehension of how to apply the value in their every day decision-making. Make certain everyone feels heard, and their ideas respected.

Here are some examples of Dishonest behavior:

  1. Lying
  2. Stealing
  3. Cheating
  4. Breaking a promise to do something
  5. Missing a deadline
  6. Tardiness
  7. Slight exaggeration in an expense report
  8. Doing personal calls on work time
  9. Not doing administrative work you require of others (entering time…)
  10. Not enforcing performance boundaries – at all, or disrespectfully

Question #3

Now let’s list behaviors that are consistent with our core value of Integrity above the line (or across from the Dishonest behaviors if you chose that style of visual presentation).

These behaviors can be the opposite of each of the Dishonest behaviors. Again, there is no limit to the number of behaviors you list.

Here are some examples of Integrity behavior:

  1. Telling the truth
  2. Respecting other people’s property
  3. Protect
  4. Fulfilling a promise
  5. Meeting or beating a deadline
  6. Being on time or early
  7. Accurate, honest expense report
  8. Personal calls only during breaks or outside of work time
  9. Completing administrative work you require of others on time
  10. Enforcing performance boundaries equally for all

Discuss how the easy-to-identify Dishonest (evil?) behaviors affect outcomes. Here are some areas those failures may hurt:

  1. Time
  2. Financial – Revenue, Cost and/or Profit
  3. People
  4. Sales / opportunities
  5. Stress / health
  6. Relationships
  7. Reputation

Bring recent situations into the conversation as examples, either positive or negative. Do NOT call out the failures of anyone.

Discuss the power of habits. Bad habits, the Dishonest behaviors, never go away. How can we as an organization and individuals develop new, better habits of Integrity to overcome bad habits and temptations to be Dishonest, even in a small way?



The examples above are straightforward, black and white, yes and no. However, life doesn’t always work that way.

Leaders have to skillfully navigate the gray areas of life.

Question #4

What situations come up where we can demonstrate integrity legally or by our policies, but actually the decision lacks integrity or outright violates the heart of our integrity value?

For example, let’s say a customer subscribes to a service. They have a free trial for 30 days and then are automatically charged. 11 Days after the charge, the customer contacts you asking for the subscription to be cancelled and a refund on the first month’s charge because they did not use the product/service.

Option #1: You can confirm they did not use the product/service. What do you do?

Option #2: You cannot confirm whether they used the product/service. What do you do?

You see, if you want to have your people demonstrate the best possible integrity, then everyone has to do so when:

(1) No one is watching.

(2) The letter-of-the-law supports one decision, but true integrity and consistency with your values requires you to demonstrate grace. And, the person joyfully, sincerely, and/or empathetically chooses grace.

Decisions are easier when you discuss the “zingers” and interruptions that may occur, and decide together how your organization responds to them in advance.

Develop your leaders to avoid doing what is comfortable when that decision is actually not right.