“Above the Line”

One of my favorite activities to do with my children is wander around our local library.  The library is quite large, has statues, play areas for kids, and (of course) loads of books.

On a recent excursion to the library, I noticed a new book on the display shelf that I hadn’t noticed before.  It was called “Above the Line: Lessons in Leadership and Life from a Championship Season.”  Written by Urban Meyer and Wayne Coffey, the book outlined principles of preparation and process employed by the Ohio State University football team, which won the College Football Playoff and National Championship in 2014.

Having grown up in Utah, I was familiar with Urban Meyer from his short stint as head coach at the University of Utah.  I followed his career to Florida, where he experienced a lot of success and then burned out in a spectacular way.  I was most intrigued by the book because of its focus on culture:  the way the Ohio State Football Program approaches their work and maximized contributions from each player, coach, and staff member.

The book had many chapters I found intriguing and fascinating as a football fan as well as one who studies team excellence.  The principle that stood out to me the most, however, was what Meyer called the foundation: Above the Line.  He chose the phrase as the title of the book because of its fundamental importance to the success of his program.

Last week, I wrote about process, and how imperative it is for aspiring teams to have a process that produces results.  While this book illustrates multiple components of the Ohio State process, everything is dependent on “Above the Line” behavior.

From the book:

The performance of a team rises or falls on behavior.  Winning behavior is intentional, on purpose, and skillful.  It is Above the Line.  But it’s easier to be impulsive, on autopilot, and resistant.  This is Below the Line. Below the Line is dangerous because it is comfortable and convenient.  It is the path of least resistance.  Below the Line takes little effort or skill, and the best it can produce is “just OK.” Eventually, it produces failure.

Above the Line: Lessons in in Leadership and Life from a Championship Season.  Pg. 27

This had a profound affect on me as I read this chapter.  Guiltily, I began to see how often I reacted in impulsive, lazy, or resistant “below the line” behavior.  In fact, I am embarrassed to say this behavior was not exclusive to my career, but my relationships and personal life as well.  I resolved to do better.  Much better.

This principle is nothing new or earth-shattering.  But the effort required to follow it takes an incredible amount of effort and devotion.

Consider the following activities:

  1. Identify an area on your team or in your life that is producing mediocre results.
  2. What intentional behaviors can you change right now that may modify those results?
  3. Incorporate the selected behaviors in to your process immediately.
  4. Track whether or not this simple behavior change modifies your desired result. If so, keep it up! If not, try steps 1-3 again.

The beauty and challenge of “Above the Line” behavior is that only you and your team will really be able to identify what it means to be “intentional”and act on purpose.  But simply taking the time to identify what it means to you is the first step.


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