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Keeping your head above water... (The Line)

March 7, 2019


It was sometime around 2010 and I was sitting in a boardroom in a tall building in Sydney having travelled that morning from Newcastle for a two-day training course for people in the early stages of their recruitment career. I’d just recently moved back home to Newcastle from Sydney having lived there for many years and where I worked in an altogether different field. Being back in the vibrant and busy city felt great. The movement of millions of humans and the audible hum of business all around was invigorating. The training however, wasn’t.


To be fair, the morning session wasn’t. You know what they’re like. Introductions from each person in the room where you can pick almost instantly the one person who will find a way to ask a question of the trainer only to use it as an opportunity to tell a story about this one time where they blah blah blah. Every training session has one, or two.


Get past the intro’s and into the agenda for the two days: start off easy, a bland topic that gives the attendees enough to settle in and feel comfortable. Morning tea, the smokers pick each other out as if they have telepathy and make the dash down 15 stories, back in the room and diving for the individually wrapped Mentos as if it magically disguises the smell and then into the pre-lunch session – more of the same. It was as predictable as the conversation over lunch between strangers in the same industry.


I had been in recruitment for a year or two and was fortunate to work for a Newcastle business that proudly stood out with values and leaders not usually found in recruitment, which is why I joined. No commission model and where consultants were measured on the depth of the relationships developed not the calls made or people interviewed. I learnt the meaning of the word consult here and I was nurtured by the best managers I’ve ever had.


Back in the training room and the afternoon session commences and my brain prepares to settle in for the short journey to afternoon tea when I’m introduced to a concept and a diagram so simplistic and yet so profound that it has stayed with me since that moment. I’m referring to Above and Below the Line Behaviour Model.


A model so well-known now but on that day, I was a day one rookie to it’s simple yet powerful message:


The universal use of this rudimentary behaviour in everyday life really hit me hard. How often had I been below the line? So often. As a teenager and young adult, lying to get myself out of trouble. Blaming everyone and everything around me for negative experiences and my lack of will power or recognition of potential. As a boyfriend or partner, blaming the other person for how I felt or behaved. As a student and employee, making countless excuses for not completing assignments or not studying or not wanting to stick out a difficult job. I’d been a total fucking dick.


To suggest that I was still all those things by the time I was in recruitment or at this training session would not be accurate as I’d matured somewhat, perhaps, but still, how could I possibly begin to live above the line until I took ownership for my history of shit behaviour? How could I gain the knowledge and respect I wanted until I was accountable for learning from these mistakes and how could I progress, grow and thrive until I took responsibility and made sure I tried not to dip back under that line?


It’s March 2019 and we’ve all had ups and down during this time and I am now the co-owner of a tiny, boutique executive recruitment firm and another beautiful and equally small business support recruitment company. Both businesses cater to a unique client base. The clients aren’t unique in their size or industry, their product or location. They are unique because just as we apply the values and principles of consistent above the line behaviour in our own businesses, so to do we expect and almost insist that our clients do too. We graciously say no to work with businesses that don’t display these simple behaviours and gratefully and loyally over service and cherish the work we undertake for the clients whose businesses and people live above the line.


This simple and well-known behaviour model, when applied to almost every decision, action and interaction is how we make sure that in every way possible, we are enhancing the lives of people through our work, and not the opposite.


Sure, occasionally everyone dips below the line from time to time but it’s having the presence of mind to recognise it and be responsible for it that can have a huge impact for yourself and everyone around you.


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