Member Voices: How to Cultivate Meaningful Relationships in Online Learning and Empower One Another Through Conscious Leadership


Dr. BettyJo Bouchey, Tina Rettler-Pagel, and Megan Kohler

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We are all leaders, whether we have official leadership titles or not.  In fact, most of us reading this blog may find that we are the key leaders focused on online education at our institutions, though we often do not always possess all the formal authority to carry out all our work.  Certainly, this can be frustrating, and we also hope you find it rewarding too.  The most creative and thoughtful leaders are the ones that can influence without needing the assistance (or confines) of formal authority.  Let us reframe frustration into a sense of freedom!  We all can impact our work environment, to cultivate meaningful relationships, and to empower one another to meet one’s greatest potential. Conscious leaders understand this dynamic and actively work to function in a space known as above the line.  We got a chance to sit down with a group of online leaders at our 3-hour workshop on this topic at the Accelerate Conference in November 2019 and then more recently for a 90-minute online version in November 2020, and this blog represents a brief overview of what we covered, and most importantly, what we learned from these rooms of bright, focused, and energetic online leaders.  If you don’t read this whole blog, don’t leave without seeing our note to you at the bottom–we don’t know who needs to hear it, but it is there for you.

What does it mean to lead from “above the line?” According to the book The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership:  A New Paradigm for Sustainable Success by Jim Dethmer, leading from above the line begins with a greater degree of self-awareness. It is about acknowledging a deeper truth within ourselves. To lead from above the line means that we are open to new opportunities for learning and are willing to change in order to be the best version of ourselves. The reverse is leading from below the line, which means we are closed, unwilling to change, and are committed to being right.  Who is reading this right now and seeing themselves in both above the line and below the line?  The following video is a way of bringing these principles of above the line and below the line, created by the Conscious Leadership Group.  Where are you located right now?  

Watch the video, Locating Yourself: A Key to Conscious Leadership

Referring back to the video, while everyone wants to lead from above the line, the fact is, we often lead from below it. We are all human, and sometimes even the smallest interaction, event, or belief can impact the way we see the world and can ultimately impact how we function within it. And that is where conscious leadership becomes very important. Ultimately, Conscious Leadership is about letting go or surrendering our desire to control every moment of our lives, to accept circumstances as they are, and to strive to be our best selves. 

Once you understand the importance of leading from above the line, there are 15 tenets to help guide the journey to staying above the line. 

  1. Taking radical responsibility.  You take full responsibility for your life and help others do the same.  
  2. Learning through curiosity.  You view every opportunity, whether positive or negative, as a time to learn about yourself and others.  
  3. Feeling all feelings.  You commit to experiencing your feelings through to completion.
  4. Speaking candidly.  You commit to speaking the truth and allowing others to do the same.
  5. Eliminating gossip.  You commit to ending gossip, as an active and passive participant.
  6. Practicing integrity.  Your personal integrity enables you to meet your commitments and take responsibility for your actions.  
  7. Generating appreciation.  You live in a space of appreciation, able to express it and also receive it.
  8. Excelling in your zone of genius.  You live in your full magnificence and empower others as well.    
  9. Living a life of play and rest.  You have a life of play, rest, and enjoyment.
  10. Exploring the opposite.  You recognize that your story is simply your story and is as right as the stories of others.  
  11. Sourcing approval, control, and security.  You know you are the source of the three most basic human needs of approval, control, and security.
  12. Having enough of everything.  You are content with what you have.
  13. Experiencing the world as an ally.  You believe that everyone around you is here to help you learn and grow.
  14. Creating a win for all solutions.  You spend the time creating a “win” for everyone involved.
  15. Being the resolution.  You see problems as an invitation for you to create a solution.  

Participants in the room for our Accelerate workshops spent time learning about the 15 Commitments, assessing themselves, and thinking through how to improve their Conscious Leadership practice back at their institutions.  Our in-person crowd got to play games and win prizes of immeasurable value–if you can even measure the value of a sushi roll keychain, a chihuahua coin purse, or a unicorn pencil that is, while our online friends got to play a few games while we played some fantastic tunes!  In all seriousness, though, one of the most interesting exercises our participants engaged in was a gallery walk where they used stickers and upvotes to indicate Commitments they had strength in, versus those they felt they needed to focus upon.  Not all participants did the exercise and some of the Commitments were left unanswered–there are some peer pressures left in this world, after all.  The results are below. We found them fascinating!  

The commitments of greatest strength in the rooms:

  • Being the resolution – “I commit to being the resolution or solution that is needed: seeing what is missing in the world as an invitation to become that which is required.”
  • Generating appreciation – “I commit to living in appreciation, fully opening to both receiving and giving appreciation.”
  • Learning through curiosity – “I commit to growing in self-awareness.  I commit to regarding every interaction as an opportunity to learn.  I commit to curiosity as a path to rapid learning.”

So, that sounds about right when we think about online leaders, doesn’t it?  Our leadership stemming from the seat we are in, versus the box on the organizational chart is buoyed by our undying sense of curiosity and ability to create allies through the appreciation of others.  Confirmed.

Here were the bottom three areas that the rooms wanted to focus on:

  1. Having enough of everything – “I commit to experiencing that I have enough of everything…including time, money, love, energy, space, resources, etc.”
  2. Sourcing approval, control, and security – “I commit to being the source of my security, control, and approval.”
  3. Living a life of play and rest – “I commit to creating a life of play, improvisation, and laughter.  I commit to seeing all of life unfold easefully and effortlessly.  I commit to maximizing my energy by honoring rest, renewal, and rhythm.”

Oh, online leaders, we sense a theme here.  In fact, it is so obvious, we were not even sure we needed to write about it in this blog, but here is the note we jotted down for you. “Hey online Leaders, you have and are enough and its ok to rest – you will get up the next day and rock the world like you always do. Yours in conscious leadership, BettyJo, Megan, and Tina.

a hiker stands on a mountain looking out over a beautiful foggy landscape. A hand written note saying Hey online Leaders, you have and are enough and its ok to rest- - you will get up the next day and rock the world like you always do. yours in Conscious Leadership, BettyJo, Megan, and Tina is written on the picture.

Dr. Bettyjo Bouchey is Associate Professor of Business and Management and Associate Dean of the College of Professional Studies and Advancement at National Louis University.  She also holds university-wide responsibility for online academics. She is a 2018 IELOL alumni and is co-founder of the Collegiate Online Research Leaders Collaborative (CORAL).  Her research interests span online pedagogy and the effective leadership of the evolving organizational structures of online education in higher education. You can reach her at or on Twitter at @DRBouchey 

Tina Rettler-Pagel is a faculty member and Chief Online Learning Officer at Madison College.  She is a 2017 OLC IELOL alumni.  Her research interests include retention and persistence in the online classroom, women in higher education leadership and governance, digital equity, and community college approaches to teaching and learning. You can reach her at or on Twitter at @TinaRPagel

Megan Kohler is a Learning Designer with the John A. Dutton e-Education Institute at Penn State University. Among her professional accomplishments, she has served as the project manager on Penn State’s highly-rated Epidemics MOOC and the pedagogical lead for the Penn State Digital Badges Initiative. You can connect with Megan on Twitter @MKohler26 or her website at

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