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Thursday Thoughts: 5 Elements of Meta-Leadership

I am a graduate student at George Washington University and I am fortunate enough to be taking a leadership class with a former high-level government official. My professor has served at the highest levels of government, and provides a first hand account how to lead large, complex and bureaucratic government agencies. Every Thursday I’ll post some thoughts on previous lectures that intrigued me, hopefully they do the same for you.

5 Elements of Meta-Leadership

Meta-leadership is an overarching leadership framework for strategically linking the efforts of different organizations to “provide guidance, direction, and momentum across organizational lines that develop into a shared course of action and commonality of purpose among people and agencies that are doing what may appear to be very different work.” This framework was developed by Dr. Leonard Marcus and Dr. Barry Dorn of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative.

Meta-leadership has been adopted in organizations such as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Homeland Security, and the White House Homeland Security Council. These organizations understand the importance of skilled leadership when faced with unexpected or fast-changing situations.

What makes meta-leadership different from leadership is that meta-leadership is focused on cross-cutting leadership that generates connectivity among disparate stakeholders. The authors put it this way:

Meta-leaders…seek to influence and activate change well above and beyond established lines of their decision-making and control. These leaders are driven by a purpose broader than that prescribed by their formal roles, and are therefore motivated and capable of acting in ways that transcend usual organizational confines.

So what are the elements that make up the meta-leadership framework? There are 5 dimensions or elements to the meta-leadership framework:

1) The Leader

The leader must have insatiable curiosity, emotional intelligence, empathy, be able to manage morale, and understand the complexities of solutions. It is important for a meta-leader to remove themselves from the situation and look down at what needs to be done, not necessarily their role in that. This self-awareness and self-regulation helps when leading with balance, direction, and discipline.

2) The Event

A meta-leader must be able to form an accurate picture of what the event or situation is. This picture needs to include the context, culture, and articulate this picture to others who are involved. A meta-leader should leverage their personal mastery, mental models, and vision to understand the event. Once you understand, challenge the “understanding” of the event continually.

3) Leading Across (Leading Connectivity)

Being able to step out of an individual “silo” and effectively engage in others, whether that is within an organization or in others, leads to a collaborative approach to working together towards achieving an overall mission. Always work towards building a shared vision.

4) Leading Down (Leading the Silo)

Within a leader’s own “silo” or organization, they must enable the people working beneath them to achieve maximum effectiveness. Empower those within your organization and give them tools necessary to be effective. Having the proper people in your personal space advising you when you’re working through complex problems is what leads great meta-leaders to a successful mission. Remember, these are your “dogs that hunt.”

5) Leading Up

This dimension is especially important to effective meta-leadership in the public sector. Leading up is the ability to manage the interaction between career public servants (people who have technical mastery) and how you deal up with the political leaders. A meta-leader needs to be able to attack the problem and close the gap between political leaders and other sectors of an organization.

If you would like to read a full description and analysis of the five dimensions of meta-leadership, you may access a PDF here.

What do you think is the best way for leaders to become “meta-leaders”? Do you have any tips for being a more effective leader?

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