Leadership and Meta-Skills

Leadership is often associated with talent and skill. Being an expert mathematician allows a person to employ complex technical skills to solve problems like how calculate the precise reentry of a space shuttle back to earth after circling the planet for three months. But those talents alone don't make great leaders. It's the combination of talent, technical skill and meta-skills that help create transformational leaders.

Meta-skills are the skills allow people to leverage technical skills, in order to effectively lead and engage teams productively.

Called "soft skills" by many in the corporate arena, meta-skills are the talents that help bridge the gap between technical ability and successful execution of an activity. And these are precisely the skills needed to to turn competent managers into visionary leaders. They are also the glue that can begin to influence how community leaders impact people and institutions they serve.


Here is a partial list of some meta-skills that are critical to transformational leadership:

  • —Adaptability
  • —Processing Feedback
  • —Mindfulness
  • —Humility
  • —Dialogue
  • Active Listening
  • Generosity
  • —Story Telling
  • Gratitude

All of these skills are applicable in achieving of goals and objectives in virtually any industry. They also are skills that people often take for granted and assume they are using effectively.

But, studies show that as leaders face more complex problems and circumstances, our ability to link our technical skills to the successful deployment of our meta-skills becomes muted. And as the knowledge worker of the future prepares herself for "what work looks like" over the coming decades according to a study by Pew Research, the importance of meta-skills continues to grow in significance.

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So, how are you practicing these skills? Do you have a measurable practice to track how you are doing to elevate these skills to mastery? 

At OVP Management Consulting, we recommend managers of teams conduct an internal audit of their technical/professional skills that help them in their leadership role. From there, we encourage a similar inventory be taken of the meta-skills that one uses to improve technical performances. The act of reflecting on your skills (both technical and meta) necessitates a rigorous self-assessment, in order to chart a path forward towards improved leadership. 

They key, we have found, is to make sure that there is a proper documentation of a leader's meta-skills, followed by a defined set of measurable objectives designed to test the relative improvement of the skills used. Lastly, leaders ought to determine reflections of the specific skills being tested, in order to ensure greater mastery. 

For additional information on the subject, we recommend the following resources:

  • Learning to Learn and the Navigation of Moods by Gloria P. Flores
  • Changing on the Job: Developing Leaders for a Complex World by Jennifer Garvey Berger
  • On Dialogue by David Bohm