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


Picking Good Managers

Those of you familiar with business management literature are surely familiar with the works of Peter Drucker. His contributions to the advancement of the modern corporation are numerous. In fact, Drucker is often cited as the most influential thought leader in modern business management movement.

Drucker is credited with inventing the concept of management by objectives, coining the term “knowledge worker” and founding one of the first-ever Executive MBA programs for working professionals at Claremont Graduate University. He was also widely known as the grandfather of marketing and modern business consulting.

Drucker was keen on understanding the success (or failure) of businesses through the management process, which consists of planning, organizing, leading and controlling. Understanding the process and its concepts is key to preparing your managers to be successful. 


The role of a manager is to engage his or her team members to perform at their best by  providing direction, offering feedback and setting goals. According to a study by Gallup, managers are often the most important hires in any organization. They account for at least 70% of employee engagement in the workplace. Yet more than 80% of the time people are hired to become managers/supervisors it is because they were good at their previous job.

However, “being good” at a task doesn’t guarantee that a person will be able to effectively lead others through that same task. The best managers are most often proficient in four skills that speak to effective leadership:

  • Identifying Talent: Taking note of the skills, knowledge, education and experience necessary for the roles you have on your team.
  • Setting Expectations: Effectively communicating the contributions, responsibilities and needs of an employee to ensure clear understanding of the parameters of the job. 
  • Motivating Employees: Finding the most appropriate and effective ways to recognize the unique factors that motivate your employee to perform at optimal levels. 
  • Developing People: Recognizing a persons abilities, strengths and tendencies in the workplace and developing a plan to leverage those qualities to improve your team's performance. 

In his book The Practice of Management, Drucker stated that “There is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer. .... Therefore, any business enterprise has two—and only two—basic functions: marketing and innovation.” So, if he were to be believed, it stands to reason why Drucker would point out the two primary activities that bridge the gap between the customer and business. And that's where managers come in.

The best managers are an organization's glue. They create and hold together the scores of people who power high-performing organizations.

Think about the best managers you've ever worked for. What were the qualities that made them so good as a leader? 

Share you thoughts about the best managers you've worked with in the Comments Section below!

Why Diverse Perspectives Are Important

Darren Nichols, a member of the OVP Management Consulting Group team, had a guest editorial published on the TribLive website on the subject of police profiling of black men and the killing of 17 year old Antwon Rose in Pittsburgh, PA by local police. 

The OVP Leadership Blog is normally reserved for discussions about ways people can become better leaders in their organizations. But, we decided to highlight Darren's piece to shine a light on an issue that often confronts leaders of organizations and communities: diversity of perspective. 

Similar to the Starbuck's incident in Philadelphia earlier this year (see previous OVP Leadership Blog: Do Your Employees Reflect Your Best Intentions?), we see how a lack of diverse perspectives can potentially influence how people of color can be treated in public spaces. And this has consequences to leaders of for-profit and not-for-profit organizations that operate in communities around the country.

OVP spoke with Darren to understand why he felt it was important to share his experience with being stopped by police. We wanted to know how these occurrences impacted him in his professional work, and if there were lessons that leaders could learn from. It turns out there are.

Darren Nichols

Darren Nichols

Darren shared the following: "The point of this is not to simply share my bad experiences with the police or to imply all are bad... It’s also not to inject race as my scenarios involved officers who were black and white....(T)his is meant to point out that too many people of color have similar stories. And each span socio-economic backgrounds."

As leaders of people, it is important to be empathetic and understanding of the experiences your teammates have that can have an impact on work performance. Remember there are several meta-skills that leaders need to be effective, including empathy. 

We thank Darren for his courage in sharing his experience. 

Financial Management: Tracking Cash Flow

Business owners and company managers are required to conduct financial analyses of a company's performance, as part of their leadership responsibilities with an organization. Anyone who has run a small business knows that cash flows are the lifeblood of any for-profit venture.

Having cash on hand  is critical to keep your operations moving and bills paid. But managing that cash effectively also presents firms the opportunity to invest in your business to grow it. 

A big part of a business owner or manager's role calls for them to understand and account for cash flows. Specifically, they must understand the difference between a statement of cash flows or the indirect method of accounting for operating activities, and a cash-flow statement or the direct method, according to the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB). 

There are several differences between the two. The first among them is that a majority of corporations prefer to use the indirect method. Most companies find that the indirect method uses readily available information about financial performance, which is easier to work with. For example, companies adjust net income to convert it from accrual to a cash basis by adding back non-cash expenses like depreciation, amortization and a loss on the sale of a fixed asset. 

Using the cash-flow statement or direct method, cash receipts and cash disbursements related to the operating activities are reported directly and separately. The direct method “calculates operating cash flow as a product of actual cash flow in and out,” according to Tim Reason, author and Deputy Editor & Director at Bain & Company.

While the indirect method is the most widely used by companies, several scholars, such as Charles Mulford, a professor and the Director of the Financial Reporting & Analysis Lab at Georgia Institute of Technology and Donald Nicolaisen, the former Chief Accountant of the Securities and Exchange Commission believe that using the direct method of creating cash-flow statements improves financial disclosures of companies.

Net operating cash flow (NOCF) is estimated when using the statement of cash flows according to the FASB Standards No. 95 indirect method. It takes earnings after tax and adjusts them for noncash items that aren’t related to a firm’s operating activities. It also requires firms to include interest expense, which is considered a financing activity when using the direct method.

Check out some ways to improve your business' cash flow:

  • Send out invoices immediately after receipt of goods or services

  • Change your payment terms from 60 to 30 days

  • Consider using your business credit card to pay suppliers and make purchases

  • Opening a high-interest business savings account

“The relevant measure of cash flow is generated by operations is net operating cash flow," according to Gabriel Hawawini and Claude Viallet the authors of the book Finance for Executives: Managing for Value Creation. "It is the net cash flow generated by running the business, not by selling some of its assets or borrowing from banks."

The difference between the net cash flow from operating activities using the indirect method, and the net operating cash flow used in the direct method is the calculating of net interest expense.

The most relevant financial analysis is the direct method for a number of reasons. First, each of the three business activities – operating, investing and financing – are treated separately. Second, the most relevant measure of the cash flow generated by operations is net operating cash flow (NOCF).