Career

What is the ‘meta’ in ‘metaleadership’?


 

A new view for leaders

The “meta” in metaleadership hopes to provide a broader, disciplined slant on this phenomenon. That prefix – used to modify many concepts and terms – refers to a wider, more expansive view or a more comprehensive and transcendent perch on a topic. A “meta-” prefix invites a critical analysis of the original topic with the addition of new perspectives and insights, as with a meta-analysis.

Why then the need now for a “meta” view among health care leaders? It is easy in the course of career progression to lose track of the bigger picture of what you are doing and how it fits into changes occurring in society and for the profession. Even if your focus is on a particular clinical procedure, how does what you are doing fit into larger metatrends and changes? How might you tangibly contribute to the evolution of those trends? If you are in a leadership position, how do you fit your practice or department into the bigger picture? How might this enterprise perspective speak to your career trajectory?

To inform these questions, build your platform for knowns and unknowns. There are four combinations in the “known-unknown” equation. They are each important and provocative for leaders. Your awareness of them prompts curiosity about “meta” problems and problem solving.

  • There are the “known-knowns”: what you know and you know you know it. The problem here is that you may assume that you know something that you don’t.
  • There are the “known-unknowns”: Clear and curious about what you need to learn, you develop pathways to find out.
  • There are the “unknown-knowns”: what others know and you don’t; a point of vulnerability if you are not careful to discover and figure this out.
  • And finally, the “unknown-unknowns”: the mysteries of what could lie ahead that no one yet fully comprehends.

The task for the “metaleader”? Be clear on what you know, and seek always to learn and discover those unknowns. The better you factor them into your assessments, the better you are able to shape trends and the less likely you are to be overrun by them.

Just as you become more specialized with time, as a leader, you can leverage your experience to widen your lens and see more, understand it better, and – with that knowledge – chart a pathway that corresponds with where the health system is going. With this wider mindset, you fashion a fresh and innovative perspective on what is happening with health care and the options for constructively addressing new constraints and opportunities. You think big, reach far, and with this broader understanding, foment a lively set of perspectives and options that would otherwise not be available for those you lead. And when seen as a puzzle to learn and solve, the “meta” perch provides an engaging angle on the game of health care change. You too can be a player.

Dr. Marcus is coauthor of “Renegotiating Health Care: Resolving Conflict to Build Collaboration,” 2nd ed. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2011) and is director of the program for health care negotiation and conflict resolution at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston. Dr. Marcus teaches regularly in the SHM Leadership Academy. He can be reached at ljmarcus@hsph.harvard.edu.

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