About Meta-Leadership

The Meta-Leadership framework and practice method has been developed by faculty at the NPLI after extensive research on and observation of leaders in high-stress, high-stakes situations. It is designed to provide individuals with tools that are conceptually and practically rigorous so that they are better equipped to act and direct others in emergency situations. Meta-leadership is currently being used by leaders in the fields of homeland security, emergency preparedness and response, and public health in the public, private, and non-profit sectors.

Achievement of national preparedness — given current natural and man-made threats — requires a heightened capacity for effective cross-government coordination of effort as well as cross-sector collaboration with private and non-profit organizations. This objective is hindered by the tendency of leaders to advocate the specific interests and purposes of their narrow silos of activity.

How Meta-Leaders Perform

META-LEADERS think and perform differently. By taking a holistic view, they intentionally link and leverage the efforts of the whole community to galvanize a valuable connectivity that achieves unity of purpose and effort.

The Practice of Meta-Leadership

META-LEADERSHIP reframes the process and practice of leaders with: 1) A comprehensive organizing framework for understanding and integrating the many facets of leadership; 2) A method for catalyzing collaborative activity; 3) A focus on improving community functioning and performance. The dimensions of meta-leadership are:

  1. THE PERSON: Meta-leaders develop high self-awareness, self-knowledge, and self-regulation. They build the capacity to confront fear and lead themselves and others out of the “emotional basement” to higher levels of thinking and functioning.
  1. THE SITUATION: With often incomplete information, the meta-leader maps the situation to determine what is happening, who are the stakeholders, what is likely to happen next, and what are the critical choice points and options for action.
  2. CONNECTIVITY: The meta-leader charts a course forward, making decisions, operationalizing those decisions, and communicating effectively to recruit wide engagement and support. The meta-leader navigates the distinct dynamics and complexities of leading four facets of connectivity:
    • Down the formal chain of command to subordinates creating a cohesive, proactive team
    • Up to those to whom the leader is responsible building confidence with formal supervisors, political officials, community leaders, and oversight agencies
    • Across to peers and other units within the organization encouraging coordination and collaboration
    • Beyond to outside entities including the general public and the media creating whole of community unity of purpose and effort


The Meta-leadership curriculum includes a conceptual framework as well as practical tools and techniques for mastering each of these dimensions. It also includes pragmatic methods for complex problem solving, negotiation, and conflict resolution vital to leadership success.

Dr. Leonard Marcus, Dr. Barry Dorn, Joseph Henderson, and Eric McNulty are among the NPLI faculty who have been at the forefront of developing the Meta-Leadership framework and practice method.

Crisis to Classroom | Classroom to Crisis

The Meta-leadership framework and practice method has been developed by integrating scholarship with insights from the front lines such as the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. The framework draws upon the work of a wide range of scholars to create a holistic view of the challenges of leadership.

Executive education participants apply the principles through projects based on real world challenges in their organizations and some of this work has evolved into ongoing initiatives lasting well beyond the time spent in the program.

Faculty travel to crisis situations whenever possible to observe leaders in action and derive lessons learned. This field testing ensures that the curriculum and materials are useful and relevant to crisis leaders; the conceptual rigor makes certain that the lessons can be taught to future generations of leaders. Thus, practice and classroom create a virtuous circle in which each component complements and strengthens the other.