Why meta-skills lie at the heart of successful leadership

By Felipe Polo

One of many 'meta-skills' that underpin effective and confident teams is empathic leadership.


The philosophy and approach that underpins a leadership style will permeate every part of a business. Each leader’s unique style will help build and develop new skills amongst teams.


How effective this style is will determine a large part of how successful a business is, and how cohesive and effective a team is. Broader skills such as effective communication and strategic thinking rely on a set of meta-skills, which are often overlooked but can have a transformative impact when deployed successfully.  

What are meta-skills?

Gustavo Razzetti defines a meta-skill as “a master skill that magnifies and activates other skills. A meta-skill is a high-order skill that allows you to engage with functional expertise more effectively. It’s a catalyst for learning and building new skills faster.”


In short, meta-skills encompass the emotional intelligence, self-awareness and intuition that governs how traditional technical skills are deployed. If technical skills are the day-to-day levers that manage teams, meta-skills are knowing when and how to use them.


Humility, composure, a calm demeanour, and empathy are some examples of soft skills that go a long way to allaying the fears of a team and giving them the confidence to drive through problems and challenges. But learning how to develop and utilise these elements together forms a meta-skill.

The importance of emotional intelligence in leadership

The purpose of meta-skills is to build an environment in which teams and individuals can thrive through increased engagement, approach to problem solving and productivity.

A strong working culture stems from strong leadership, a meta-skill built on softer skills like empathy or humility, which can build trust and rapport.  Emotional intelligence equips leaders with the ability to create an inclusive environment based on trust and respect that helps instil confidence and improve performance.

Eliminating barriers is key to instilling a sense of purpose within teams

Leadership is as much about building self-discipline as instilling discipline and motivation in others. Being approachable, playful and displaying humour in a management style can help to break down unhelpful hierarchical barriers between leaders and their workforce. By bringing teams closer together emotionally and reducing outdated structures, the result is a single cohesive culture that works together positively and drives success.

Feeding back a great opportunity for growth and to display openness

A professional journey does not end when a leadership role is attained. “Deep democracy” is a vital meta-skill which will help leaders to interact with and learn from feedback to continue to grow as both a leader and a colleague. Not all feedback may seem entirely true or fair, but most will have some truth to it.


The vital aspect is balance, remaining open to honest feedback whilst understanding the truth that underpins it. This is the ‘2% truth rule’, which encourages leaders to display soft skills such as empathy, listening and good communication in order to get to the root of feedback, and judge whether action is needed as a result.

Why you should prioritise cultivating your soft-skills

How effective a leader is will have a significant impact on the resilience of their team. Learning how to cultivate essential soft skills that will inspire confidence and generate trust can revolutionise team performance. A confident team in a trusting environment is more willing to take measured risks and fail positivity, learning lessons that lead to better ideas and practices. 



Felipe Polo is a digital entrepreneur, non-executive director and investor and is co-chairman and co-founder for GuideSmiths. He has over 15 years’ experience in building high-performance teams internationally, transforming organisations through digital products and modern software delivery processes, helping organisations align their tech, teams and business strategy.



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