You’re It: A book review by Bob Morris

You’re It: Crisis, Change, and How to Lead When It Matters Most
Leonard J. Marcus, Eric J. McNulty, Joseph M. Henderson, and Barry C. Dorn
PublicAffairs (June 2019)

How specific human complexities, relationships, and interdependencies determine success or failure

To what does the title of this book refer? According to the co-authors, “‘you’re it’ is a mutual endeavor to do more than you could do by yourself or as separate entities working in isolation (often called organizational silos). The practice of meta-leadership is about forming the plural ‘you’ to achieve the objective. Not everyone grasps the benefit. The meta-leader understands what motivates these many stakeholders and aligns those motives to shape the common you.” Those who comprise the plural “you” share a problem, opportunity, or challenge in which they choose to engage. “Together, ‘you’re it.'”

A meta-leader could also announce “We’re it!” and lead the charge to solve a problem, seize an opportunity, or embrace a challenge. In this context, I am again reminded of this African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Metaleaders see The BIG Picture and understand how “multiple connected factors act and interact with one another” when a problem, opportunity, or challenge appears (often unexpectedly), one that requires a collective response rather than an individual’s efforts.  This precisely what Lao Tse has in mind in this passage from the Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

According to Marcus, McNulty, Henderson, and Dorn, meta-leadership consists of three dimensions for shaping a holistic perspective on leadership: The person who leads, the situation in which leadership is provided, and connectivity between and among those who are led. Whatever their size and nature may be, all organizations need leadership at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise. Prospective meta-leaders — as well as potential meta-leaders — need to be identified among them within a framework that has been developed at the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative (NPLI), a joint program of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Center for Public Leadership.

These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the nature and extent of their coverage:

o Meta-leadership (Pages 3-6, 8-9, 33-35, and 71-74)
o Boston Marathon bombings (11-21
o Deepwater Houston oil spill (23-25 and 227-228)
o Authority with influence (25-26 and 70-88)
o Complexity (37-56)

o The Meta-leadership brain and problem-solving (66-69 and 92-103)
o The person (87-113)
o The situation (114-137)
o Pivots (118-122, 218-234, and 248-249)
o Connectivity (138-199)

o Connectivity for navigating dynamics of authority (157-179)
o Leading Beyond to Recraft Relationships (180-199)
o Walk in the Woods (201-217)
o Peter Neffenger: Jump-starting a response to crisis (228-233)
o Arc of Time (235-251)

I commend Leonard J. Marcus, Eric J. McNulty, Joseph M. Henderson, and Barry C. Dorn on the abundance of valuable information, insights, and counsel they provide. I wholly support their recommendation that those who read this book keep a journal near at hand in which to record comments and questions;  they can also include their responses to the set of thought-provoking questions provided at the conclusion of each of the fourteen chapters.

Not everyone is both willing and able to “seek a bigger picture…perceive beyond the obvious toward and understanding for how multiple connected factors act and interact with one another.” Hence the need for mega-leaders. However, they need associates who can begin to grasp the complexity of what is going on and take appropriate action.

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