Meta-leadership in a mega disaster: a case study of Governor Haley Barbour’s leadership during Hurricane Katrina
Smithson, Lee Wallace
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The complexities of leadership in today’s environment are often obscured by the focus of traditional theories on leadership as the top-down, leader-subordinate construct typical of hierarchical organizations. These theories also do not fully capture what occurs when leaders must catalyze action well above and beyond their formal lines of decision making and control. Leaders today must simultaneously lead down in the traditional sense, up to influence the people or organizations to which they are accountable, and across to activate peer groups and others with whom there is no formal subordinate relationship, and that these activities are parts of an integrated whole. This leadership model is referred to as meta-leadership. This thesis asked, to what extent is Governor Haley Barbour’s response to and decision making during Hurricane Katrina an example of meta-leadership? What can be learned as far as smart practices from Barbour’s leadership and can these practices be replicated? The focus of this thesis was the conduct of a single case study. Governor Haley Barbour’s leadership style and decision-making process during Hurricane Katrina response operations were examined to determine whether or to what extent they accord with the theory of meta-leadership. Our conclusions are that Governor Barbour epitomized the tenets of meta-leadership and that, given the proper academic environment, meta-leadership can be replicated.
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