How Do You Become a Leader?
It’s a long-term process, based on strong foundations. It’s not difficult, but it requires attention, intention, persistence and the willingness to make changes.
Consistently moving forward is the key. You will need to be alert at all times and consciously seek situations to practice the characteristics you want to improve. Simply be alert and make use of the opportunities that naturally occur from moment to moment in your service.
It can take weeks to cultivate a new habit, and years to cultivate a leader. However, your educators will appreciate the effort. Keep it up until the characteristic becomes effortless, then select another characteristic and use the same process.
Characteristics of a Leader
Leading by example is one of the strongest characteristics of a leader. Not allowing your educators to see any struggles or weaknesses will allow you to present yourself as a strong, rational and calm leader. This will have a flow on effect to your team and will lay the foundation for commitment, contribution, growth and fulfilment.
Positive relationships can go a long way. A team works better when they feel secure, comfortable and have emotional connections with the people they work with. You should play a proactive role in nurturing each educator so that their strengths are maximised and their weaknesses minimised.
You may struggle to present the strong, rational and calm leader you are all the time. It’s often a learning curve for you too. However, it is best to self-regulate any feelings as your educators will feed off your feelings. If you seem stressed and overwhelmed, they’ll think something is wrong and will end up feeling that way too. It is necessary that you maintain a comfortable and confident front with your employees.
Characteristic: Role Model
You are always leading by example. The challenge is to be the best role model you can be at all times. Disney famously tells all its staff that they’re there to “put on a show” and whether you’re the person taking the tickets at the front gate or the CEO, you make sure that you’re calm, collected and that the audience enjoys themselves.
Strategy: Lead by example
If you break the rules, you can’t expect your educators to follow them. For example, if you say everyone gets programming time and you consistently forget to give your educators this time, they will disrespect you, stop doing anything and start making you look silly. They may find another job and leave without completing their portfolios.
Characteristic: Vision and the Ability to Dream
Looking at the “big picture” and developing the ability to have perspective on how things fall into place is critical. This will allow you to overcome any incidents and prioritise the right amount of attention to a task and choose the appropriate solution.
Do not let go of your vision. Your vision will guide the attitude of your team, and you should not be afraid to share it with the whole service and the community.
Strategy: Get your Team Members on Board
Collaborate with your team and incorporate their input. Agree on the goal and work together to produce strategies to enable you to get there. Outline who’s responsible for each step.
Characteristic: Thinking Systematically
Approach problems with a view to find a solution. Work with your team to improve a system or process to allow educators to succeed in their job and meet your expectation.
Strategy: Implement and Follow Policies
You need to implement and then follow clear systematic policies. If something doesn’t work, then educators need to give feedback on what the impact was on their role. Seek collaboration and agreement on issues that need to be changed or fixed through questionnaires and discussions at team meetings and come up with strategies to manage it.
Characteristic: Honest and Open Communication
Honesty doesn’t mean sharing everything with everyone. However, maintaining open and honest lines of communication will mean that your team will learn from your standards and reciprocate by being open and honest with you.
Strategy: Act with Integrity
Ensure that there is constant communication with your educators, such as a Communications Book. Give clear and consistent direction, especially with shift changes in the afternoon. Ensure all children’s clothes are on eg shoes and socks and everyone knows who soiled their clothes and where they are because there is nothing worse than a parent freaking out about a top Max is wearing that doesn’t belong to him while no one knows where his clothes are because the Room Leader has finished the shift.
Characteristic: Teach People How to Treat You
If you always answer your educator’s questions and become their go-to for every small thing, they’ll never learn the skills or the knowledge they need to work independently.
Strategy: Teach your educators to come to you with solutions, not problems
If your educators are constantly asking you questions about the regulations and you’re answering them, they are not acquiring knowledge. They just know that you know the answer. Give your staff access to the Regulations and resources to empower them with the knowledge to solve their own problems.
Lead with your service philosophy to inspire your Educators and make them accountable to the standards you, your families and children expect. In some instances, team members may question a situation but it is always easier, fairer and more professional to fall back on the standards you have set (and communicated) with your team. They need to know what your expectations are and learn that near enough is not enough.
Showing strength is different from being stubborn. You are able to change your mind without bowing to pressure. Base your decisions on honesty, fairness, professionalism and the best result for the given situation, your team and the children and their families.
Strategy: Collaborative decision making
If you’ve made the decision to pursue something with a different approach, take the time to explain to your educators why you are changing the process. Take the time to incorporate their feedback and look at options for change that suit everybody.
Characteristic: Fairness, Reasonableness and Consistency
Being consistent and fair with your team will build respect for your role as a leader. A leader should not call favours or privilege some team members above others. It’s important that you use balanced judgement at all times.
Remember, there’s a distinct difference between being rational and being reasonable. Do not let the rules get in the way of fairness and good judgement in unusual circumstances.
Strategy: Consistent Expectations
For example, Educators may get behind in compiling their portfolios. Your expectation in ensuring that portfolios are up to date should be the same for all educators regardless of who you may be friendlier with. Of course there will be situations which require reasonableness however what you expect from one educator must be the same for others. When you allow one educator to not meet your standard you set a precedence which allows others to do the same.
Characteristic: Thoroughness and Persistence
At times, you will be required to make decision quickly. It is good idea to take a step back for a moment, put the decision into context, and take some extra time to make the right decision that is best for the long term operations of the room. Think critically before you act.
Strategy: Transparent communication
For example, a family brings in a child who has been unwell and they tell one of your educators the child was prescribed antibiotics the previous evening. You could just ignore it or you could investigate to ascertain the full details. The condition may be infectious and need exclusion or others may contract the illness. By being thorough and persistent and knowing the service policy, contacting the family for more detail and checking exclusion details you are protecting others and leading by example.
It’s really important that you actively listen to the full detail of the situation and then choose your course of action rather than jumping in too fast and making a rash decision. Calmness will provide reassurance to others in the team and that you have the matter in hand and are in control of the situation.
Strategy: Approach Situations Calmly
A parent is reacting to an incident that has occurred in the room. You should calmly investigate and discuss the issue with the parent to resolve the issue as soon as possible.
While you lead the team, you’re also a member of it. Therefore, you must share the accountability. If things are not at your standard, share the responsibility and immediately begin to act to rectify. Remind your educators of the vision and philosophy and give feedback in a constructive, supportive way.
Strategy: Back your team
You have to stand up for your team and your practices when you believe you are doing the right thing. For example, there is a demanding family member who is constantly criticising your educators. You have discussed this situation with the educator and believe she has followed service policies and procedures. You advise the family member that educators are following service policies and procedures, and they may raise any concerns with the Regulatory Authority if they wish.
Your educators will make honest mistakes. They need to be handled with patience and tolerance.
Intentional misbehaviour and dishonesty cannot be tolerated and should be addressed immediately.
Strategy: Patient Performance Management
For example, an educator speaks English as a second language and repeatedly gets the labelled belongings of the infants mixed up and packed in the incorrect bags. She rushes because she wants to show she can do the job well and you have spoken to her before about taking her time to check and double check names. You speak to her once more but this time explain to her the wasted time, energy and frustration of the parent when the wrong items are returned home. You reassure her that taking a little longer saves time in the long run. You continue to remind her of the importance of her actions and acknowledge the improvement.
Characteristic: Commitment to Improvement and Learning
Educators must focus on continuous improvement and should be encouraged to think outside the box! At the same time, use existing ways until the newer, better, faster version is ready to implement.
Strategy: Educators should help to compile the Quality Improvement Plan
A newly graduated ECT commences at your service and starts to discuss importance of critical reflection as a key strategy to improve teaching strategies and moral and ethical issues impacting on children’s learning. You hear another educator tell her that that is not how we do it. We have always just evaluated what equipment we had out and we have been doing that for 15 years. As the leader you cannot allow others to shut this educator’s knowledge down instead you interject and ask more about her views of critical reflection and advocate for it explaining that all educators need to commit to reflect, assess and continually improve their professional practice.
When an employee identifies with your vision and values it as an integral part of their own personal goals, you have a powerful combination of a person’s vision, commitment and talent with those of the service. When those are aligned, you have mutual loyalty.
Strategy: Invest in your educators’ talent
Your educators’ natural talents and interests can be assets for your room. For example, an educator who is passionate about yoga, an educator who has worked in childcare overseas or an educator who used to work in a customer service role can all bring different elements to your room and curriculum. Encourage your educators to bring forward ideas, give them time to research it, encourage professional development and support them to implement their ideas.
Characteristic: Avoid the “Poison” of Cynicism
Thinking cynically is unproductive. It won’t earn you the respect of your team. Cynics, in the worst instances, are dissatisfied people who are suspicious of the motives of others and expect the worst from every situation. They are the sarcastic pessimists of the world and they bring down those around them with negativity.
Strategy: Be resilient
Sometimes work can feel like you’re banging your head into a wall. Acknowledge that and try not to get disheartened. Take the time to take care of yourself and bounce back from disappointments. Look at the strategy you used to approach the outcome you were trying to achieve. Try it again from a different perspective, but remember to choose your battles.
Characteristic: Analysing Risk and Making Contingencies
Developing the ability to foresee issues before they are on top of you will allow you to ensure that risk is minimised. Just as you did for your own personal goals, list the barriers and limitations you have at work and work out how to prevent them from happening.
Strategy: Plan Ahead
You have plans in place to manage the biting behaviour of young children based on advice from outside professionals, collaborations with families and other educators.
Finally, Keep at it!