4.1 The importance of leadership
The growing emphasis on leadership is based on the premise that effective leadership leads to improved outcomes for children’s care, learning and development. Rost (1991) describes leadership as a dynamic relationship located in a group of people, where leaders and collaborators work together to generate change.
Leadership can be viewed as an interactive, two-way process of influence. Whether or not an individual practitioner is designated, for example as ‘in charge’ of a department, all practitioners are still in a position to reflect on their own practice, and effect change and influence the quality of provision. The idea of leadership as an interactive process enables all those working in a school – whether as a practioner or in other roles – to work together in a culture of learning and shared knowledge to ensure that the school pupils are provided with an excellent education. Governors’ work forms part of that shared learning and knowledge.
Developing a team culture is a key aspect of leadership. The nature and structure of the team will vary according to context and the work to be done, but those in the team should be working towards common goals. Crucial to this way of working are communication and the strategies used by team leaders and members.
Activity 8: Leadership abilities
Reflect on your own experience of leadership, whether as part of a team or as a leader. Make a note of three abilities you expect a leader to demonstrate.
Leaders draw upon their own experiences, skills, knowledge and abilities. Successful leaders demonstrate a range of abilities. Your list of abilities will be drawn from your own experience and may include some of the following:
- effective communication skills
- an ability to take responsibility
- an ability to make informed decisions
- a willingness to learn.
This is not an exhaustive list and it is important to remember that individuals can show evidence of leadership without having a designated leadership role.
Leadership itself is a varied, fragmented process, enacted in a context of change and interwoven among day-to-day management tasks. Leadership is effective if it develops the leadership of those in the team. The role of the leader, therefore, is to consciously encourage others to lead themselves. The purpose of this is not to make the leader’s life easier, but to use everyone’s talents to best effect. Leaders play a significant role in enabling other practitioners to develop the necessary capabilities to enhance the quality of provision. It may be that practitioners should aspire to adopt the qualities of leadership identified by McCall and Lawlor (2000) who suggest that:
Leadership must be visionary. Leaders must hold some idea of the future, the distant horizon and full game plan and they need the capacity to maintain personal and team momentum on the journey towards securing the desired goal. They must also show rich human qualities such as an allegiance to a mission, curiosity, daring, a sense of adventure and strong interpersonal skills, including fair and sensitive management of those who work with them. They must be able to motivate themselves and others, demonstrate a commitment to what they espouse, release the talents and energies of others, have strength of character, yet remain flexible in attitude and be willing to learn new techniques and new skills.
Effective educational provision requires leaders, and all practitioners, to continually reflect on children’s experiences in their setting and, in partnership with families, governors and other professionals, to initiate change for improvement.
Leadership is the concern of everyone, irrespective of the role they hold in their setting. Think about what the particular qualities, skills and abilities of a leader actually are. Listed below is a summarised version of a selection of Reed’s (2009) personal qualities, skills and abilities that may characterise an effective leader.
Qualities of leadership in early years practitioners (Reed, 2009):
- possessing clear knowledge of strengths and weaknesses of self and colleagues
- ensuring effective transfer of information about children and families
- engaging in effective partnership working
- taking initiative and being innovative; encouraging colleagues to do the same
- leading by example
- finding ways to reflect on practice, and encouraging colleagues to do the same.
Working in early years settings is becoming increasingly complex and the roles demand high levels of knowledge and skills in practitioners and leaders. Jones and Pound (2008) use the phrase ‘inclusive leadership’, supporting the idea that early years provision is too demanding to be met exclusively by any one person. This suggests that each member of the whole team, to a greater or lesser extent, has a crucial part to play. In this sense there may be a designated leader, but the culture of the setting is not one of ‘leader and followers’ – rather, it is that of a team with everyone working comfortably in a climate of evaluation and reflection.
One common denominator in an early years setting is that a number of adults are involved. A home-based practitioner, for example, may not appear to be in a ‘team’ or be a ‘leader’ but may be working with other home-based practitioners, children’s centres and local support services. Early years practitioners need leadership skills for a host of purposes, including:
- leading the curriculum
- working with parents and carers
- developing policies
- working with other professionals or agencies
- working with governors
- dealing with conflict
- organising the school and learning environment.