In order to open and then manage a child care center, conventional wisdom says that the director must be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, and clean.
Conventional wisdom also says that the director should be a good planner, evaluator, decision maker, problem solver, conflict resolver, budget keeper, motivator, communicator, trainer, advocate, and, when the need arises, plumber.
But the most effective directors I have known have other intangible strengths as well. And, they are the true leaders of their programs.
Leaders are masters of inspiring hope. Each day in the life of a child care center, hassles occur that can discourage even the hardiest among us. When frustrations build to the tipping point, it would be very easy for the staff to throw in the towel, to stop caring about doing a good job. When staff morale hits an all-time low, the organization needs a true believer. Effective directors put things into perspective; see the silver lining; the light at the end of the tunnel; the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. They are the bearers of the torch, the defenders of the faith, and the dealers of hope.
Leaders keep an element of surprise up their sleeves – which keeps the organization engaged and moving forward. Effective directors keep people on their toes, not by surprising them with constant changes of direction, but by challenging them to think about what they are doing. True leaders stimulate people, not by the answers they give, but by the questions they ask. Effective directors are masters at asking questions that make people think!
- Are the children really happy at our center?
- Are we focusing on goals that really matter?
- Are we achieving these goals?
- Are we using all of our skills and talents?
- Are we trying to do too much? Too little?
- Are we too orderly? Too chaotic?
Leaders save themselves for the big decisions. Effective directors say to their staff, “Feel free to come to me with your problems, but only after you have exhausted all your resources.” They support the growth of staff members by forcing them to dig deeply for solutions, by encouraging them to take risks, and by reassuring them when they make mistakes. Effective directors challenge staff to solve their own problems, but guarantee that they will not fail. If staff exhaust their own resources, directors will do all they can to help them succeed. Effective directors provide a safety net, not a crutch.
Leaders have a sense of humor. Effective directors set the tone for their child care centers. If their programs are to be successful, they need to use their sense of purpose to keep staff focused, and they need to use their sense of humor to instill staff with joy and spirit. When things seem to be falling apart, a sense of humor and a light touch from an effective director works wonders! One thing I have noticed in the really top early childhood programs I have visited is that staff members truly enjoy their work. Not only are they crafting a stimulating and nurturing environment for children, but they are also having a great time in the process. These staff members enjoy working with one another, interacting with parents, and, yes, at times, teasing their directors. There is a balance of work and play in these programs. Magical!
And finally, leaders don’t rest on their laurels. Effective directors know that their successes can be fleeting and that they must bring their best to work each day to maintain what has been accomplished, and to challenge themselves and their teams to continue to raise the bar. This push for excellence is in the DNA of effective leaders. As one challenge is met, another goal is set. Ever onward and upward! For effective directors, the joy is not in getting the job done, but in the deep satisfaction of knowing that they gave it their all – and made positive differences in the lives of many, many, along the way.