Defining the role of the Early Years leader
The first mystery which needs exploring on my quest for answers needs to be ‘what is a leader’. Can the role of a leader be defined in the same way you could, say, a plumber, an airline pilot or a car mechanic? What skills, characteristics and behaviours does a leader posses and what makes a leader a great leader? Does the leadership role change depending on what level you are within the setting? And finally once I know the answers, do I have what it takes?
The debate between management and leadership is as old as time, the terms are used side by side in the Ofsted framework and yet job titles within early years seem to only consider the management element ,for example Nursery Manager. Does this mean that within our industry we put more emphasis on the management duties? it certainly feels like that element gets the lions share of attention. Could it be that managing numbers, data and promotional materials are easier than working out a solution to poor performance? It is certainly less emotive!
Management – “The act of co-ordinating the efforts of people to accomplish desired goals and objectives using available resources efficiently and effectively”
Leadership – “A process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task”
Management is about control, top down decisions, tangible things, measurable outputs. Leadership however requires influence, the ability to motivate people, to find their drivers and work collectively to a shared vision. Which would you say is the easiest and what is the majority of your time spent on?
The Ofsted framework talks about the effectiveness of management and leadership, how well managers can demonstrate an ambitious vision. What does an ambitious vision look like and how can it be measured? If you set a target of achieving 10 additional full time children, you simply count the children but how do you know if your vision is ambitious?
One of the grade descriptors for outstanding in management and leadership is “The pursuit of excellence in all of the setting’s activities is demonstrated by an uncompromising, highly successful drive to improve achievement or maintain the highest levels of achievement for all children”. Please don’t think I making any criticism of Ofsted, I am merely considering what and how we measure leadership success, show me a picture of an uncompromising, highly successful drive.
Maybe this is why leadership within early years is so difficult, a leader is required to be all things to all people, know everything about everything, be everywhere at all times, have the ability to monitor effectiveness using tangible and intangible measures and smile sweetly to difficult parents at the end of a very long day!