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Spot The Leader!


‘The  only real training for leadership is leadership.’ Antony Jay

Owners frequently ask me “Laura, do you know any decent managers, I have a vacancy to fill?” They also ask ”Why aren’t there enough decent managers?”  I have to agree with these owners and think that, as a sector, we need to reflect on this and find solutions.

An effective manager is one who can truly lead a setting into a zone of quality. Over the years I have had many difficult conversations with managers where I have had to inform them that actually their setting is being managed and not led. There are many tell tale signs, for example the quality of the setting is ineffective and the manager does not have clarity around their visions and values in order to lead the setting. I come away scratching my head, thinking this person has been in post for x amount of years and has attended leadership and management training. But, they are not leading their setting! On the other hand it is a joy to see managers who are effective and productive leaders and are able to continuously improve their setting.

I believe that we should place more emphasis on leadership and even consider using the term Setting Leader as supposed to Setting Manager. As we know, there is a clear difference between a leader and a manager.

One owner who has been trying to recruit a manager for the last 18 months said to me in frustration ”Laura, I need a leader, not a manager!”  If we think about this, anyone can manage, for instance a practitioner manages to set up their room in the morning. But, this does not make them a leader. I also believe that not everyone can lead, even if they have been on numerous leadership and management courses! Also, an effective deputy is sometimes not suitable to transfer into the role of setting manager.

I believe that as a sector we need to prioritise training in this area. Although, leadership and management training has its benefits for existing managers, the focus should be on identifying future leaders. I have seen many practitioners, staff without early years qualifications and even 16 year olds, who I can clearly see have that ‘special something’ which would make them an effective leader, from their confidence, vision and reflective approach. However, sometimes the ‘special something’ can be sucked out of the practitioner from having an ineffective management team and/or being in a poor quality setting.

There are colleagues who say that existing leadership and management training and even elements of the Early Years Professional Status should give a manager what they need in order to lead. If this is this case, why are we not seeing effective managers and leaders in our settings?

I think we should come together as a sector and devise a national programme of training: ‘Future Leaders in Early Years’ . More importantly the training and development has to be early years focused and not just generic leadership and management training. Within my current leadership training courses, I have a strong focus around the individual’s personal development, as you can’t lead others without knowing who you are and how your behaviour impacts on others. This fits into our sector very well as we carefully support children with their emotional well-being; we need to mirror this onto our staff.

Leadership training should give future leaders the skills and knowledge that they need to be innovative, creative and passionate about their role. Although within any leadership training there is a place for theory, there should be clear links as to how the theory links to practice within an early years setting. This will help our settings to be effective and more importantly owners no longer saying ‘Why can’t I find a decent manager?’

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  • Nathan Archer

    Great blog Laura. Particularly interested in your thoughts around vision and values. We are currently looking at how we better communicate our values; make them more visible and live them out – no small task!

  • laurachildcare

    Thank you! We can speak about the Vision and Values and an exercise I use in my Leadership training. 🙂

  • Penny Webb

    Really interested in your comments Laura about vison and values – I think this links very closely to the setting ethos. Within all settings I think everyone – managers, practitioners, parents and the children need to have an understanding of the settings ethos – its values – or in simple terms what is important – what is whole point of everything connected to the setting.

    Leaders – of the whole setting, of the room or area of the activity – and of self – need to understand the values of setting because if they don’t there will be constant confict of interests and misunderstanding, no clear direction – in fact many people pulling in different directions.

    Relating back to the children – I could’ manage’ tidy up time by telling the children to tidy up – they could put everything in one box, or push into a corner, or even hide the toys out of sight under a table! Or I could ‘manage it’ by just doing it myself( and in the short term with the two year olds in my care – this would be a easier option) or I could ‘lead’ by Modelling how to sort the toys and return to the right box, by explaining the benefits of being able to find your favourite toy or all the bits to make something. Leading will in my opinion have a bigger impact in the long term then just ‘managing’ the task.

    Apply this to everything in the setting – and although may be hard going to start with – the impact on the setting, the adults and the children – in the long term will ensure that everyone will become a leader as appropriate to the situation.

    And if wondering if I have any evidence of this – well I don’t have staff or lead a large setting as a registered childminder leading my own setting – but those 2 year olds I mentioned – can now tidy up without support – putting things in the right boxes and even knowing why we tidy up and when we have specific tidy up times (such as before lunch and when finished playing with a particular resource.- this morning the 2.5 year old said we must put aweay the dressing up things we might slip – the 2.1 year old said ‘in here, in the basket, the 2.9 year old said ‘ yes come on everyone we look after our toys at ‘Penny’s Place’. If as a leader of my setting I can achieve this with two year olds – just think what an effective leader of a staff team in an early years team could achieve.

    Oh and Laura I agree totally about your comments that training should be sector specific.

  • Kimberly M

    Laura, your entry has prompted me to make my first ever reply to a blog. A big step for me!

    That probably shows how inept I am at technology. In fact, I am pretty inept at quite a few things if I am totally honest with myself. Which is why I have at my right hand a manager who is really rather good at the things I am not. Like “ying and yang,” we balance, challenge, support, inspire, frustrate, admire and care for each other in equal measure. I would be lost wihout her becuase she makes my job a joy to do. And she leads our staff in total harmony with my own vision and values as owner. She can do this because she genuinely shares our values and because we both believe in them fully.

    Today we had this very conversation – who would take over if she decided to put her feet up and retire? How fortuitous – and how frustrating – that it is a challenge shared by our industry as a whole.

    We worry — is there any one in our current team who could step up to take on the leadership? If not, what is the alternative? To bring someone in from the outside? Yeesh. Would our team ever recover that potential intrusion? But what is worse? The damage that could be done by someone who is not able to lead but who has been part of the team before? Sure, our staff can manage the operations of a Nursery. They do it rather well, in fact. But can they lead? Can they inspire confidence in parents? Can they enable the staff to reach their fullest potential? Do they sit at night and read your blog, as we do, hungry to know what is going on out there and to contribute to it? Do they have that ache to constantly imptove? Do they digest every book they can on theory and practice? Do they have views on the things that mould our industry? Do they push a bit further, give a bit more, stand up for something and stand strong in the face of opposition? Ummmmm. I am thinking not….

    We are smart enough to consider succession planning now, while there is time. We want to train, support and develop our deputy managers and give them every opportunity to step up one day. BUT HOW????

    What tools are availalbe to us to turn a good deputy into a great manager?
    What techniques can we use to break through their personal skill “ceiling” to unlock get to their true leadership potential?
    How do we differentiate the real leadership stars from the management heroes?
    And when we identify them, how do we equip them to lead as well as to manage?

    Frankly, this keeps me awake at night.

    Perhaps since it is keeping others up at night too, we can join hands and come up with an answer that will help us all…

    We just need a good leader!

    • laurachildcare

      Thanks, Kimberley, pleased that this blog inspired you to reply and for sharing your personal thoughts. Indeed, like you I believe we should discuss this important subject and the impact that a strong/reflective leader has on children’s outcomes.

  • sally

    As a new manager in my setting I was very interested in your leadership blog. I have made that transition from deputy to manager. After 13 years of service in my company I am amazed by how much I am learning, through that transition, already.

    I really agreed with your recent seminar, at the nursery world show. Too little support is offered to management in our sector. For many of us, we have learnt our trades along the way, with little formal management training. In an ever changing sector many of us strive for better, and it is this passion that drives us on and fuels the fire.

    My question is:

    is a manager born or can they be made?

    • laurachildcare

      Thanks Sally and for attending my seminar at NW. I believe that we can train to manage. But, leadership is totally different. I agree we need more training around Leadership and Management and more importantly Leadership.

  • Lorna Taylor

    Great, thought-provoking blog as always Laura, I definitely agree Leaders are “innovative, creative and passionate” and perhaps born with these qualities? These still need nuturing and space to grow.
    I certainly believe specific Early Years training can help those who are passionate and receptive to learn leadership qualities.
    Specific sector training (in many areas) and personal development are so important-not only for individuals, but for an organisation and ultimately the children themselves.
    Thank you for sharing, Lorna

    • laurachildcare

      Thank you, Lorna. Indeed an emerging leader needs to have specific continuous professional and personal development training. That will allow them to blossom into an effective leader.

  • Penny Webb

    I am very interested in the replies from those who are managers – and those that have really good leaders but are worrying about how to replace these people when the time comes.

    In my previous employment with the local authority I saw a lot of managers – who frankly were not leaders – and often resulted in good members of staff leaving due to the impact of being managed in the ‘I am right – you do as I say style’ (I was one of those people).

    I think as Laura says training is going to vital – and I suggest that actually good leaders – already demonstrate their skills in this – and they maybe the one who is seen as the ‘trouble maker’ – the one who likes to question ‘why’ and to make suggestions at staff meeting as to possible alternative view points. Maybe these people need to be identiffied and supported to develop their skills in leadership?

    However – the issue of what to do if there are no ‘born leaders’ within a setting needs to be addressed – and a totally different type of training needs to developed – because a true leader with the skills in leading – should be able to go into any setting – and if given the opportunity to observe practice and talk to staff so tha tfully understands the settings current practice, the history of the setting – be able to lead. At the moment I don’t think the EYPS course is producing such leaders – I personally know a few who have EYPS status – but are not ‘leading’ in any shape or form.

    So back to you Laura – can you bring together a group of inspirational leaders who can help you develop the training required – both for staff in settings who need support to become future leaders and those natural leaders who are out there – maybe in settings where their skills are not recognised, or people who are new to the sector.

    • laurachildcare

      Penny, how true! I have seen this where an individual with the ‘special something’ has been seen as a ‘trouble maker’. Because they question the manager and practice and all of their suggestions are dismissed. They should not been seen as a threat but, having a reflective and innovative approach.

      • sally

        I have certainly seen evidence of this over the years. I think ‘managers’ should be willing to accept constructive criticism as part of the bigger evaluation of a setting (and themselves). Although not always comfortable, sometimes we learn the most out of our comfort zone!

      • Mandy Powell

        Wow! This is the first time I have read something that actually rings so true of so many settings. After much thinking, reading and experience (good and very bad) it seems to me that leadership is the most important aspect of any setting or school, without it your staff have no respect, no vision, no enthusiasm through the ‘bad times’ and staff leave and the vicious circle continues. So many times have I come across this and I am now so happy you are raising this issue Laura. I am often seen as the ‘trouble maker’ because I do not accept ‘Just because we always have done it like that!’. I am teaching in a ‘satisfactory’ school and yet the staff seem satisfied with what they achieve and do not reflect or evaluate their work in any way. I ask questions, give suggestions, look at research yet it is just not answered in any way. What can be done?

        • laurachildcare

          Hi Mandy, thank you for your response. If you are in school, could you not approach the headteacher and/or Governors? Children do deserve the best. One way to guarantee this is to make sure that the leadership is effective.

  • Carol Bushell

    I agree with the comment about that ‘special something’ and definitely know a few 16 year olds who fall into this category! Future leaders training would be a great idea!

    • laurachildcare

      Thanks, Carol, we will have to get on board CWDC, Department of Education, member organisations and those of us in the sector who are passionate about Leadership to make this happen. Out of acorns……..?

  • Kimberly M

    HERE HERE! I agree with Penny! Over to you, Laura, to bring together some people who can make this happen for the future of our sector. If anyone can make this happen, it is you – our favourite catalyst!

  • Tracy Seed

    I absolutely agree with you Laura that an effective manager is one who can truly lead a setting into a zone of quality. Effective leadership is key for the early years sector. It seems that there is still minimal support for the development of leaders. Much of the training being offered focuses on management today and very little is offered to support those managers developing the skills and competencies that they need to lead their team, the setting and most importantly themselves in this role.
    As you know, my trainings, like yours, also focus on leaders developing the qualities and skills that help them to step forward in confidence, with self awareness of the drivers underlying their behaviours and attitudes- values, beliefs, feelings and needs. The ability to manage themselves, their thinking, emotions, time, learning needs etc…. the ability to competently see various perspectives, communicate effectively, resolve conflicts, facilitate mediate, coach and mentor etc…It is absolutely wonderful to be able to offer this work.. I say yes, yes when you say “ I think we should come together as a sector and devise a national programme of training: ‘Future Leaders in Early Years’ More importantly the training and development has to be early years focused and not just generic leadership and management training.. Yes, I agree….
    I also agree with you when you say “as we carefully support children with their emotional well-being; we need to mirror this onto our staff.”
    You maybe interested to read this study which focuses on the value of offering CPD where the participants are able to discuss and highlight the emotional complexity of their work. ….Elfer, Peter and Dearnley, Katy (2007) ‘Nurseries and emotional well-being: the authors evaluate an emotionally containing model of professional development’ for childcare staff http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09575140701594418 and conclude that when participants were able to discuss and highlight the emotional complexity of their work there were significant shifts in interactions with the children and the parents.
    I could say so much more….I will wait until we meet sometime soon and I look forward very much to us working together sometime soon too ….

    • laurachildcare

      Thanks for sharing, Tracy, I know we have discussed this so many times in the past! Like you, I feel so strongly that we could do so much to prepare the future leaders within early years.

      Leadership training should be a priority! I remember a few years ago planning a termly training manual with a colleague and when I suggested that we should prioritise Leadership and Management training, she said no it is not a priority! Not a priority?! How can we support staff to understand the fundamentals of safeguarding children, working in partnership with parents, etc, if they Manager of the setting is not effective in their role? Yes, let us get the ball rolling with a programme for ‘future leaders within Early Years.’

  • Sophie Caulfield

    Hi Laura,

    An interesting read an I completely agree. I often say to my staff and team leaders that we are all conductors creating a symphony. We all have individual parts to play but each part is important. I will follow the lead from my staff as much as taking the lead myself. That way we are using each others strengths.

  • Michelle

    Good leaders are so important, unfortunately I see a few workers come through my team whom have not had the benefit of a good leader and then do not have the confidence to communicate their idea’s. I have a full time member of staff whom has worked in childcare far longer than I have, she has worked with me for 8 years now and says that she is still learning more with me than she has learnt in her career in other settings. I rarely say we need to do this or this should be done, but I am in the room with the staff and children on a regular basis and model the communications and interactions I want to see others do, this member of staff even said that she had never been in a setting where the children were told “please don’t do that because… ” which I find astounding. I have had to encourage this member of staff over the years to “bring her idea’s to the table” as this has been a struggle for her. It is very disheartening to see a good childcare worker cautious about speaking her mind. I think a good leadership course is a fantastic idea, so many think leading is telling what to do, I have found showing and doing is a far more effective way of others seeing what works.

    And I totally agree that the EYPS is not turning out the leaders it thought it would, something new is needed, I would attend as you can never have to much training and there is always room for improvement. if anyone can come up with an effective leadership training it will be you Laura.

  • Vanessa

    Working alongside early years managers encourages me to believe its all about the one’s understanding of what makes a leader- also some leaders are natural born whereas others need that extra guidance through mentoring/coaching or training. I think that as well as training all setting should have some form of behavioural values within the setting led from the top which is framework and the ethos that helps continuously develop all leaders within the setting with this in mind setting will notice the benefits. I would really debate whether the EYPS does support leaders in settings as any training I deliver would focus on both structure as a leader and emotional intelligence that translate into behaviours. Developing leadership and business practice are so very important – I’m backing this topic all the way!

  • Beth Thomas

    Hi Laura
    I found this blog post very interesting. There is actually a course set up by a government initiative through Canterbury university called ‘new leaders in early years’. I have one of their students on placement in my Childminding setting and I have to say, although I like the initial thought and idea of it, I wouldn’t like the idea of this particular student leading my setting. If this course was going to be rolled out nationally it would need to have a very stringent recruitment process so as to only take on those with clear leadership qualities.
    Canterbury uni have a website dedicated to this course which outlines who they were looking for – people who already have a good degree in any subject and have an interest in children. By the end of the course of two years they would gain EYPS and an MA in early years. I personally don’t like it, it seems almost like a PGCE for EY which in my mind doesn’t make any sense – learning how to teach in primary or secondary when you have a specific subject is fine, but in the early years you need so much specialised knowledge I would argue that two years experience in placements is not enough to give someone a qualification that far advanced.
    Have a look at the website, it comes up in search. I would love to know your thoughts.
    Thanks, Beth

    • laurachildcare

      Thanks, Beth. I am aware of this course. I agree with you and my training would be for those individuals who already work directly with young children.

    • Penny Webb

      Thanks Beth for this info – I find it worrying that it is still thought by some that a degree is a sign of ‘something special’ andf worth pumping more money into – in the hope of providing the skills needed (this applies to everything not just childcare)

      I agree totally with you about the amount of experience – for some 2 years would be enough – if they were born leaders and very motivated – but for many they lack what is needed both to work as a hands on practitioner (which is vital if you are to understand what makes a child, a staff team, a setting ‘tick) or as a inspirational leader.

      I am sure those undertaking the course will be good at ‘ticking boxes’ and writing a good essay with valid points – but in my opinion this is not what is needed.

      Laura – thank goodness you understand this and plan to provide the right sort of training to those who ready work with children.

  • Mandy Powell

    Having been on the EYPS course, I decided to remove myself from it. It is not providing ‘leadership’ training, just ticking boxes and gives little feedback. It also, sadly seems to be ‘who you know’ and not what you know! Its status is very low and hardly ever mentioned in vacancy ads. What ashame the government has spent all this money on it. We need the type of course you are suggesting and those who want to learn and improve to be on it.

  • Emma

    Great blog it has really help and encourage me read the different blogs. I am manager. I am very passion about my role and the value of what are nursery stand for. I am alway saying to my director it is about leading the team not managing and use there strength to move the nursery forwards. I am doing a management and leadership course at moment and feel that this is teaching me load as like other on here have said I have had to learn as I go. I have a great staff team and there are pertental leader within my team. It is about encouraging and supporting them and help them to develop into thou roles.

  • Katheryn Davies (@KatherynDavies)

    I agree that the teaching of Leadership and Management skills are sadly lacking the early years but would like to say I was inspired reading this blog and with EY Talking’s emphasis on Leadership and Management in the Early Years this week. I would say I am an effective manager but leadership needs some improvement. However, I altered my mindset and felt empowered to go to work today as a leader and experienced positivity and enthusiasm from my staff. This is just the beginning and there is a lot more to be achieved, thank you.

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