Leadership and management are equally important in supporting and sustaining high standards in early childhood education and care settings and creating a stimulating environment for both staff and children. Leadership in childcare allows workers to deliver the best services, thereby positively impacting children’s learning development and well-being. Effective leadership and management in childcare also reduces absenteeism and staff turnover.

A leader can be anyone who can motivate and inspire those around them. They do not need a fancy job title, an essential degree from a prominent university, or a high rank in the military to be considered a good leader.

In this guide on leadership in childcare, we will cover the most critical aspects of leadership and management in early childhood education. We’ll explain what a leader is, why it’s so important, and how you can become the leader your center needs.

Why Leadership is Important in Early Childhood Education

Early learning professionals face challenges every day from children to career possibilities, there are plenty of difficulties that come with being an Early Childhood Education practitioner. Every staff member is invested in the young children they serve. Their skill and passion for their work provide quality care to children across our nation. Nevertheless, this work is complex and can be exhausting.

With all the trials childcare providers face today, being a solid leader becomes more important. We must never lose sight of goals to improve learning outcomes for children and rally the entire community to share in this goal.

Many childcare centers with a small staff stretched thin and wearing multiple hats do amazing things with the resources they have. And if you take a close look, you will see how they accomplish more because of strong leadership. Having strong leadership in childcare is incredibly important because exemplary leadership will instill confidence and help children solve problems creatively, work in a team, and work collaboratively.

The Difference Between Leadership and Management in Childcare

The difference between leadership and management in childcare is the degree of trust the followers or team members have in their leader. Management is based on control and authority, while leadership is based on influence and trust. Leadership lies in behavior, which is also known as “character.” A good leader leads by example, but the best leaders never stop growing. This is because great leaders aren’t about their skills; it is about how well they can influence others.

The main difference is that management is about organizing; it’s the glue that holds organizations together. Leadership is about inspiring others and directing the organization towards ambitious common goals.

Management tends to use rational thinking, planning, and execution to achieve specific work outcomes. Leadership tends toward the more emotional aspects of helping people perform optimally and is more closely tied to individual personality and authenticity. But when combined, leadership and management in childcare create an inspiring and well-organized program.

How to be a good leader in childcare

While there are many definitions of what a leader is, we believe that leadership goes beyond titles and positions. It is the sum of an individual or group’s ability to guide and facilitate others’ success through influence, communication, and a collection of important characteristics for strong leadership in childcare.
Being a strong, respected leader comes naturally to some, but others have to work hard to make it happen. Regardless of how easy it is for you, certain qualities can be taught and help you become a valuable leader in early childhood education, including:

Never Stop Growing

It is through learning that leaders are made, so it is crucial for the growth of individuals and their organizations. If a leader stop learning, it is likely that they will no longer be one in time.
Being a learner is about being open-minded. This means that you need to be able to accept new ideas and new experiences, even if they are drastically different from what you have been used to. These days, there is no shortage of ways to learn, so take advantage of whatever works best for you and the childcare program.

Inspire Others

Support others, encourage them, and empower them to achieve greatness. Showing your colleagues how important they are as part of a team will raise their performance and self-confidence.

Know That it’s a Journey, not a Destination

Improvements in your professional life happen over time. A one-day course won’t be enough to make you a better leader or improve your team’s skills. You need to commit to this for weeks, months, and/or years.

Have a Clear Vision

Make sure that you are getting regular feedback from your team, so you know where they’re at. Bringing them into a dialogue and making them feel part of the process will help you make the most out of your team.

Create a Positive Environment

By being empathetic to your colleagues and ensuring their workload doesn’t interfere with their happiness and stress levels at work, you’ll be able to create a productive working environment where enjoyment of work and the boss’s visions are shared between all.

Make People Feel Valued

Help your team to feel valued. Make sure your staff know when you’re available and how to reach you and show them praise when you can.

Leadership Styles in Childcare

Knowing your leadership style—influential, authoritative, or participative—may also remove the need for getting feedback. Each leadership in childcare style has its pitfalls, allowing you to remediate areas of improvement proactively. This is critical because some employees might hesitate to speak up, even in an anonymous survey.

Participative Leadership

The Participative leadership style works closely with the team; they remove the hierarchy without eliminating boundaries. This leader connects with each team member and makes decisions based on input from all sources. Until a project is complete, all employees have an equal say in its direction.

When you practice participative style leadership, you allow lower-level employees to make decisions and exercise the authority they’ll need to use wisely in future positions they might hold. This style also is known to lower staff turnover.

Everyone has an opinion, and the participative leader is willing to hear them and eager to listen to them. Unlike authoritative leaders, these leaders are chosen because they seek input.

Authoritative Leadership

Authoritative leadership is the inverse of participative leadership. In this leadership style, there is a defined hierarchy. A change in direction isn’t communicated to the employees until after the decision has been made.

An example of this could be when a manager changes directions in a project without consulting anyone — especially the employees who have spent hours working on the original project.

In truth, there are a lot of problems with authoritarian leadership. It leads to secrecy and mistrust, which can tear apart an organization. The best leaders establish communication and use their intellect to guide.

Laissez-Faire Leadership

The Laissez-Faire leadership style has an abundant amount of trust in its staff. This type of leadership is the “hands-off” approach that allows the team to set their own rules and make decisions.

An empowering leadership in childcare style, laissez-faire, encourages personal responsibility and creativity.

This leadership style is often seen in a young startup; for example, you might see a laissez-faire company founder who makes no significant office policies around work hours or deadlines.

Although the laissez-faire leadership method can empower employees by allowing them to work on their own, it can hinder company growth and limit their development.

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership in a company is constantly “adapting” to challenges and improving upon current conventions by setting and hitting goals. Employees might have a basic set of tasks and goals that they complete every week or month, but the leader constantly pushes them outside of their comfort zone.

Although there are standard ways to handle tasks, this leader constantly finds new ways of getting employees out of their comfort zone.

Although there are a lot of benefits to this style of leadership, managers with this style can risk losing sight of individual learning curves in each employee because they’re always looking at reports.

Mentor-Style Leadership

The leader is considered a mentor and coach to the team. Instead of focusing on subject-specific teaching, this type of leader identifies each person’s most vital skills and creates common goals for the team to accomplish.

This leader will create a team where everyone is valued for their unique skill set and personality. This team will work together to ensure that they all have the knowledge and communication skills to get work done.

Transactional Leadership

Transactional leadership in childcare is about creating and overseeing an efficient structure so that employees know what’s expected of them and how they will be rewarded. There is not much room for flexibility or creativity. The leader isn’t concerned with what motivates their workers; they want results.
Although this leadership style may produce results and hit goals, empathy is not as valued, leading to a higher turnover rate.

Leadership Skills That Are Critical for Childcare

To be an effective leader, you must set a strong example for others to follow. Those children watch your every move, so being a great leader will go a long way in the childcare industry. Although everyone’s different, most strong leaders will carry these set of skills:

Have a Vision

People will only embrace the change if they feel that it is being made for a good reason. To earn their trust, you need to have a clear vision of where your business is heading and why these improvements are necessary.

Build Relationships

The most effective leaders have a close relationship with each of their employees and take the time to get to know who they are and what is important to them.

Speaking directly to your employees’ hearts will show them you care about them as people and not just as cogs in a machine. And treating them like your friends is undoubtedly much more enjoyable than barking out orders at them. Plus, when you treat people with kindness, you’ll find they are more open to trusting you with the details of their lives, including their goals and milestones. And that can be an incredible help to a business owner who wants to learn what problems they can solve that is of genuine interest to their employees.

No matter your position or seniority level in your company, getting to know the people who work for you should be a priority.

Effective Ambiguity

Remember that what you say is just as important as how you say it. Whether you speak with your peers or a customer, it’s essential always to be yourself and never exaggerate.
Share key information in a format that will engage your team and ensure everyone parts the conversation with a clear understanding of expectations. If your team does not understand what you are trying to do or how this plan will help you achieve your end goal, it will be difficult for them to move forward.

A Great Listener

Because communication is a two-way street, it is important to make sure that your team feels heard. To facilitate this, we provide you with the opportunity to share your thoughts in a structured way. This will help identify any obstacles or concerns about the project and ensure that everyone gets on board for success.

Positive Mindset

You’ll need to set a positive tone and work environment to uplift your employees. Things have a way of trickling down an organization from the top. If there is uncertainty or resistance at the top, so too will it most likely appear at other levels in the hierarchy. This is why those in charge must be clear on what they want and how they want things done and help the rest of the organization see where this new direction is taking them.

Inspire

Leadership in childcare plays a significant role in business, and even in a childcare setting, the principles are the same: a leader needs to get their team excited about what’s to come and give them the confidence to get there.