In June of 2012, after 20 years, I left the director position of a hospital affiliated early childhood center to pursue new ways to support the well being of young children and families through leadership development in the field of early childhood. At this transition in my career, I paused to reflect on my leadership style and effectiveness. What characteristics did I have that motivated others to contribute their best? What were other essential leadership characteristics? Through an ongoing process of reflection and research I identified four essential characteristics I believe a leader must possess, the ability to build positive relationships, to develop and communicate a vision, to be collaborative, and to be adaptable.
A leader who can build respectful, reciprocal and responsive relationships bound in good communication is able to create an environment of trust. When relationships are established in an environment of trust, connections are made that will support the growth and commitment of others. It creates an atmosphere where people are willing to take risks and contribute their best effort.
A vision is an aspiration for the future. It helps to predict a course, create a purpose, and motivate action. When a leader is able to affectively develop and communicate a vision, then other people begin to see how they might contribute to the process. They begin to understand what the future might hold when the vision is realized. The vision of a leader, when developed and articulated well, becomes the common vision of the group, guiding them forward.
A leader who has the ability to be collaborative recognizes the collective is greater than the individual. They understand their personal strengths and weaknesses. They value other people’s abilities and sees how they add to the overall strength of a group. They appreciate diverse perspectives and opposing ideas, constructively weaving them together to achieve strong outcomes.
A leader who is adaptable and flexible takes things one-step at a time, building on each success and challenge. They set a vision, but they know it will be a process to get there. They understand that what appeared to be the best way to proceed at the start might not be as the process unfolds. They are open to new ideas and the possibility of diverting from the course they have set.
Leaders in the field of early childhood, whether guiding a group of children in an early childhood classroom, working with a staff, or leading a team of adults in an advocacy project, can benefit by possessing these universal characteristics. When you develop trusting relationships with each member of the group, paint a clear picture of your hope for the future, recognize what each individual can contribute, and are flexible in your plan, your accomplishments will be endless.