Leadership is thinking about the purpose for which your program exists. It is designing a vision and writing a mission statement that shows your dreams for the program and how you plan to make the dreams come true. The mission statement tells what you will do to make the vision come true.
Management is about taking care of the everyday tasks that directors have to do. It’s about making sure all staff are in their places each day, and if not, finding those who can substitute. It’s about making sure staff are doing what they are supposed to be doing. It’s about recording all parent payments and talking to those parents who have not yet paid. it’s about trying to collect delinquent charges. It’s about making sure all expenses are within the budget. It’s about keeping track of fulfilling the wishes of staff for more teaching supplies and making sure no staff gets more than other staff. It’s about managing everything that happens in a program. Often managers are not thinking about the vision of the program and how what they do can advance this vision.
Much of the leadership literature refers to leadership as the exercise of influence, the use of power and position to prod, provoke, and persuade people to take a particular course of action. According to Deb Curtis and Marjorie Carter, in their book “The Visionary Director,” they reference what most of the early childhood leadership is saying, which is that the traditional model of top-down management is giving way to a more collaborative approach to shared leadership. Today many early childhood leaders define leading as the process of influencing others to achieve mutually agreed-upon goals rather than coercing, controlling, or manipulating people to achieve desired outcomes.
Directors have lots to do to manage their programs. They often must do what managers have to do – budgeting, collecting & recording fees, ordering equipment and supplies, responding to & helping to solve program crises, listening to staff complaints, helping staff solve problems, planning & leading staff meetings, planning & implementing program improvements, listening to & collaborating with parents, helping staff with difficult children, planning parent events, etc. The difference between a Director who leads and manager who manages is a Director must do all of these tasks must be done with a leadership mindset.
How can one lead with a leadership mindset? To do this takes skill. Deb Curtis and Marjorie Carter say that this is much like a juggler, a gymnast, or a tightrope walker. Each of these must focus exclusively on a point outside their bodies. As they focus on one point it enables them to keep their balance and complete what they want to do in a magical way.
A director must face every problem and incident with a leadership mindset, focusing on the mission that she wants to accomplish. When every problem is solved with this mindset, other considerations are cleared away and he/she decides how to solve the problem and create an atmosphere that shows others the way. When she plans notes to send to staff, newsletters, memos and announcements, she does so by thinking about how everything she does fits within her vision and mission. If it doesn’t, it probably isn’t a good thing to do. It helps directors analyze every program and initiative to make sure they align with the program vision and mission and values they have decided to live by.