Thelma Stephens shares a model approach to leadership and perfecting your team.
Listening to feedback on various levels
My previous experiences have shown that fostering a positive and individual relationship with each member of your team provides the firm foundation to base all your professional interactions. The ability to laugh at yourself with others and still maintain professional boundaries, while providing realistic expectations, is a tricky equation, but definitely worth the time and effort. After all, truthful and supportive interactions are what we aim to teach our children to foster with their peers.
Truly knowing your staff provides you with the insight to respond to their verbal and non-verbal communication by creating a can-do atmosphere that is reciprocated. You need to focus on active listening and immediate actions. By identifying the key messages your staff are giving you, you can tune in to their wants and needs.
Then you can put into action one step which will support them. Whether you arrange a task, set a target or solve a problem on a dynamic level, you will be building trust and collaboration within the team while taking the context of their setting into consideration.
Including the whole team in this planning process develops the individuals’ interpersonal qualities, diagnostic skills and judgmental capacity. This resembles the situational leadership approach (Hearsey and Blanchard, 2001) where personnel are developed. It involves taking note of the individual staff members’ stage of personal and professional development, as well as the situation, and adjusting your style of leadership accordingly.
The little things really do mean a lot. As professionals working on the front line in a service industry, we are required to be flexible and responsive.
Identifying talent – role modelling
Peer observation of your staff can be informative, but I prefer spontaneous observations. This can provide a more realistic reflection of where you and your team are headed. Feeding back in a professional discussion where both parties are comfortable to share thoughts and reflect can serve as a benchmark for you as a leader to set targets for your staff. It will also help identify where you need to support the changes necessary.
Belbin (2001) goes on further to suggest that, when leadership supports individuals to develop their own personal strengths and gives staff opportunities to improve in areas of weaknesses, individuals could balance well with colleagues, creating an effective team.
Feedback also highlights both strengths and opportunities for development in a healthy, non-judgmental way. It opens the lines of communication where both parties can grow personally and professionally, similar to a collaborative approach to leadership and management (Goleman, 2002). Managing change can be tricky when your vision is obscured by miscommunication.
On a personal level, working within numbers as well as being the manager is challenging, but equally rewarding, as your finger is continually on the pulse. I often observe and feedback during the day. This is effective as my team has grown to trust my motives and is beginning to invest in the vision.
Gaining consensus through participation has lead to improved outcomes for the setting (Fullan, 2004). Discussions and interactions with team members to set clear goals allowed the team to support one another in reaching targets, and, more importantly, the opportunity to celebrate success is a huge motivator (Goleman, 2002).
Reward and motivations
Monetary rewards have little value as the majority of workers in the Early Years Profession are working with children due to their passion. However, a wage increase here and there doesn’t go amiss. Whether someone feels their contributions have been recognised or not is where many a good staff member will be won or lost. If you combine rewards with sharing their vision of their future professional development, a once de-motivated member of staff could flourish back into productivity.
Focusing on my team’s strengths helps me delegate tasks when targets need to be met quickly and efficiently. Touching bases regularly maintains our focus, reminds us of where we are heading and gives us an opportunity to evaluate our progress, leading change as Senge (1996, in Peters, 2003) would suggest.
To give productivity a bigger boost, we have found it useful to create a sense of “team spirit”. We have developed communication, problem solving skills and teamwork by setting time aside to plan and discuss the goals we wish to achieve in the next four weeks (Goleman, 2002).
Leading effectively when driven by passion is challenging. From my past interactions, my passion for the highest of quality provision dulled my senses to where my colleagues were in their personal or pedagogical development. Belbin’s (2001) theory of team identifies that common goals and objectives (core values) regulate practice by creating shared values and norms.
That further suggests the need for team members to interact and communicate with each other while actively working in their roles, complimenting and supporting one another to create a shared vision as part of a team.
I realise now that change, no matter how small and insignificant it may seem to leadership and management, needs to be introduced sensitively. We need to take into consideration the practitioners individual roles and preferences (Belbin, 2001;DCSF, 2008).
I have found that, to make sure no team member is left behind, you must take the attributes and behaviours of individuals into consideration. The best results come when the actions and influences of people at all levels are recognised as integral to the overall direction and function of the setting.
To maintain focus on our direction as a team, as well as foster ownership, it’s been crucial to share leadership responsibilities in line with the distributed leadership approach (David Hopkins). Using the Transformational leadership style (Bass and Avolio, 1994), we can create a vision based on respectful interactions where trust and personal integrity are key factors as well as delegating responsibility. Ultimately, we can create intellectual stimulation by continually challenging followers.