Over the years many Leadership and Management theorists have attempted to define the roles but what is apparent is that there is no agreed or unequivocal definition.

For me the first thought that comes to mind is that you cannot ‘lead’ without people. You also need a path to follow or passion for a cause and an end goal in mind.

You cannot ‘manage’ if there is no task or process or procedure in place to manage.

One definition of Leadership is that it is:

  • The activity of leading a group of people or an organisation, or the ability to do this.

The word ‘ability’ is key for some people in considering this issue.

We all know of people that have a leadership role whom in our view do not have the ability, but we will each have different expectations too.

The leadership approach or ‘style’ that they use will also affect our views.

Are they democratic- using a participative approach, or autocratic – using a controlling and authoritarian approach? There are times when you would expect or want one of these approaches more than the other?

Leadership is subjective but here are a few traits which some would expect to see in a good leader as defined by Business Dictionary;

Having a clear vision which means knowing what you want for the organisation and being able to share this effectively with your staff so that they want to be part of it and are motivated to follow you willingly.

Being able to set goals with your teams and supporting their progress.

Providing information and knowledge which requires a strong knowledge of the subject area or the business and being able to introduce methods to realize the vision.

Coordinating and balancing when there may be conflicting interests of all staff and stakeholders.

In early years this may be parents, the local authority, government, and partnership organisations.

Management on the other hand is an operational role, it’s about getting things done:

  • The organisation and coordination of the activities of the business to achieve defined objectives.

A good manager therefore requires the following skills to be effective in their role:

To be able to plan, control, direct and evaluate.

A manager needs to know what the expectations are from the leader so that they can effectively use the resources. This may include managing the finances, deploying the staff, and putting in place processes and policies.

There are many overlaps in responsibilities and in many organisations the leader and manager may be one and the same person.

It’s fair to say that it is not always an easy task.

Can you do this? If you think you can – how effective are you?

Most leaders and managers agree that you can never stand still, there is always more to know and understand, and even try. No person is the same, no team is the same and no challenge is the same.

I believe that one of the best approaches is to be able to adapt your style to suit the situation. To get the best possible outcome and this needs to be clear and agreed before success can be measured,.

What made me think about this topic right now?

The pressures of running an EY setting and managing Covid have taken many away from the sector – business owners are needing to look within their current teams for the leaders and managers for future success and to fill senior posts that are stood empty or just difficult to fill. This is the reality now, even more than ever.

Having delivered leadership and management training to groups of early years’ nursery and pre-school owners and managers in the past I established that many had received little training on the skills required to lead and manage people.

I had been naïve myself when thirty years ago I found myself in a leadership and management role by default (when I established my own business). I had no ‘hands-on’ experience or knowledge when I had first entered the sector.

So many of the problems and issues discussed with delegates around leading and managing a team resonated with me and I realised that the specific training in this field that I had received since those early days, had made a real impact on my practice.

I was reminded of the value of the Hersey-Blanchard situational leadership theory and how it made some simple sense to me.

Please do not switch off at the mention of ‘theory’, it really is relevant. I can now use these skills effectively with the knowledge I have.

When you have worked at a level in ignorance of the theory behind the practice, once you know more about it, you can reflect and see more obviously where you went wrong.

If I had the knowledge thirty years ago that I have now, I know I would have done a better job. There is of course value in experience, but I learnt the hard way.

Situational Leadership

The model supports the belief that effective leadership is both task-relevant AND people relevant – think about this for a minute.

To be a successful leader you must therefore adapt your style of leadership to the characteristics (that is the ability, willingness, and experience) of your team, or the individual, that you are working with.

This, according to the theorists, Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard, would then provide the best chance of having a positive outcome with the activity, task or job in hand.

The ‘Maturity Level’ referred to in this model is not about the age of the person but about their ability, willingness, or experience to take on the task required – each of these elements needs to be considered separately to help decide which style of leadership should be used: telling and directing; selling and coaching; participating and supporting (or mentoring) or delegating.

It is also task specific. So, a person might be generally skilled, confident, and motivated to do their job well, but they may be lacking the skills required for the specific task that needs to be completed.

A leader would therefore need to know their team members ‘characteristics’ well, to be able to make the decision about the best style of leadership to use and in what situation.

If you want to understand this approach better there is a useful article here.

To put this theory into context:

In more recent times, before becoming an independent early years’ advisor, I worked as a local early years’ lead for an area within Hampshire. One of my roles was to coordinate a multi-disciplinary local development team to instigate an improvement support programme for early years’ providers – I was considered the lead.

On reflection, this was an ideal role to put some of the situational theory around leadership and management into practice.

Team members each had different expertise and skills and were leads in either working with children with special needs, teaching, advising on finance and business issues or on the welfare requirements and safeguarding.

Depending on the specific piece of improvement support work, project or task that needed to be carried out, I would be able to select the ‘expert’ within the team in this area of work and using a ‘delegating style’, I knew that this would be the most appropriate style to use rather than trying to tell or direct the team member.

Telling and directing would not be necessary as I knew the team member’s skills and in fact a different approach would have risked undermining their ability and potentially lead to lack of engagement or ownership of the task. Even a lack of willingness to achieve the outcome required; they were capable and willing.

For me there was an added benefit in that it naturally developed a level of respect for what others could do and bring to any joint projects. It also saved me time – critical in a leadership role!

We valued each other’s knowledge and used if for mutual benefit – something that as leaders and managers we should never lose sight of. We cannot possibly be good at everything, but we can be better leaders and managers if we recognise and pull on the skills of our team members.

Mother Teresa once said, ‘I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the water to create many ripples’.

What did she mean by ‘ripples’ across the water?

Thinking about your teams and the approach that you may need to use with more junior members of staff – you would expect them to be keen and enthusiastic (they may be your ‘ripples’ – growing and developing) but perhaps lack a level of knowledge and skills?

Using a ‘selling and coaching’ approach you will be influencing and supporting them. Consistently using open-ended questioning as part of that process will develop more two-way communication. Helping to empower them and enabling them to take responsibility for their own learning.

In addition, research has shown that when a person realises that their manager invests in their development, gives them opportunities to grow, and acknowledges their achievements and skills it creates trust and loyalty. Who wouldn’t want that from their manager.

So, to summarise on the question of what makes a great leader and manager?

In my view, it’s never something you can be on your own. You need people more than they need you, and one should never underestimate the power of sharing expertise and allowing others to shine and to be able to take a lead with something that they are good at.

Whilst compiling this article I also came across an interesting approach on leading as a team member (up the chain) rather than as a supervisor or manager.

If you are a team member or junior manager, it’s well worth a read and covers the strategies of:

  • Leading up the chain
  • Taking extreme ownership
  • Being proactive and not reactive
  • Passing the credit to others
  • Adding value and managing expectation
  • Stepping back to make opportunities for others

These points reinforce that wherever you are on your journey towards becoming a leader and manager, if this is what you aspire to be, you can play a crucial role in the team or the organisation which you are part of – you really CAN lead!

A final point

There is so much more to know, understand and be aware of in your quest to be the best leader and manager that you can be.

Consider One-to-one support and see what others have said about the help they have had.

Or take up a place on next series of Leadership & Management Development Peer Support Sessions following this recent pilot – and express an interest here in new sessions due to start in October 2021.

More information to be published shortly in ‘events’.