A junior educator is walking around being inducted by the centre manager. The centre manager sees a children’s book ripped on the floor, she picks up the book and throws it in the bin. “I hate seeing ripped books” she says. The nominated supervisor says, “if you see ripped books, please don’t put them back on the shelf.”
2 weeks later the junior educator sees another ripped book on the ground, she promptly picks it up and tosses it in the bin. The room leader goes to the bin and pulls it out. The room leader berates and blames the new educator for not knowing that books should be recycled not thrown in the bin.
Situations like this are not uncommon in many services. Expectations are often unclear, role and responsibilities are poorly defined and Educators often appointed to leadership roles beyond their level of competence.
Traditionally ‘good’ Educators were those who came to work, did their job as they were told and cared for the children. Our expectations of Educators has shifted greatly over the past 15 years. No longer do we want generalists who are ok at everything, these days we want specialists, who work with their strengths and inspire others along the way. This shift from doers to thinkers, from ‘yes-men’ to innovators requires a new style of management.
Leaders are often overwhelmed by the clashing priorities of building relationships and achieving goals. This leaves many leaders confused about how best to support these new expectations.
“Leaders should focus on ensuring that their team feel safe.”
Leaders should focus on one key concept to ensure their teams’ success. They should focus on ensuring that their team feel safe. That is, their team should feel free to speak up without fear of negative consequences. They should feel comfortable asking for help and sharing ideas. Leaders need to support the shift from their team members being asked to “fit-in,” to allowing them to bring their authentic selves to work. Being authentic means being able to voice thoughts, ask questions from left field, and brainstorm out loud.
We can support this shift through the concept of a Leadership Umbrella. The Leadership Umbrella serves several purposes. First and foremost, it functions to provide protection and psychological safety to the staff who are beneath it. Psychological safety is trust at a group level. It’s the belief that you won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or making mistakes.
“You feel comfortable bringing your full self to work.”
When you feel protected by the Leadership Umbrella you feel comfortable being yourself and bringing your full selves to work. The Leadership Umbrella provides protection from blame and gossip and creates a safe space for Educators to be curious and use their initiative.
When you’re beneath a Leadership Umbrella, you feel supported and encouraged. You are happy to take accountability for your tasks and attitude. You’re aware that even if you make a mistake, you’ll be supported to learn and grow from the event. You trust that the people around will speak positively about you and that they’ll be cheerleading for your success.
It’s important that the Leadership Umbrella is held by the right person. When the Nominated Supervisor holds the Umbrella for all staff, protection is not provided equally. There is jockeying for positions, miscommunication, alliances are formed, and people fear falling out of favour.
“Beneath a Leadership Umbrella, you feel supported and encouraged”
The key is to have each room leader or team leader hold the Leadership Umbrella for their team. Each room leader holds a Leadership Umbrella for their Educators and the umbrella creates a safe space for the team to learn and grow. Leaders are responsible for the protection, support and encouragement of those beneath their umbrella. With a Leadership Umbrella, we can create a safe space for our Educators. A safe space that protects them from gossip and from unfair criticism.
When the room leader holds the Leadership Umbrella, not only do they provide protection for their team but they also take accountability for their team’s engagement and ultimate success or failure.
When the room leader or team leader holds the Leadership Umbrella for their team, they let everyone else know, that they are responsible for their team, and they take personal accountability for the Educators in their team. This supports the second function of the Leadership Umbrella and that is to focus the channels of communication and clarify delegations of authority.
When expectations are unclear like in the case study above, it is like working in a service with hidden landmines. Just one wrong move and it could be disaster. The Leadership Umbrella provides a simple but effective remedy. The person holding the Leadership Umbrella acts as a single reference point for setting expectations, providing feedback, and giving instructions. When all communication and tasks are channelled in this way it provides less stress, less confusion, and less resistance.
The Leadership umbrella is a modern twist on a traditional hierarchical approach and supports a new generation of Educators to be at their best.