“The Best Directors Don’t Direct”
Molly Griggs, Early Childhood Director
What is organizational leadership? If you googled it you would find,
“The management staff that typically provides inspiration, objectives, operational oversight, and other administrative services to a business. Effective organizational leadership can help prioritize objectives for subordinates and can provide guidance toward achieving the overall corporate vision.”
What does this mean? How do I become an effective leader? How can I be the best director possible?
Twenty years ago, I enlisted into the Air Force. Half spent on active duty and the last half as a part-time national guardsman. My leadership training began as soon as I stepped off the bus for basic training at Lackland Air Force Base. The first thing my supervisor handed me is “The Enlisted Force Structure” also known as the little brown book. It establishes leadership and responsibilities. My training hasn’t stopped yet. I went on to earn an associate’s degree in Information Management, a bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies, and a master’s in Organizational Performance and Change. I then received my Early Childhood Director Certification to eventually become a preschool director.
Don’t get me wrong, degrees are helpful, but can they make you into an effective leader? When I became the preschool director I remembered thinking, “How can I lead this team of teachers and assistants in the most effective way possible?” Will my military background help or hurt? Then the little brown book popped into my head. That’s exactly where I came up with my vision of “How to be the best director, but not direct.”
I remember my first official military board (in civilian terms, an interview) that I sat in years ago and one of the first questions asked was: “What is your leadership style?” My initial response – lead by example! Now, as a director, I can’t ask my teachers to do something I am not willing to do. I can’t relate to my teachers if I am sitting behind a desk all day, unwilling to step in the classroom and teach. For instance, If I ask my teachers to start incorporating a phonics curriculum, I better know the curriculum front and back before even asking. If I expect my assistants to change a diaper or take out the trash, I better grab the next trash bin and walk out to the dumpster with them.
Next, GOALS. People want goals, and when achieved, they want recognition. When you work with a brand-new teacher or assistant, take some time to sit with them. Along with setting standards and expectations, help figure out their goals with them. Write them down. Get to know them, show them you care about THEM! Consider everything from daily achievable goals, to long term. When they reach those goals, give positive feedback. People like to hear they are doing a good job, and I will guarantee they will work a little bit harder and stay a little bit more motivated when they receive rewards. Even if it’s simply “Great job today with those kids in the classroom, I know it’s not always easy.” Not everyone will accomplish those goals and that’s ok. Did they try? Are you helping them along the way? My military commander likes to tell the story about a thousand candles. If you are in a dark room with one lit candle, will you go light everyone else’s, or are you going to keep that light to yourself? If you are willing to light the other candles, the room is going to shine brighter, and more will be accomplished.
Another favorite quote that has stuck with me since that board is, “wherever you are, be all there!” If you are at the school acting in your director position, be in that position. Don’t think about all your duties, or the next thing on your to do list. If you are acting in the classroom as a teacher, be attentive to the kids. Give them your full attention. If you are in a staff meeting, give your staff your full consideration. Even at home, if you are a mom with kids, put 9-5 work aside and be a mom. It was the same in my military career. When I was sitting in a Korean bunker, I had to make sure that is where my attention was.
After my board finished, I found out I was moving onto the next rank. Now, time to learn the next rank’s responsibilities. Just like any promotion, you must “maintain the highest level of readiness to meet mission requirements.” (per the little brown book) So how do we do that in our position of authority as director, without being too directive? If you’re not taking care of you, I’ve learned you will struggle taking care of your team. First things first:
- Be technically ready: Maintain your training requirements (annual training, director training, continuing education). When you maintain those requirements then your teachers and assistants will be much more willing to follow.
- Be physically ready: For me, gym time helps me de-stress but it could be a brisk walk, yoga, or just taking a break outside to eat lunch.
- Be mentally ready: Be aware of depression or being overworked.
- Be spiritually ready: Be ready for yourself and ready to help one of your staff through tough times. This may or may not include religious activities.
I recently decided to move on from my position as director. When I began training my assistant (now taking over as director), we wrote out a checklist of what needs to be passed on or trained on. As we started, I told her it’s not a list of administration duties that is going to make you or break you as a director. There is so much more to this job besides making sure files are organized, or your training is up to date. I wanted to leave her with more than just a list of admin duties, so I left her with this list:
- Stay humble – You were once a teacher or an assistant too.
- There are going to be tough times going on at home and/or outside of work, but your team needs you. Even during your times of frustrations, keep your game face on.
- Do not ever make decisions based on emotion.
- Keep communication open, with all your staff and all your school families.
- Conflict resolution is practiced daily. Remember, you will never be able to make everyone happy.
- Be consistent and be the example.
- And always remember where you came from.
For me, the military helped shape me into the leader I am today. But your journey doesn’t have to be military style with a little brown book. Just learn as you go and take advice where you can. Jump in with your team and learn from them, learn with them, and alongside of them. You’ll be the best director without directing.