Leadership concepts and theories PDF

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A u s t r a l i a n J o u r n a l o f E a r l y C h i l d h o o d
Reflections for practice for early childhood directors
Hanna Nupponen
MultiLink Community Services Inc.
This paper proposes that effective leadership is a vital component in providing quality childcare services. It
suggests that developing an enhanced understanding of effective leadership frameworks can be a starting point
for a quality process and can forge a commitment to working towards excellence in early childhood centres,
as well as be a tool for self-reflection. Theories of leadership are outlined for future preparation of leaders in a
complex environment in which centres now operate
Many developments have occurred in the provision
and delivery of childcare services for young children
and their families in Australia in the past three
decades. Specifically, the development of an extensive
childcare system in the community and private
sector has been significant. Three decades ago, there
were minimal childcare services to enable women
with young children to work outside the home.
Childcare services that were available usually were
established locally under the auspices of community
organisations, church or neighbourhood groups. Now
there is an extensive commercial childcare service
sector. Since 1994, there has been a steady increase
in the number of children attending child care in
Queensland. The number of Australian children
attending an early childhood program is elusive as
there is no national data base for this calculation
(OECD Country Note, 2001). However, theChild
Care Census(2001) in Queensland indicated that the
majority (90%) of children attending child care at
licensed centres were below school age. Fourteen
per cent of these children attended long day care
centres full-time. In addition, more children attended
privately-owned (75,706) childcare services than
community-managed (47,110) centres.
Child care plays a crucial role in complementing
parental care and promoting children’s social and
cognitive development (Berger, 1995; Berk, 1991;
Feeney, Christensen & Moravcik, 1996; Ochiltree, 1994).
Childcare services enable parents, especially women, to
enter the workforce or access further education and
training. Child care also provides support to families
who have children with disabilities and additional needs.
Children’s development is influenced by many factors
such as the many interactions within the family and
the community (Ochiltree, 1994). For instance, Urie
Bronfenbrenner (1989), an American psychologist,
proposed that a child’s development occurs in a
system of relationships affected by multiple levels of
the surrounding environment. Among researchers,
the established view is that quality child care
contributes to children’s developmental outcomes,
with higher quality resulting in better outcomes
for the child (DeBord, 1991; 1996; Vandell & Wolfe,
2003). Ultimately, quality child care preserves and
enhances the family’s capacity to function effectively
in supporting the ongoing health and wellbeing of
children (Edgar, 1997). As has been earlier established
(Caldwell & Hillard, 1985), professional child care is a
supplement to parental care. Professional child care is
not a substitute for family care, nor a competitor for
the role of parents in the upbringing of their children.
Child care provides both care and early education to
children for their total development.
Leadership as a professional issue in
childcare centres
Despite the development of childcare services, both
in the United States and in Australia, there has been
little encouragement for directors to pursue formal
leadership training or credentials. Many employers
consider it unnecessary for directors to seek higher
qualifications, because higher degrees are viewed
as ‘professional gatekeeping’ requiring increased
wages, thus increasing the costs of operating a
centre (Bowman, 1997; Jorde Bloom, 1992a; 1992b).
Most directors in childcare centres have had no
professional training for leadership and administration
V o lu m e3 1N o1M arch2 0 0 644
roles (Hayden, 1997a; 1997b; Jorde Bloom, 1992a;
Larkin, 1999; Mitchell, 1997; Seplocha, 1998). This
is despite recognition that leadership training is a
critical variable in program quality (Bowman, 1997;
Jorde Bloom & Rafanello, 1995).
Childcare directors are effectively change agents.
Humphries and Senden (2000) proposed that
leaders need to recognise that an organisation must
continually anticipate opportunities for change,
which will advance its mission and aims. Childcare
centres are complex organisations influenced by the
external environment (Bergin-Seers & Breen, 2002;
Jorde Bloom, 1991). Uncertainty and change in child
care and family policies requires understanding of the
political climate. Directors in child care also need to
be sensitive to the local community needs in which
their centres operate.
Neugebauer (1990) noted that studies in leadership
and administration in early childhood had found that
the director’s style of leadership has a profound
effect on a total teaching approach of the centre. In
particular, Neugebauer proposed that the director’s
decision-making style was related to the quality of
interpersonal relations within the centre. When
decisions were made within a team environment, staff
were more motivated, dedicated, trusting and clear
on centre objectives than were staff who worked
in centres where less attention was given to the
quality of interpersonal relationships. Furthermore,
Neugebauer found that the best type of leader
within an early childhood program was a democratic
motivator. This type of leader trusts staff decision
making and creativity, rather than taking a strong
supervisory role. In 2000, Neugebauer noted that:
The director must set the course in order to lay out a
vision that all staff can use as a road map to guide their
day-to-day efforts ... Not only does the director set the
course, but [the director] must also keep her finger on
the pulse of the organisation(p. 99).
Effective leaders balance the concern for task, quality
and productivity with genuine concern for people
(Seplocha, 1998). Clyde (1995) interviewed 50
childcare directors and found that responsiveness
to staff was deemed important by 98.1 per cent
of the participants, as was building good working
relationships with all staff. This type of director
continually monitors and supports the performance
of staff to ensure that the organisational goals
and vision are achieved and that all parts of the
organisation are performing as expected. As
Sergiovanni (1984) pointed out, effective leadership is
about focusing on client-centred goals and to create a
challenging environment, which provides staff with a
sense of purpose and accomplishment.
Childcare directors are usually aware of their
leadership responsibilities (Grey, 1999). However,
they often are not aware of their own leadership
style and how it can be developed effectively. A
vision of what they wish to achieve in their role as
leaders is important in order to reach organisational
goals (Grey, 1999). A vision of quality in childcare
services benefits all members of the organisation
and the children and families that a centre serves.
Capacities to implement a vision of quality care
include building supportive relationships with staff
through open communication and encouraging
participation in decision-making (Gardner & Terry,
1996). An organisational culture committed to
continuous improvement in the quality of programs is
necessary (Frede, 1995; Grey, 1999; Kapsalakis, Morda
& Waniganayake, 2000).
The following sections outline recent theories and
conceptions about leadership in organisations that can
offer useful insight into specific skills and knowledge
needed for those practitioners aspiring toward
leadership positions in centre-based child care.
Leadership in organisations
Leadership has been defined as ‘knowing what
the next step is, and having the confidence and
commitment to take it’ (Sarros, Butchatsky &
Santora, 1996, p. 42). It has also been defined as a
process that ranges from the avoidant through to
the transactional, to the inspirational, idealised and
transformational (Avolio, 1996; Parry & Sarros, 1996).
Leading must be seen in context and should not
be considered separate from strategy, organising,
learning and all those interactions that make
organisations’ (Clegg & Gray, 1996, p. 29). Leadership
is a ‘process of interpersonal influence from a person
unto other(s) in the direction of a goal, where the
other(s) subsequently act of their own will in the
direction sought for by the leader’ (Baruch, 1998,
p. 1). Leadership is a key issue in the development
of groups and organisations and has been explored
extensively in the behavioural and management
sciences (Baruch, 1998). Researchers have sought to
identify the means and strategies by which effective
leaders ‘get the job done’ (Sarros et al., 1996, p. 4).
A u s t r a l i a n J o u r n a l o f E a r l y C h i l d h o o d45
Leaders are required to keep abreast of trends in
the political, social and economic arena and think
strategically about change and improvement. Leaders
need to consider the broader issues and future
developments of an organisation and look towards
opportunities for change (Humphries & Senden, 2000).
Future leaders need to be proactive rather than
reactive’ and, ‘they [leaders] will convert mandates
and problems into challenges and opportunities’ (Bass,
2000, p. 22). There are a number of different theories
about leadership such as Transformational Leadership
(Bass, 1985), Shared Leadership (Fletcher & Kaufer,
2003), and Distributive Leadership (Harris, 2002) that
can be considered when looking at leadership within
childcare centres. These theories are discussed below.
Further, information about school-based management
and leadership is explored, as is looking at women as
leaders; their relevance within the childcare context
is linked to theories such as distributed leadership
and transformational leadership theory.
Transformational leadership
The transformational model of leadership has been
influential since the work of Bass (1985) and Burns
(1978). Transformational leaders seek to motivate,
influence, empower and develop the skills of others
(Adamson, 1996). Leadership is a function of capacity
and motivation, meaning that people are more
motivated by affective factors than cognitive factors
(Crawford, 2003). Leaders need to understand the
importance of influencing the manner in which
people work together to create an organisational
culture where people have an intrinsic need to do
their best.
Transformative leadership explains and describes the
importance of the relational aspects of leadership
(Burns, 1978). Transformational leaders motivate
their followers to perform well while developing
the skills of the followers to allow those individuals
to make their own decisions, which consequently
enable them to take greater ownership and
responsibility for tasks (Adamson, 1996). ‘The needs,
values and goals of leaders and followers mesh and
create meaning and community in the context of
the organisation’ (Rogers, 1988, p. 143). This form of
leadership has been described as cultural expression
because it is about creating with followers a vision
for the organisation that is relevant for a specific
organisational culture such that followers are
empowered (Sergiovanni, 1998).
Shared leadership
In contrast to the transformational model is the
theory of shared leadership (Fletcher & Kaufer, 2003;
Pearce & Conger, 2003). Within this model, leadership
is embedded in the social system at different levels;
leadership is conceptualised as a relational process, a
distributed phenomenon occurring at various levels
and dependent on social interaction and networks
of influence rather than traditional one-directional
models of leadership. The leader engages the group,
not the individual; people listen to each other; the
team is empowered and dynamic; and all are equal
(Locke, 2003).
Leading within this model may prove to be
challenging, as it requires letting go of power. Shared
or participative leadership may not always be possible
if an organisation does not have adequately skilled
and experienced staff. The group must have the
ability and relevant professional knowledge to enable
it to reach consensus and make informed decisions
(Locke, 2003). Locke suggests that perhaps a vertical
form of leadership may be more appropriate in some
cases. This would involve a top-down, authoritative
stance, with some shared decision-making principles.
However, despite the group members’ understanding
of what needs to happen, some situations require a
position of power and authority to implement change
(Seibert, Sparrowe & Leiden, 2003). The authors
further noted that such a leadership approach
requires high investment in building and maintaining
group relationships while asserting a position of
authority for instigating action. The focus remains on
collegial activity.
Distributive leadership
Another form of shared leadership is known as
distributive leadership, with a strong emphasis on
skill development through collaboration and sharing
of ideas (Harris, 2002). In educational contexts,
the intensification of tasks because of the asserted
pace of change leads to overload, with an endless
schedule of meetings and administrative deadlines
and only a limited number of hours in the day to
complete them. Overloading is constant and can be
physically and emotionally draining and cognitively
demanding (Gronn, 2003). To manage, physically
and emotionally, it is suggested that leaders adopt
a distributive leadership framework (Gronn, 2003;
Harris, 2002; Lakomski, 2002). ‘Distributed leadership
is characterised as a form of collective leadership in
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