Journey of a Learning Leader
What could I possibly have to contribute? What kind of knowledge could I, a woman over 40 with a business degree and background, from a small conservative rural community, have to offer to the greater good of the early childhood world? Was I prepared for this journey?
Being somewhat new to the early childhood field, I felt like there was so much more I needed to learn. In the beginning of my Buell Early Childhood Leadership Program journey, I felt intimidated being surrounded by others who I saw as experts in this field and I often wondered if I would have anything valuable to contribute in my interactions with them.
Leading From Within
Being challenged to revisit my past to learn about myself and understand my implicit bias was an integral part of my journey. Learning why I am who I am and think what I think was the first step to understanding myself and becoming a better leader.
Growing up as the baby of a large family taught me to talk loud, fast, and forceful to be heard. I also learned that if I was to get what I wanted, I had to be persuasive and persistent. As I grew older and matured, the message to me from others was clear. I was too loud, too opinionated, and too bossy. As I matured, I became more concerned of how people perceived me and how I came across to others. Although one could argue that this revelation silenced my voice, and that might be somewhat true, it also taught me the importance of relationships and why it is important to create an open and appreciative space for all to contribute. Although I may no longer insist that everyone agree with me, and at times may actually seem introverted, I am processing and reflecting on what is being said and how I can respond and apply other’s ideas into my work life and into my relationships with others. Being able to accept other points of view and quiet my own mind has become a gift.
Leading With Others
I have given much thought in the last few months about my leadership journey throughout the BECLP year and how much things have changed in this short amount of time, both for me individually and in the world surrounding us. The members and faculty of our cohort have become friends, supporters, and cheerleaders for one another. It is so wonderful to have been part of such a caring group of women that have created a safe space for each other where emotions can run freely without judgement, everyone in the group is valued, and competition does not exist. Although we all come from different backgrounds, cultures, and locations, our commitment to leadership in the early childhood world and our genuine concern for young children is always evident and is our common bond.
Reflecting on this has made me realize how intentional this all was from the very beginning. We were each selected to be part of this program, each coming in with our own pasts, biases, and strengths. We were a well-rounded group blessed with the presence and knowledge of our professors and others involved throughout our learning journey setting an inspiring example of a respect for nature and self, appreciative leadership, strength, flexibility, and the need to slow down and reflect. Modeling what we were shown came very natural and easy for me.
When thinking about which experiences left me with the largest impressions as I lead with others, I was amazed at just how many there were. Learning more about leadership theory and my own style and being reassured that I do not need to be the loudest in the room to be a good leader has boosted my confidence. I realize that it is okay for me to lead with the gentle and quiet strength that makes others feel comfortable and supported and I am grateful to be reassured of that as I continue to travel through this journey. It has been a true honor to have been part of an experience that has taught me so much about myself, about how to effectively lead with others and in the end, how to step up in a crisis and confidently lead across.
When the pandemic hit and many people were unsure of what the future held, I found my strength during this time. My first thought was “How can I help others?” I recognized my servant leadership surface as I instinctively reached out to provide support, resources, and a shoulder to cry on. There were moments where I was physically and mentally exhausted and my stamina waned. Yet looking back, it was worth every minute. I am grateful that I was in a position, both personally and professionally, that allowed me the capacity and resources to be of service to others in my community during this time. This is the kind of leader that I want to be. One that is willing to be part of the team. One that desires to join in the work and leave the ego behind, and also one that has the knowledge and strength to know when to come forward to lead and when to back off for the collective benefit of the team and the community.
“Where do I go from here?” I have learned so much on this journey and along the way, have learned to value what I uniquely have to offer. I have the permission to embrace leadership and leaders as those who not not only have a title, but those who position themselves as learners. As I reflect on my personal “Theory U” drawing, I recognize that it does not include a clean “U” shape, and I notice the many ups and downs and even some changes in direction. What does remain constant, however, is the learning that happens during the process.
With so much uncertainty in our lives, the program has helped me find the value in slowing down and enjoying the special moments, experiencing gratitude, reflecting on what I have and continue to learn, and being present in the moment.
Trusting the process seems to have become the motto to our Buell Early Childhood Leadership journey this year. What have you or will you contribute to your leadership journey?