When I was young, I always admired my friends who were just a little bossy. I generally have and still have friends with strong personalities. There is something crazy about watching a group of children and seeing who arises as “the boss”, it’s almost as if it is born with it. As an 8 year old, I desired so badly to be “the boss”, however, I never seemed to take over that role. To me being the boss meant that I had the right to choose. Choose the activity, be the “mom” when playing house and or sit where I wanted in the car (I had 4 older brothers so this was a big deal). What I didn’t understand at the time was that being the boss can be not only a hard role but it can be very isolating as well.
When I was hired as the School Age After School Program Director, I was so excited. This was my chance to shine and be well “the boss”! It was a miracle still to this day that I got the role because I had little management experience at the time. What I didn’t know was that they hired me as a last attempt to save the program. If I didn’t work out, they were going to shut it down. So really, what risk was it for them to hire me, really no risk at all.
Once stepping into the role, I had a week with the previous Director and then I was on my own. The only boss I had was someone who saw the bottom line and that’s about it, which meant I was really on my own when it came to the daily operations of the program.
After a few months, I had to fire my first employee. This really shook me to the core. I will never forget this moment, how I felt and how my whole body reacted. Before this, I had kept my team very close and they all loved me because I was the “cool” boss. After this, I quickly realized that one day, I may have to fire them too. This really made me question how close I let myself get to my team.
What you may not realize if you aren’t “the boss” is that it can actually be very isolating. I would even say that this is especially true in the childcare industry. There aren’t any great channels of connection for leaders and typically, there is only one leader per organization. What this does is creates leaders who have no one to bounce ideas or destress with.
What I learned from 5 years living in this level of isolation is that to be a good leader, you have to have a coach, seek other leaders and get connected into community. The first of these arose after 2 years in my role. My coach quickly became someone who worked in our same office, knew the politics, but was not a school employee. The best coaches don’t have to necessarily know how to play your sport, they just have to be good at seeing your blind spots. Find a coach! If you are going to be a successful leader in any industry, you have to have a coach.
The other thing I did to combat the isolation was attend leadership conferences and read books about other leaders. There is something about hearing from others who have been in your role. Whether you are a leader of a fortune 500 company or a small preschool, you have more in common as leaders then you would ever expect. As I read about these leaders and the leadership risks they would take, I became inspired. Sometimes this led to being a little closer to my team on an emotional level and other times it looked like taking a financial risk by opening a new classroom or preschool center.
The last thing I did was to get into community. In the childcare world this can be very difficult to do. I was lucky enough to have a Directors group that met once per month in our area. As much as I hated to take time away from the center, I knew it was important to connect. It was in this group that I saw other preschool and child care directors discuss topics like staffing issues, dealing with difficult parents to licensing policies and how to manage them. Being the youngest member of the group I didn’t speak up much, but I learned so much!
My hope is that if you are like I was, a child care director feeling isolated, that you will take a few steps to overcome it. Although often the feeling of isolation did creep back in, I felt much better overall. I would encourage you to pick one place to start and do it! If you want to be the best boss you can be then; get a coach, seek other leaders, and get connected. You will be surprised at how both you and your program will grow along the way.