Relationships in Leadership

by Dora Esparza, Business Leadership Specialist

Dora Esparza

We all have that one person. You know the one I am talking about. The person who asks you for a favor and you do an internal eye roll. It’s probably a person whom you don’t know much about, or they have personality traits that annoy you. Maybe a past pattern of behavior that just grinds at your nerves. Would you still feel the same if you knew them better? What if you had seen them be silly at some point? What if you had met their spouse and children?

Directors and administrators always seem to understand the value of relationships with children and parents. It is the backbone of their business and the primary reason many of them continue to go through the daily grind of ECE admin roles. However, I think sometimes we forget to nurture the relationships we have with teachers and co-workers. I have talked to some directors who tell me that they just can’t make the time for staff to “play” together and that since they are paying their staff they need to be “working”. I would always argue that the rate of return on this unstructured “play’ time is always worth the investment.

I have talked to directors who are concerned about their boundaries and their concerns about professionalism. Well, professionalism does not equate to perfectionism. It is okay to let some walls drop and be genuine and humble with your staff. It is okay to let your staff see you as a person, because that is how trust is built. By being able to really be who we are with each other is how trust is built. It’s by laughing together, sharing embarrassing stories, sharing life experiences, and creating bonds between each other that extend into the work environment.

I have met so many directors in my years of coaching and one commonality I see is that being at “the top” seems to be very isolating. Many teachers and administrators go from the chaotic center home to their own families every night and lose themselves in a cycle of no time for themselves and very little self-care. If you don’t create a strong network for both yourself and your staff at work, then how can you ever truly be successful? Many women in general tell me about how they have always put work and families above themselves and have now lost their passion for all the hobbies and things they once really enjoyed doing. This is why I feel strongly that there needs to be space for self-care in the workplace as well as co-worker bonding activities that create a strong base for support.

Just pause for a minute and think about the things you are doing to create the net of support in your center. Do you have a monthly staff meeting? At that meeting are you creating a space for fun, laughter, and relationship building? Is it all work all the time? How much value do you see in the relationships created in your work culture? HOW CAN YOU HAVE MORE FUN TOGETHER? Relationships, fun, support, trust, and creating vulnerability are all cornerstones for staff retention. Working with children and parents has its unique challenges, and it is important to laugh and have fun when you can.

And for any of you who wonder about the value of taking this time, think back to that “one person” I mentioned earlier. Now replace the person you rolled your eyes at with someone you have genuinely had fun with at some point. Or someone you have joked with or have seen a giant Jenga® set fall on. Think about those genuine moments of connection you have had with that person and how you would have responded if they had asked you to do that favor.

In the current ECE workforce climate it is more important than ever to retain teachers and create a culture they want to be a part of, to create a team where everyone is eager to help each other and want to make each other look good and work efficiently. If you are still of the mindset that work is not a place for support, trust, laughter, and fun, you may be missing the boat!

If you are interested in learning more about recruitment and retention strategies, please feel free to contact me. dora@denverearlychildhood.org.

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