Agent provocateur: leadership or lingerie?

March 30th 2012

I have been called many things, but being invited by the National College for School Leadership to be a provocateur was a novel invitation. I certainly know I can provoke my husband to distraction, but in this instance I was being asked to amuse, tell stories, harangue and cajole a group of nursery heads into a new way of doing and being. It was the first meeting where I was talking to a group of heads, each with a glass of wine in their hands. It was a cross between Loose Women and Live at the Apollo.

The point I wanted to make was that we tend to be too humble and modest in this sector.  Both humility and modesty are actually beautiful traits, but we have to balance them with getting our voice heard and listened too. I was keen that we have the courage to accept the importance of balancing confidence and the capacity to take risks with the humility to learn from our mistakes and from others.  I willingly shared our many mistakes, including that of our experience on the SEF/ECERS/ITERS roundabout, as one example of how we are constantly examining and continuing our attempts to improve and be better at what we do.

We all agreed that we can be too parochial and a bit domestic in the sector, which distracts us from the bigger picture.  My view is that we are a group of female leaders developing a new industry (the childcare one), and that we have to shape and lead it to get what we all want; namely the best service for all children. This means looking at how we do things differently; developing our combined business capability to be able to get and apply strategy; while at the same time understanding how we can create business models that involve profit, loss, revenue, expenditure, performance measurement, social impact, governance and compliance.

There was no dispute in the room that leaders of the Early Years sector need to invest in their ability to learn about themselves, and trust in both their knowledge and instincts. We must be able to develop systems that create a feedback loop, so we can learn about ourselves and our impact. We agreed that we need to share what we know in a much more coherent and collaborative way, so we are all aiming in the same direction; petty jealousies, egos and in-fighting will simply destroy us and in doing so destroy those crucial opportunities for children.

So the battle cry was up: be brave, be strong and develop a message that parents can understand and support; good childcare is good for all children and can have longer-term benefits for our society as a whole.  We as leaders in the sector need to get out there and embed this message every chance we get.  It will kick into touch the ignorant sound bite stories that float up to the surface every now and then, serving only to distract us from what we are doing and freak out parents everywhere.