The best childcare centers have created a sense of extended family, building trust, rapport and caring within the culture itself.  Children and families can feel the dynamics of your team and they stick with centers that feel like a home away from home. But, how do you create that family-feeling within your center?

Servant leadership is “a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world,” according to the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.   Robert Greenleaf was actually the man to coin the term. In his introductory article, he wrote that servant leadership “begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.”

While traditional leadership takes a top-down approach to power within an organization, servant leadership distributes power, prioritizing the needs and individual growth of everyone involved. Put simply, servant leaders have the humility and insight to understand that there is something to learn from people at all levels of the organization.

A servant leader’s goal is to inspire others to achieve their full potential and enable them do their best work. And as a result, the organization performs at its highest potential.

You can identify an effective servant leader because she…

  1. Seeks out diverse opinions. A servant leader recognizes that everyone’s opinion has merit, no matter their title or level of experience. She asks questions of her team and actively listens to responses, letting them inform the organization’s decision-making.  Make time for your team to share their thoughts, ideas and opinions in meetings and 1-on-1’s so they know their opinions are valued and matter.
  2. Acts with humility. A servant leader sets an example of service by caring for others and contributing at every level – maybe she cleans or closes when it’s not expected. She doesn’t boast about her title but rather serves her team to show that they’re all in it together.  Make time to “get in the trenches” with your team – help prepare meals, clean up or join in on activities to create a feeling of camaraderie.  
  3. Cultivates trust. Those who work for a servant leader know that she has their best interests in mind. Instead of cultivating a culture of fear using intimidation, a servant leader helps her team understand her desire to see them succeed, along with delegating meaningful tasks that make a difference to the organization. Trust between a servant leader and her staff allows the team to function effectively.  Make time to understand what your team is going through – personally and professionally.  Actively listen, engage a build a relationship with them to build trust and rapport.
  4. Collaborates and encourages. Let’s go make it happen.” Not “you go make it happen.” A servant leader shares responsibility and fosters a sense of collaboration, working towards a common goal. Through encouragement, she recognizes wins and actively helps the team learn from failures.  Make time to encourage and celebrate your team. Actively look for what they’re doing right and well – and recognize them to let your team know you appreciate them and they are valued.
  5. Inspires with vision. When your team is given tasks and instructions with no context, they end up feeling unmotivated and can therefore be ineffective. A servant leader provides context by sharing the vision and mission associated with the tasks, helping her team understand the why behind the what of day-to-day operations.  Make time to share the big picture with your team so they understand why what they do matters.
  6. Develops other leaders. A servant leader sees potential in the people around her, and she works hard to help people arrive at their best selves. She doesn’t hoard all of the power for herself. Instead, a servant leader will mentor staff members, delegate higher-priority tasks, and provide opportunities for growth.  Make time to help your team grow personally and professionally – share podcasts, videos or book lists that inspire and mentor them with a kind and encouraging heart.

Successful leaders maintain a service-oriented approach and inspire their teams to do the same. In your childcare center, imagine what your team would look like if everyone was operating as servant leaders. How much more would your team members enjoy their work? How much more effectively could your team operate? What impact would this have on your children and families?

There are countless benefits of actively implementing and improving your servant leadership qualities. We challenge you to start experimenting with ways you can become a better servant leader, and determining how you can help your staff to do the same.  For more information on how to engage and inspire your team, schedule your complimentary Employee Engagement Evaluation.