Leadership and Wellbeing – Where there is wellbeing there is a way!
See the full article as published in Nursery Management Today NMT Magazine March 2021 here.
The pandemic has created a seismic shift in the way we live and work that has affected every one of us. We have found ourselves working in ways that are so unnatural and alien leaving many of us feeling exposed and vulnerable. Leaders and managers are constantly dealing with not just managing their nurseries but also the negative impact and fall out of the pandemic.
We are dealing with something that’s affecting us personally on all fronts of our lives and all at once. From our own personal wellbeing, concerns about friends, family and loved ones to our work life and financial security. This means that as leaders now more than ever, we need to think about looking after ourselves better than we have before, if you want to have the strength and energy to be able to support the people you work and live with.
Reflecting on what we’ve learnt over the last year from the effects of the COVID pandemic, what has become abundantly clear is that if we want to be able to navigate through and beyond the crisis, we need to focus not only on children’s wellbeing, but also make staff wellbeing a priority.
Leading from the heart
Leaders and managers are crucial when it comes to engaging and influencing the team. There are so many wonderful heart-warming stories of leaders at all levels making daily checking in calls to furloughed staff, sending wellbeing care baskets, making protective equipment for their teams and providing genuine care and support. The fact that staff, despite feeling anxious and fatigued are responding and turning up surely tells us all that this is what work should be like. Leaders are admitting they don’t have all the answers and are not afraid to say so. They are being open and honest, tuning into how people really feel and being honest about their own feelings and recognising its ok to not feel ok.
So, what is this telling us about leadership during COVID and what is it that seems to be making the difference. What has definitely emerged is that many leaders are finding their compassionate voice. Having empathy, self-awareness and vulnerability are critical to leading in challenging times. Rather than sometimes being seen as a weakness its now very much seen as a superpower!
Communication is key
Through regular zoom meetings it’s almost been like an episode of through the keyhole. We are having meetings at all levels whether it’s the CEO or junior staff members we are talking with from our bedrooms, kitchens, blurring the lines between home and work. We’ve invited each other into our personal lives along with children, dogs, partners and bad hair days. We are all seeing each other, sometimes for the first time as mothers, fathers, grandparents, carers, as whole people rather than just work colleagues.
Create a safe space for staff to share how they are feeling and find out how you can support them by asking in a variety of ways. This can be informally each morning, check in on each team member during regular supervisions or through staff surveys. If it is done well it sends a message that you are here, you are listening and that you are committed to staff wellbeing. Making time to gather the feedback will give you an insight in how to support your team and will guide you in where to put your time, energy and resources.
Be a positive role model
If we want to encourage the staff team to look after their own health and wellbeing it is essential that leader’s practice and model self-care. This sends a positive message to the team that looking after yourself is a necessity not a luxury and gives permission to the team to do the same. It’s also important to keep in close communication with colleagues to share what you have learned and to support one another. Sharing how you are feeling will encourage others to do the same. We have to allow time to look after ourselves in order to support others but remember that everyone’s approach to selfcare will be different, but if done intentionally and consistently it provides the protective tools to help you navigate through these challenging times.
Looking after our own wellbeing is not so much about having a ‘knowledge gap’ but more about a ‘doing gap.’ How many times do you hear yourself saying ‘I don’t have time’ ‘I’m too busy” this is precisely when you need to look after yourself! Selfcare doesn’t have to be complicated it is basically anything that improves your wellbeing and should be seen as an important leadership skill. Finding simple ways to build healthy habits into each day will help to reduce anxiety and boost your energy levels.
Three simple ways to take care of your mental and physical wellbeing include:
- Check in with yourself and just breathe – simply taking a few deep breaths can help to reduce your heart rate and blood pressure, relieving stress and even boosting productivity.
- Make sure you take regular breaks during the day and if you can get outside. Just 10 mins walking in nature can improve mood, cognition and health.
- Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your health. It can help to boost your immune system, improve memory and mood and ultimately your overall quality of life.
It’s important to remember that wellbeing is a skill that we can all learn, practice and model. And like any skill it needs to be intentional and it needs to be practiced every day. But for this this to happen we need leaders and managers to recognise that leadership and wellbeing skills go hand in hand – they are inextricably linked. We need to create a workplace culture that places as much value on building wellbeing skills, such as emotional intelligence and self-awareness as we do on technical skills. This way we will keep the health and well-being of staff and children at the centre of all we do, so that we can begin to turn our early years working environments into places of promise and possibility and a place where we are not just surviving but thriving again.