Leadership Essentials Begin Within

by Sonja Crum Knight

March 22, 2016

Read more from the whole leadership blog series

Hello McCormick Center Friends,

I am Sonja Crum Knight, fellow traveler on the Whole Leadership journey. Last week our Director of Training, Safiyah Jackson, continued the Whole Leadership dialogue by offering a thought provoking exploration of leadership essentials.

Here’s the definition of leadership essentials offered:

“Leadership essentials are foundational competencies necessary for leading people that are expressed in personal leadership styles and dispositions. These essential competencies include awareness of self, others, and the profession; communication and team-building skills; cultural competence; and ethical conduct. Essential leadership qualities include courage, empathy, vision, inspiration, authenticity, and passion. Leadership essentials are often developed through reflective practice. These qualities are embedded in everything the leader does and are necessary for both administrative and pedagogical leadership.”

After reading Safiyah’s post I began to wonder, do we intuit reflective practice, or is it something we must consciously learn to do? What resources are available to develop the competencies of leadership essentials?

Seeking answers, I have been newly inspired by the writings of the McCormick Center’s founder, Paula Jorde Bloom:

  • ​From the Inside Out: The Power of Reflection and Self-Awareness, takes readers on a journey of self-discovery to build better relationships. In revisiting this book, I was re-affirmed in the abiding knowledge that leadership starts within. To connect with our authentic selves we must commit to internal processes of self-checking: Why am I doing this? What do I hope to achieve?  What are my motivations? What is my impact on others? Self-awareness, it seems, is foundational to reflective practice.
  • ​Leadership in Action: How Effective Directors Get Things Done, offers practical leadership knowledge and guidance for anyone working in the profession of early care and education. Understanding leadership in context seems critical in developing our capacity for leadership essentials. In re-visiting this book I was reminded that leadership is not merely the domain of those with lofty titles. We must all develop the courage to step up and speak out to do the good work our profession inspires.

I also thought about our work here at the McCormick Center and wondered, how do we support the core ideals of leadership essentials?

I soon realized that much of our work is undergirded by the quest for increasing the competencies reflected in our definition of leadership essentials. A deeply rewarding aspect of my work at the McCormick Center is the time and resources we dedicate to understanding our unique capacities and abilities in relation to our co-workers. Completing the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) instrument and StrengthsFinder assessment were required tasks upon joining the McCormick Center team.

  • Based upon the personality theory of C.G. Jung, the MBTI offers insights into the differences in the ways individuals prefer to interact with others, take in information, make decisions, and structure their lives. Understanding my type in relation to that of my co-workers has helped me become more thoughtful in my interactions.
  • The ​Now, Discover Your Strengths book is required reading here at the McCormick Center. We use this valuable resource to access the StrengthFinder assessment. Completing this assessment reinforced the value of understanding my strengths in relation to co-workers. I have learned that strengths can work both for and against me; understanding my individual propensities has helped me modify my approach and become more appreciative of diverse work styles.

As I continue to reflect on the concept of whole leadership and the premise that leadership essentials are foundational to the development of administrative and pedagogical leadership, I wonder what other tools and resources might we harness for the development of leadership essentials?

Please join the conversation by posting a response in the comments section to this blog post. Also, please join the conversation on social media using #WholeLeadership.

Sonja Crum Knight is a Quality Assessment Coordinator for the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership at National Louis University. Prior to joining the Center, Sonja worked as a family child care provider and a marketing executive in the cable television industry. She received her master’s degree in early childhood administration from National Louis University and a post graduate certification in online instruction from Roosevelt University. Sonja is currently pursuing a doctorate in education at Capella University.

9 Responses to “Leadership Essentials Begin Within”

  1. Jack Wright says:

    Sonja, thank you for this conversation. I have a couple of comments as a person who has studied developmental psychology since the fifties. Intuition is seen to be automatic responses from well learned and practiced information. Since information develops at a rapid pace these days, we need to use reflective practice, both adding information and using critical thinking about the information we have absorbed.

    My other comment is about the Meyers-Briggs test. Psychology doubts its empirical support. I have used it with a Better Business Bureau, and at a Judges conference, as it was requested, but I’ve warned to sit loose to conclusions about personality. If it generates conversation with some skepticism it is probably useful at times.

  2. Sonja Crum-Knight says:

    Hi Jack,
    Thanks for the reply, I appreciate the expert lens you have added to the dialogue. I could not agree more with your assessment of how we engage in reflective practice. It seems to me that we must actively attend to our thinking; ever aware of what we are taking in, how we are applying it, and the impact our perceptions may have on others. I also appreciate the critical assessment of the Meyers-Briggs, it is but one lens through which view who we are and what we do. Thanks again!

  3. Missy Brown says:

    I have enjoyed the blogs on Whole Leadership and the comments as well.

    My go to books that help support leadership in early childhood are:
    -any book in the Director’s Toolbox set although my favorites are A Great Place to Work and Inspiring Peak Performance.
    -Blueprint for Action
    -The Visionary Director or any of Margie Carter/Deb Curtis’ books

    These books really provide good information for leaders as well as are easy to read.

    One note on the use of personality tests…I feel that Personality Patch, True Colors or Real Colors trainings give program staff useful information about personalities without really asking for a ‘test’. We recommend these to programs as part of their team building work.

  4. Tarah says:

    I am again going to draw on my recent conference experience. The closing keynote was giving by Annie Murphy Paul. This quote is taken from her website commenting on her book. “In The Cult of Personality, award-winning psychology writer Annie Murphy Paul reveals the surprising and disturbing story behind the tests that claim to capture human nature.” (Full disclosure, I have not read this book.) Someone in the audience familiar with the book and her work asked her to comment on her thoughts of these personality tests. I think her issue with them is when they are used to pigeonhole people. While it was clear she was not a fan, she did concede that they can have a beneficial purpose. She commented that if they cause people to be more reflective about themselves or others and they are used to improve work environments that they weren’t totally evil. (I’m paraphrasing.) I agree with the idea that if they cause us to be more reflective that is a good thing. When we reflect on who we are and how we relate/interact with others to improve our work that should lead to better results for our work and ultimately better outcomes for children. How can being more conscious and more intentional be a bad thing? I’m wondering…in addition to personality tests, what brings you more awareness of yourself? Others?

  5. Sonja Crum-Knight says:

    Hi Missy,
    Thanks for continuing the dialogue. I was first introduced to the Director’s Toolkit as a family child care provider. I find much to draw from it now in my role as an assessment coordinator, which I think is a testament to the vision of Paula Jorde Bloom. Thanks Again!


  6. Sonja Crum-Knight says:

    Hi Tarah,
    Thanks for sharing. It seems to me that we collect little nuggets of truth along our life journey that help us improve and grow. I was first introduced to The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra through my work with an executive coach during my sales and marketing years; I return to it often for personal insight and inspiration. Another source of insight, inspiration, and reflection that I find helpful is journaling; I have maintained a journal for most of my adult life and find the process enormously helpful in deconstructing challenges and reflecting on actions, which I think are critical to maintaining self–awareness. Thanks again.

  7. melissa says:

    Hi Sonja, thank you for continuing the dialogue and offering these resources. Yesterday, while sitting in a colleague’s office, I was drawn to a book on her desk with a simple yet stimulating cover. The title of the book really drew me in, Leading with Heart & Soul authored by Toni Christie (Director of Childspace Early Childhood Institute). Each of the book chapters (be courageous, dream big, serve others, have empathy, foster loyalty, be honest, display grace, encourage creativity, create joy, show gratitude, empower others and model respect) shout leadership essentials to me. I am looking forward to enjoying this book and reflecting on the heart and soul of my own leadership practices.

  8. Sonja Crum-Knight says:

    Hi Melissa,
    Wow!!! This sounds like a great resource and I agree each chapter deeply reflects the attributes of leadership essentials. I will be adding this to my list of must-reads! Thanks,

  9. Kaela says:

    Hello. I would like to hear your thoughts on how I can be an effective leader in a daycare facility geared towards children with disabilities? I want to open a location with the goal being the growth and development of the children, as well as providing a support for families. Also, do you have any books or resources you would suggest I use?