How Being a Community Theatre Actor Made Me a (Formerly) Terrible Boss: 5 Simple Steps for Great Leadership

Blank book white cover 5,5 x 8 in

This is an excerpt taken from my Ebook of the same name

The following addresses part of my journey to being an effective leader in early childhood education and a no longer terrible boss. It does poke fun at the leadership examples I had as a youth in community theatre. I fully believe we are shaped not only by our experiences, but the way we choose to react to them. It is meant to challenge what we accept as “normal” in leadership, and how we can all strive to exceed those expectations.

Anyone who has ever participated in sports, a club, or performing arts has probably dealt with poor leadership.

“No that’s WRONG!” is barked by an authority figure. “I don’t care if you had a bad day, you leave it at the door and give me RESULTS!”

I started acting in community theatre at the age of twelve. My first show I was cast in a huge ensemble for Hello Dolly. One of the youngest in the cast, I knew this was a big moment to prove myself. My first day of rehearsal, the director gave me my initial blocking to walk from one side of the stage to the other.

“WRONG!” She screamed in front of the group. “Wrong, wrong, wrong! Nobody walks like that!” My eyes filled with tears, and I tried again. Over the next twenty years, treatment like that would be rampant in productions I was involved in.

From the standpoint of the early childhood educator, we would never approach our students this way. Hopefully, you would also not approach your staff or coworkers this way. Even without that level of drama, there is a grey area that we can find ourselves in when interacting with our coworkers. “Just do what I asked!” “Why don’t you understand this is the correct way to do it?”

In the performing arts world, there is a tremendous expectation to do everything right the first time. The same can be true in the world of early childhood education. Our profession lends itself to high stress, where imperfections can lead to loss of clients, loss of staff, and possibly the loss of license. Our environment can also be difficult for communication, as we balance the needs of parents, staff, students, and day to day operations.

It is not particularly fun for me to call myself a formerly terrible boss. It might not be entirely fair either, but I do know that I had a tremendous growth process. Everything from trying to do it all myself, to telling employees to leave their personal problems at home, to thinking that if employees were educated and experienced they would just “do it right.”

5 Simple Steps for Great Leadership

  1. Provide division of labor. Delegate the what, how, and why to help engage and motivate your team.
  2. Self-analyze. If you are fair, honest, and acting in the best interest of those on your team and your student’s, then you are leading in the right way.
  3. Communicate. Utilize public praise and private correction. Discover the conflict style and appreciation languages of your team. Provide many different types of opportunity for communication.
  4. Inspire your team through professional development. As education professionals we should never stop learning. The teacher who can no longer learn should no longer teach.
  5. Advocate to fuel change. The only way that the challenges in the early childhood education system will ever be addressed is through increased awareness.

It took me nineteen years to figure out why the way I walked across the stage in Hello Dolly was “wrong.” I had been in ballet training since age three, and had been taught to walk like a dancer, much too fluid and exaggerated. This type of feedback was not offered to me.

As a leader in early childhood education, it is important to follow these five simple steps for leadership. It will create a supportive team atmosphere that people are excited to be a part of.

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