Leadership: dance vs data

Managers reach for data, but leaders offer more in difficult times writes Stephanie Jackiewicz.

While data is necessary, we need a different style of leadership, one based on relationships—something at which early childhood educators excel.

‘The only thing that is constant is change’—Heraclitus.

This quote from Greek philosopher Heraclitus captures his ‘insistence on ever-present change as being the fundamental essence of the universe’ (Good Reads). The pace of change and the level of uncertainty society is experiencing is unprecedented. Never more than now have we looked to the leaders to show us the way. So what does this mean for leaders in the early childhood sector?

Like most other sectors early childhood has become data driven, with reports on all manner of information. All of this data is useful when making decisions, predictions or when reporting to the authorities using elegant dashboards. These are tools commonly used by management in their decision making, however in a time of rapid change and uncertainty it is not data that will lead the way, it is the human spirit that will lead us through these challenging times.

The qualities required of leaders during this time are those of servant leadership. This approach is distinguished by serving people; never before has servant leadership been more pertinent. Servant leaders are able to relate to others, show emotional strength and develop trust and respect amongst others, they put themselves before their teams. Most significantly the servant leader leads with humility (Blanchard and Broadwell, 2018).

Early childhood leaders show strong servant leadership, they are ‘expert at developing relationships, their leadership has always necessitated deep human qualities and required them to go beyond the conventional notions of authority’ (Lewis, 2012). They are guided by the ECA Code of Ethics in their decision making, ensuring results are accomplished with integrity. Currently early childhood educators are being touted as ‘essential workers’ alongside health workers and other emergency service personnel. It is because of servant leadership qualities early childhood is taking the lead and providing care and education for children during this high risk period, putting the needs of others before themselves. It is these qualities that will hold early childhood leaders in good stead to navigate the current crisis.

The principles that underpin practice in early childhood also strengthen leadership; secure respectful and reciprocal relationships, partnerships, equity, diversity and ongoing learning (Belonging, Becoming and Being, 2012). It is through the positive relationships with others that leaders will find the way forward. Partnerships are crucial to ensure decisions are based on the collective knowledge and understanding as leaders strive for equitable and effective ways to lead the sector. While leadership is both an individual and collective responsibility, this is not a time for individualism but rather collectivism. Cultures such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures support the understanding of a collectivist approach.

The pace of change and uncertainty being experienced is draining and difficult to navigate even for the most experienced leader. It is not the data or the traditional management style that will bring us through this but those who lead with kindness, who are resilient and brave, who took chances in this unknown space and are quick to adapt to the new world order. It is a delicate dance between leader and servant. One does not diminish the other, sometimes you lead and sometimes you follow, but always you think of the other person.


  • Belonging, Becoming and Being (2012) Early Years Learning Framework.
  • Blanchard, K and Broadwell, R.(eds) (2018) Servant Leadership in Action, Polvera Publishing, Oakland California
  • Fasoli, L., Scrivens, C., & Woodrow, C. (2007). Challenges for leadership in Aotearoa/New Zealand and Australian early childhood contexts. In L. Keesing-Styles & H. Hedges (Eds), Theorising early childhood practice: Emerging dialogues. Sydney, NSW: Pademelon Press.
  • Good reads Available at https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/77989.Heraclitus
  • Lewis, J and Hill, J. (2012). What does leadership look like in early childhood settings? Available at thespoke.earlychildhoodaustralia.org.au/leadership-look-like-early-childhood-settings/

ECA Recommends

Early Childhood Leadership in Action
By Elizabeth Stamopoulos and Lennie Barblett

The principles and practice of confident and creative leadership for early childhood pre-service teachers and educators

Leadership is a core skill required by all early childhood educators, whatever position they hold – whether leading their own ethical and professional practice or leading others. From understanding ethical frameworks to managing change, and from quality assurance to working with teams, families and the wider community, the most effective early childhood leaders act with confidence, flexibility and creativity. You can purchase a copy from the ECA Shop here.

Stephanie Jackiewicz

Stephanie is a Consultant and Coach in the human service sector. She began her career as an educator and soon moved into the research stream, firstly as a university lecturer and then as a Senior Research Officer at the Telethon Kids Institute. She has been involved in a variety of projects that relate to children’s health and wellbeing and has presented at both international and national conferences. She was the National Director (WA) on the Early Childhood Australia Board (ECA) for six years. During that time she was involved with the development of the ECA Reconciliation Action Plan, sat on the Barbara Creaser Awards committee and chaired the ECA National Committee reviewing the Code of Ethics. Stephanie has been a long term advocate for young children and in 2015 was acknowledged for this work with an award for Outstanding Professional Service Award from the Professional Teachers Council of WA. Prior to joining Wanslea as an Executive Manager Stephanie led the Early Years Learning and Care Team at Catholic Education Western Australia. She was integral in developing the organisations first child care services and in implementing the EYLF and NQS in the schooling sector. Stephanie has a Bachelor of Social Science, Master of Social Science and Master of Business Administration.

11 thoughts on “Leadership: dance vs data”

    Erika Dempsey says:

    What a powerful piece especially this sentence “It is a delicate dance between leader and servant. One does not diminish the other, sometimes you lead and sometimes you follow, but always you think of the other person.”

    Brylee says:

    One does not diminish the other, sometimes you lead and sometimes you follow, but always you think of the other person. This really stood out to me as it is something I can relate to. It’s important to learn from others and collaborate with each other.

    Sandi says:

    Great article, when will we been seen and treated as essential and given the recognition we so deserve?

    Nurit Druckman says:

    Being a servant is a necessary quality of the human being at all times. It is one of the highest virtues we can express, and there is nothing more honourable than having the opportunity to serve – life and humanity.
    I really enjoyed reading your article. It is essential these. Thank you.

    Elise says:

    This article captures everything I see in early childhood. A community service based on relationships and the promise to create better outcomes for the community.

    Maria says:

    I didn’t think much of servant leader in early childhood industry. Good eye opener. Unfortunately we don’t get the recognition we deserve, even though servant leadership is considered the best and most appealing leadership quality.

    Sabuhi Chishty says:

    Great article that provokes thinking about our skillset as leaders and are we driven by the data and legislation that we have to follow on daily basis. However, I completely agree that collaboration is the key to success.

    Victoria says:

    Great article, funny that we are not considered essential workers, yet our work is reliant on ensuring that our young children are socially and emotionally ready for school and community, building their character.

    kylie says:

    I appreciate that the principles that underpin practice in early childhood and also strengthen leadership, this resinated with me.

    Frances O'Brien says:

    The pace of change we are experiencing is draining – a telling sentence really. We are indeed drained and I am not sure I am being refueled at the same rate.

    a says:

    I’m feeling the drain yet still hopeful and trying to stay empathetic given the stress levels at the moment it is hard!

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