4 steps to success in purpose-driven leadership blog header

4 steps to success in purpose-driven leadership in early childhood education

In a recent webinar on purpose-driven leadership, we were joined by Shira Leibowitz, Ph.D., CEO, and Founder of Discovery Village Childcare & Preschool! Dr. Leibowitz shared her strategies for using purpose-driven leadership to create a clear vision for her center that lead to growth and increased profit. 


Purpose-driven leadership in childcare

The economics of the childcare industry are hard: we want to be able to pay our educators more and we want to be able to resource our programs better but there’s only so much we can ask of parents and caregivers, and balancing your rates against the competition can sometimes make it feel like a race to the bottom.

That’s why purpose-driven leadership is the most meaningful path to enhance quality and increase profitability in your early childhood program. It makes competition with other programs irrelevant because you’re standing out by what you’re standing for. Early childhood leaders who are grounded in their purpose thrive as educational leaders, business or nonprofit leaders, and as thought leaders.

What you’ve earned (not just learned) these past few epic years

We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.”

John Dewey

We didn’t get to choose a lot of our experiences during the pandemic. It’s your time to reflect and transform the wisdom you’ve earned from these last few years into new possibilities. You can become stronger from them. Ask yourself this question: Through all you’ve gone through, what emerged as mattering the most? The answer you come up with is your purpose, and that purpose is the key to a clear vision and increased profit at your center.

Here’s what some other early childhood leaders said matters most to them: 

  • “Well-being”
  • “Healing”
  • “Character”
  • “Leadership”
  • “Voice”
  • “Care”
  • “Community”
  • “Equity”
  • “Justice”
  • “Democracy”
  • “Peace”

All of these are a testament to the power of early childhood and what we bring to the table. We’re not just changing the lives of children in our care. Together, we’re changing the world.

Standout leadership is leadership driven by purpose. It is a vision well implemented that allows us to transcend who we are today and become ever better versions of ourselves.

  • If you have a strong vision but weak or non-existent implementation, you are a Struggling Dreamer. That’s not a bad thing! Every great accomplishment began with struggling dreams that needed to be implemented.
  • If you are really good at what you do but you lack vision, you are a Skilled Technician. There is also honor in this, in being good at what you do and finding and discovering purpose.
  • If you don’t yet have a vision and you don’t yet know how to implement it, you are an Overwhelmed Practitioner. It’s real and it’s honest and we’ve all moved into that bucket when things got tough. 
  • If you’re strong in vision and implementation, you are a Standout Leader: you are leading from a place of purpose and a place of skill and that is what we keep striving for. Getting here is a standard process that all educators go through. 

A new approach to vision, mission, core values, and strategic planning

Parent and child toilet training

VIP stands for Vision, Implementation, and Purpose. Taking just these three elements together, you can supplement or replace the usual framework of “vision, mission, core values, and strategic plans” to something more suitable to the childcare industry.

So, what is the difference between vision and mission? Here are the typical definitions.

Vision: Describes the future you are seeking to create. This is your what.

Mission: Describes how you are working to make your vision a reality. This is your how. 

However, in reality, these terms are often less clear cut.

Let’s try a visualization process. Imagine the future you are seeking to create over the next three years. Repeat this daily and ask yourself the following questions: 

  • How do you feel?
  • What do you spend your time doing? 
  • What is your impact?
  • What is the state of your finances and resources?
  • How do you face adversity?
  • How do you take care of yourself?

What you come up with is your vision, literally! You can ask yourself these questions or others for yourself and your center to create a clear vision of what you are striving for. 

Once you have your vision, choose implementation buckets and infuse your purpose into each one. Here are some sample areas of implementation: 

  • Programming
  • Finance
  • Marketing
  • Operations
  • Team
  • Culture

These buckets may seem right to you or you may have others that are more relevant to your center; but by using them you can implement your purpose with vision. 

Purpose and profitability in childcare

Your purpose is your core value, but it is not your only value. You’re going to need to think about profitability, too. Educators are not primarily motivated by profit typically and that’s why we can be uncomfortable talking about it, but whether we’re nonprofit or for-profit, we need to raise the salaries of our educators, directors, and owners. And we need to be profitable to do that. 

Child chalk drawing

Increasing profitability requires us to look at: 

  • Finance
  • Marketing
  • Program
  • Operations 

Purpose-driven leaders implement purpose into all these areas. This is strategic planning.

However, the reality of profitability is that childcare is expensive. The typical annual cost of full-time care in childcare centers in the US for children ages 0-4 is higher ($9,589) than the average annual cost of in-state college tuition ($9,410). A family with one child earning the median household income would need to spend one-fifth of its income to cover the cost of full-time, center-based care. The cost of full-time care in childcare centers is 85 percent of the monthly U.S. median cost of rent. (Source: New America)

But you can absolutely be profitable if you stick to your purpose. Think of your budget as your vision in numbers. Being financially healthy is going to enable you to breathe, be more impactful, and achieve your border vision.

Summing up: 4 steps to success in purpose-driven leadership

  1. Define your purpose
  1. Develop your vision 
  1. Start implementing 
  1. Infuse your purpose throughout your decisions, big or small 

Watch the full webinar on purpose-driven leadership here!

Shira Leibowitz

Dr. Shira Leibowitz is the founder and CEO of Discovery Village Childcare Center and Preschool and of REVABILITIES™ Coaching and Training Center. She is also a member of the faculty at Northeastern University, teaching and advising doctoral students in education. Prior to opening Discovery Village and REVABIILITIES™, Dr. Leibowitz served for twenty years as a principal of pre-kindergarten through eighth grade schools. She is author of The Coach Approach To School Leadership: Leading Teachers To Higher Levels of Effectiveness and Havens of Hope: Ideas for Redesigning Education From The COVID-19 Pandemic.