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Leading with purpose

Updated: Apr 12, 2022

Casting a shadow for the future

Leading with purpose is all about recognising what you do and say today has a direct impact on your tomorrow. A team culture is built over time, often through the accumulation of day to day interactions, and seldom through one meaningful or heroic moment. For example, the way you start your day sets a tone. Take the leader who goes straight to their office to check their emails every day and their team always approaches them versus the leader who drops their bag and spends time walking through their service to say good morning and interact with the team, children and parents. It might not seem much in one day or moment but over time it creates a statement of purpose to a team. It shows relationships matter, and the relationship with each person matters. While it seems simple enough, this everyday act requires purpose when leaders deal with a number of competing demands.

Leaders with purpose see the potential in people and look to find ways they can realise their potential in the workplace. Leaders with purpose resist using power to bring about change. Instead they lean into their teams and gain influence as they lift people’s gaze to the possibilities. Leaders with purpose recognise potential and lend strength to ensure their people are able to live out their potential with as few hurdles as possible. They will find ways to bring their team together to share in the common purpose. They recognise each person brings with them an opportunity to see the problem or project from different points of view.

This type of collaboration is rich in inventiveness and innovation. It is also layered in complexity. We can mislabel innovation as ‘risky business’ and avoid trying new things for all the wrong reasons. Leaders with purpose understand when you combine a strong and clear plan with respect for your team’s psychological safety, innovation is just around the corner. If our teams are going to feel safe enough to try new things we need to provide clear purpose and flexibility. It’s the people who propel projects into success. It is their ownership over a project that will ensure it is long lasting and stands the test of time.

Michael Fullen (1997) states people spark new ideas off each other when they debate and

disagree – when they are in tension, confused and searching for new meaning – yet remain

willing to discuss and listen to each other. A leader with purpose appreciates the paradoxes

they work within to engage a team where curiosity, mistakes and autonomy can be


Authentic critical reflection requires robust dialogue about the things that matter to our

teams, children, families and communities. It requires trust and systems that support

relationships over time. Leaders with purpose make every effort to find ways to bring their teams together for real, authentic conversations and problem solving. For example, they stay away from using templates to document for assessment and rating, instead using more meaningful methods better reflecting the service and the people within.

Charles Feltman (2009) shares that whether you tend to extend trust more or less easily, you do so by assessing the probability that the other person will support or harm what you value in the future. In this sense, choosing to trust or distrust is a risk assessment. Building creditability and reliability is essential to trusting relationships. We cannot do this through hallway conversations, an annual performance review or from an office. Leaders with purpose know that bringing their teams together to establish trusting relationships over time is paramount to their ability to ‘think big’.

Leading with purpose means having the capacity to coexist with:

· Being courageous and predictable

· Showing kindness and accountability

· Giving autonomy and direction

· Being humble and assertive

· Intentionally speaking and wholeheartedly listening

· Showing vulnerability and strength.

Leadership is well documented and potentially an overused and misunderstood word in early childhood. It holds particular frameworks that require deconstructing so there is confidence to embrace a 'humanising' of our leadership practices.

I try more now than ever before as a leader to ‘let go’ and ‘let others’ and when I am faced with complexity or uncertainty as a leader I take my then 6-year-old son’s advice to “take a deep breath and just try your best”.


Feltman, C. (2009). The thin book of trust: an essential primer for building trust at work. Thin Book Publishing.

Fullen, M. (1997). The challenge of school change. Hawker Brownlow Education.

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