Exemplary Leader Spotlight
Each month, we are highlighting one member from the Group Coaching Intensive for Leaders of Leaders. We believe in learning from our community, and this month, Jennifer Brown, the Director at NACOG Head Start is sharing some wisdom & experience with us.
How long have you been in this role & at this organization?
Super proud to state that this past October was my fourth year as the NACOG Head Start & Early Head Start Program Director. I have had the honor of working in many positions over the 29 years at NACOG Head Start. Head Start provided me with multiple opportunities for personal and career growth, which I seized!
What are 2 words to describe you & when do you demonstrate those characteristics most?
Passionate & Fierce are the two words I AM daily. In my work our children, families, and community members are our greatest hopes, they’re our greatest dreams and yes, at times, they are our greatest fear. I must never lose sight of my importance. I must choose to embrace what I call my personal superpowers. I am passionate about my work, the people, and the community. When necessary, I am fierce. I am strong, resilient, and able to stand tall when I know what is best for our program. When met with adversity, I reach into my bag of resiliency and pull out my passion, which brings out a true fierceness. My leadership philosophy, which I post to all my staff annually, speaks of leadership being a journey that consists of followers and leaders. As a follower I ensure passion, as a leader I am fierce.
How has leadership changed you?
This is really beyond my best dreams, getting to lead this Head Start & Early Head Start program. I started as a preschool teacher. I taught at for profit schools, charter schools and two kindergarten classrooms before moving to Head Start in northern Arizona. I became the program director 4 years ago now. However, even though I am the director, in my heart and mind, what I am truly is a teacher. And a teacher, changes the lives of his or her students. You know there is a critical point in our careers when the honeymoon period wears off and we’re left with a simple, brutal fact: teaching is hard. This is the key juncture in every teacher’s career. In it, we either decide to embrace the challenge and the “never finished” nature of our work , or we decide to resent it. The former path leads to a fulfilled career, impactful teaching, and, often, above average student outcomes. The latter path leads to, at best, leaving the profession, or, at worst, staying in it while being actively disengaged. Through my leadership journey, as a teacher, and now as a director, it is important that I recognize a challenge I have faced, that is the challenge of fear. Fear of failure. Fear of change. Fear of a ginormous reorganization. Fear of not being able to motivate or inspire others. Fear of losing myself, my positivity, my enthusiasm, our program. So, what has leadership offered me when it comes to my own fear? One specific strategy I have learned through leadership trainings is that of being brave. This includes in it to be bold; stay focused on high quality; integrity; and my own enthusiasm. I am kind every day to someone, well, everyone. I learn what specific skills work best for our employees and I implement them to the best of my ability. I remind myself daily to make broken look beautiful, and strong look invincible. I do not fake it until I make it, but instead I become it. Become brave. I am brave.
Can you give practical leadership suggestions that have helped you to be successful?
Two leadership skills I possess now that were hard-won amongst my friends and coworkers as I transitioned to become their director—Trustworthiness, and commitment. It’s important to me to know that employees feel comfortable coming to me with questions and concerns. This is hard though, as I have worked as a coworker, a friend, a comrade for many years to many of the staff. Establishing boundaries, being consistent, and following through are all critical to building trustworthiness. Also, I enjoy demonstrating my integrity, it’s important that employees trust me. I am always open and honest. People know if they don’t want the truth not to ask me. It’s also important for all to know that I will follow through with what I agree to do. I am willing to put in the extra hours to complete an important work assignment. Likewise, when I promise an office party, I commit to that as well. I follow through. Other skills related to commitment I work on are feedback, determination, embracing professional development, staying true to our mission. None of which come without fear. I strive to “live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit and resign myself to the influence of the earth,” as Henry David Thoreau wrote. Remember to never lose sight of your importance in the lives of your friends, family, and coworkers. Always strive for quality. Lead with integrity. Choose Enthusiasm, and, above all else BE KIND to one another.