When early education leaders tackle difficult challenges, the work can be extremely demanding and efforts often go unacknowledged. Results may appear as “implementation dips” (Fullan, 2001) or stagnant despite the best intentions and infusion of resources. Even within a collective leadership framework, this can result in exhaustion, isolation, disillusionment, disagreement, and abandonment. While systems thinking is valuable for understanding the inherent challenges of change, attention should also be paid to the culture of collective leadership which too frequently focuses on deficits and disappointment.
Leaders recognize that collective leadership needs to acknowledge and celebrate achievements regardless of their magnitude. “Progress, not perfection” is a mantra that resonates with experts who encourage the celebration of progress. John Kotter advises that short-term wins be made “visible, unambiguous, meaningful and real” and Tom Peters encourages to “(c)elebrate what you want to see more of.” Celebrating progress does not mean that the mission has been accomplished or that no more work need be done; instead, it is an acknowledgement that everyone’s effort is paying dividends, progress is being made and someone is noticing.
Celebrations can take many forms, from simple handwritten letters or kind words of appreciation to agency-wide parties. Regardless of its form, celebrations serve to reinforce motivation, build momentum, and express gratitude making hard work more fun and fulfilling. When a system makes celebration part of its culture, it is likely to create more success in its future. And when collective team accomplishments are celebrated over those of individuals, team morale is fostered with a renewed commitment to continue working toward the vision.
- Rewarding Accomplishments (Center for Community Health and Development at the University of Kansas, 2016)