The hundred languages of leadership - a Reggio Emilia perspective
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The hundred languages of leadership – a Reggio Emilia perspective

by Michelle Walsh

June 17, 2019

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Sector.

Many early childhood educators are well versed in Loris Malaguzzi’s poem referencing the hundred languages of children. In it, he reminds the reader that systems, structure and defined ways of working can limit children, an anchor of conformity and regiment which weighs them down. In this piece, The Sector contributor, Michelle Walsh, shares her reflections on leadership, asking readers to consider if they make space in their leadership style for the hundred languages in their team to be expressed.


In 2004 Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of the Reggio Emilia approach, wrote this poem which gives me goosebumps each time I read it, thinking about the opportunity we have, to support children through life:



I can’t help but be drawn to the links between education systems and managers. Do we as managers silence the hundred languages of our teams? Why do we think that if we tell people what to do, when to do it, how to do it, and sometimes remember the why, that they will perform? If we explained the ‘why’ and then let them use their hundred languages to invent, to play, explore, innovate, might the way we lead and manage change?

Often leaders and managers seem to tell their employees to think without head, to do without hands, and to listen and not to speak. If this approach was changed, to invite employees to work towards a common goal, with minimal intervention or explicit instruction, the outcome may be different.

For example, when a service is working on an element of their quality improvement plan, a manager who is embracing the hundred languages might preface an exploration by saying “we want to explore and understand more about how we document children’s learning. We trust you to use your skills, gifts, and personalities to work on a solution or idea, and to take ownership of the outcome.”


Sometimes  leaders and managers come up with the outcome they seek, and then tell teams what to do to meet the outcome, which can limit the team working under them.The outcome or achievement may well have been surpassed by the employees if we let them ‘speak’ their hundred languages.



At times, leaders and managers who are still developing their management style do not recognise the strength that lies in embracing individual ways of working, or have the knowledge to facilitate each individual’s ‘language of listening’, or ‘marvelling’ and of ‘loving’. As a manager, you cannot deny the contagious energy that comes from loving your job.


Staff turnover can be an indication that staff do not feel heard. When staff are ‘voting with their feet’ they are saying ‘no way…the hundred is there’. Staff moving on from their position as a result of not feeling heard may indicate that they are frustrated with not being able to have meaningful input into the outcomes of their working day, to have freedom of expression, and to affect true and meaningful change.What would a management scenario where teams are not only allowed, but in fact encouraged,  to use their hundred languages look like? Would people be happier? Would the overall quality, both of the service, and of their working lives, improve? 


For leaders and managers, thinking about how to unleash the creative capacity of team members, and not stifle them, may lead to a variety of new and innovative answers and solutions to questions or challenges within a service. Many times, the answer lies within the team.

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