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Is delegation a nasty word?

4 min read


Recently, I delivered a leadership seminar to school executives. The focus was on administrative mentorship with a particular emphasis on delegation. I asked the principals in the room as to why they don’t delegate more.

Before sharing their responses, I will share why I asked the question. School leaders, like most executives, are in over their heads in work demands. Not only do we ask more from our schools and their administrators in terms of programming, assessment, communication and accountability, but we expect them to “stay current” in an ever-changing technological and educational landscape that has huge implications not only on core instruction, but also on professional development, budgeting and many other areas.

A research article published by NAIS (Northern Association of Independent Schools, an association that provides services to more than 1,700 schools in the United States and abroad) spoke of the frequently overwhelming demands on the head of school.

In their study, the authors found that school heads identify “big-picture” aspects of their job, such as providing vision, managing their school’s climate and values, and working with their boards, as most demanding. Right behind those on the continuum are such tasks as managing their school’s financial health, fund raising, and strategic planning. And that does not even include such ongoing administrative staples as instructional oversight and student relations.

Knowing this about the stressors of school leadership I turned to the assembled and asked whether they delegate as much as they should. When the majority responded to the negative, I probed further. Using a think-pair-share technique, the participants were asked to complete the following sentence: “I would delegate more if I …”

I received these primary responses:

  1. Trusted my colleagues more
  2. Wasn’t so controlling
  3. Had more time to think about what to delegate
  4. Knew how

This feedback was not surprising. Article after article speak about the challenges for leaders and small-business owners to relinquish control and delegate. Why? Delegation is a foreign concept for many who think that they need to hold all of the cards or to have their spoons in every pot. Those who are willing to share responsibility may not invest the time into doing so strategically or may not even know how to go about it.

Trust is one crucial element to effective delegation and teamwork. You have to believe in your people in order to empower them. But it takes more than willingness and trust to delegate effectively. Others important components include:

  • Decide what to delegate. Start with a small project or one that doesn’t have to be completed in a specific way. This keeps the temperature low and the end goal in sight.
  • Pick the right person or group. Take time to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the members of your team. Select those whom  you’re confident can do the job well. They should be self-motivated and comfortable working without constant supervision.
  • Provide clarity about the expected outcome. Include timelines and deliverables and provide a template or guidelines for the project. The more that you can spell out in detail, the less the risk of subsequent confusion or error.
  • Grant the necessary authority. Supply the control and leeway for your co-worker to find the best approach on his own. This increases his creativity and initiative while boosting his self-esteem.
  • Be prepared to assist. You may need to delegate the task as a whole, but can often still assist here or there. Also, make sure to offer proper training to build skill and efficacy for the task designees.
  • Monitor progress. Stay on top of things and correct/redirect when necessary. This motivates colleagues (who don’t feel abandoned) and helps you catch problems early. Obviously, inexperienced colleagues will need tighter control than seasoned veterans.
  • Recognize key milestones and celebrate successes. Anything from a simple “thank you” or “well done” to arranging for awards, gifts or bonuses.

A study published in the Gallup Business Journal found that the most cohesive and successful teams possess broader groupings of strengths, rather than one dominant leader who tries to do everything or individuals who all have similar strengths.

The process of building a well-informed and properly trained team allows leaders to harness various talents and perspectives for the collective good. It may be challenging at first, but will pay great dividends over time while also alleviating some of the crushing burden that often sits on a leader’s shoulders.

Naphtali Hoff (@impactfulcoach) served as an educator and school administrator for over 15 years before becoming an executive coach and consultant. Read his blog