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Steps to effective delegation

It can be hard to give up control, but here are actions leaders can take to better delegate.

5 min read




I often deliver leadership seminars to school leaders with a focus on delegation. One of the first things that I do in these talks is to ask participants why they don’t delegate more.

Before sharing their responses, I will share why I ask the question. As we discussed in a previous post, school leaders 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 on professional development, budgeting and many other areas as well.

A research article published by NAIS spoke of the frequently overwhelming demands on the heads of schools. 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, fundraising 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 leaders at a seminar and asked whether they delegate as much as they should. When the majority responded with a 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 they 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.

Here are some other important components:

  • 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 that 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 coworker 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 recent 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 leadership team allows principals to harness various talents and perspectives for the collective good. It may be challenging at first, but the process will pay great dividends over time while also alleviating some of the crushing burden that often sits on a leader’s shoulders.

Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, (@impactfulcoach) ) is president of Impactful Coaching & Consulting. Check out his leadership book, “Becoming the New Boss.” Read his blog, and listen to his leadership podcast. Download his free new eBook, “An E.P.I.C. Solution to Understaffing.”


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