Tips to help school leaders delegate effectively

Learning to share work effectively can free up school leaders’ time as well as enabling staff members to develop new skills. Simon Creasey asks management experts to share their tips on how to hand out responsibility like a pro
20th March 2020, 12:04am
School Leadership & Delegation


Tips to help school leaders delegate effectively

There has perhaps never been a more complex, challenging or unique situation facing school leaders than the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. It is another huge workload issue that leaders have to take on, while trying to keep everything else going as best as possible. The reality is, though, that no matter how hard school leaders try and keep on top of things during this difficult time, there will simply be too many things to handle without needing to call on the support of deputies and other members of their senior leadership team - and maybe even non-SLT staff, too.

One of the key management skills that many school leaders struggle to get to grips with is delegation. Some people don’t like getting other members of staff to perform tasks because they don’t think they’re capable of completing them to their own high standards. Others don’t want to offload tasks on to team members who already have a heavy workload, fearing it’ll cause wellbeing issues. And some people struggle to give up control, perhaps worrying it will undermine their authority or be seen as a weakness.

But delegation is a vital skill for school leaders to master and there is an art to doing it effectively, according to management experts, who have put together a few tips to help.

1. Why you shouldn’t do it yourself

One of the most common responses leaders give to the question of why they don’t delegate more often - if at all - is because they think it will be quicker for them to undertake the task themselves. However, Grace Marshall, author of How To Be Really Productive, argues that this “do-it-yourself” approach is all wrong.

Initially, it will be slower to let someone else do it, she says, but subsequently it will become quicker - and better for all involved - to let someone else take the reins.

“[For example], when children are learning to put their shoes on, or get dressed or fill the dishwasher, it’s always slower and more painful at first, but once they know how to do it, they become a lot quicker,” says Marshall. “So you can expect to experience some growing pains when you first start to delegate but that’s a good thing.”

The only reason delegation sometimes means a task takes longer to complete is because you haven’t given anyone a chance to get good enough to do it faster.

2. Delegate for the right reasons

Once you are willing to delegate, you have to work out the best way to do it. Seeing delegation as simply a way to banish a number of items on your to-do list and blank them from your agenda is not the correct approach, says Marshall. Delegation is actually more collaborative than that: you have to remain willing to be involved in the task(s) you are passing on. This can be time consuming, she admits, but in the long term, it can prove highly beneficial.

“Once they’ve done it consistently, they’re able to do it, so you’ll save time, and also it’s great because you’re training somebody else up and giving them the skills that they need instead of having to rely on you to do it for them,” she says.

3. Eat the frog

Not only is collaboration important, honesty is crucial, too. There will be elements of your job that you simply won’t be very good at and knowing what these are is important.

“We all have different strengths and weaknesses, and we all have different things that we love and hate,” says Marshall. “Have you heard of Eat That Frog [a book about time management by Brian Tracy]? The idea is that if you eat a frog for breakfast, everything afterwards will taste sweet. So your ‘frog’ is a thing that you personally don’t enjoy doing but that might be somebody else’s treat. They might be really good at it - better at it than you.”

4. Select the right people

What both of the previous points hint at is a crucial cog in the delegation process: finding the right person to delegate to. Who is eager enough to learn for it to be worth you spending the time mentoring them in a task? Who is that teacher just waiting for an opportunity to indulge their love of spreadsheets, for example?

Joyel Crawford, leadership development consultant at Crawford Leadership Strategies, says that one of the key steps to successful delegation is knowing your staff well. “This means having a transparent conversation about your direct report’s career goals and drive to want to do tasks that are outside of their normal job responsibilities,” she says. “It does you or the other party no good delegating a responsibility or project to him or her when they have no interest in doing it in the first place.”

Crawford says this does not necessarily mean they have to love what you’re asking them to do or become an expert at the task, but they need to have the “potential to execute - that’s the seed of development that needs to be cultivated”.

5. Ensure you’re on the same page

So you have found the right person, now you need the right brief. If you are delegating to someone, you must be unambiguous about the processes and rules that need to be followed, and if there is a deadline that needs to be hit.

“Be very clear in outlining these and asking questions to check for understanding,” says Crawford. “This not only gives you peace of mind but also helps you ascertain if the delegated party is on the same page with what you’re looking for.”

6. Check in regularly

Once the task is up and running, you need to avoid being a back-seat driver, but you also need to ensure everything is going OK.

Don’t micro-manage, cautions Crawford, but do set up regular chats to see how the person is getting on with the project and establish whether or not any adjustments need to be made.

If you’re concerned that things aren’t panning out the way you anticipated and you’re considering intervening, then psychologist Susan Heitler - author of Prescriptions Without Pills - says that instead of guessing how things are going, ask.

“Beware of ‘yes-no’ questions,” says Heitler. “Use open-ended information-gathering questions by beginning with ‘how?’ or ‘what?’: ‘What’s your feeling about my helping you? How do you feel about how responsibilities have been delegated so far?’”

And, after the project or task that’s been delegated out to a team member is complete, make sure that you assess how it went and document the progress and process, advises Crawford.

“Then you have a standard operating procedure for the next time something like this may come up and your team member can walk away with the feeling that they have added something new to their leadership tool belt,” she says.

Simon Creasey is a freelance writer

This article originally appeared in the 20 March 2020 issue under the headline “Delegation’s what you need”

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