Leadership - Spread the load to hit the heights

13th December 2013 at 00:00
It can be scary to delegate, but do it well and you will make your school a better place for all

Some school leaders are not too keen on delegation. We're not talking despotic regimes but we are certainly in the realm of what teachers euphemistically label "individualistic" or "headstrong" management styles: a leader in a silo of their own ideas, micromanaging every aspect of the school and viewing input or initiative from colleagues as a personal affront.

This environment can arise for numerous reasons - a few examples are fear, distrust, ego and lack of planning - but whatever the reason, not delegating is a damaging decision for school leaders. This is because delegation is at the heart of good school leadership. It is essential for staff development and energy, as well as being integral to a leader gaining respect for his or her authority. It also makes the job of school management easier and makes the school a better place, as there is a larger pool of ideas to pick from.

That is not to say that delegation can never go wrong. Make the wrong choices on what to delegate and who to delegate to and you can create a huge frictional drag on a school or department's capacity to improve, as well as destroying the confidence of individuals and creating resentment among other staff.

So what does good delegation look like? Use the following hierarchical list of ways to manage it:

Look into this problem. Give me all the facts. I will decide what to do.

Let me know the options available with the pros and cons of each. I will decide what to select.

Let me know the criteria for your recommendation, which alternatives you have found and which one appears best to you, with any risks identified. I will make the decision.

Recommend a course of action for my approval.

Let me know what you intend to do. Delay action until I approve.

Let me know what you intend to do. Do it unless I say not to.

Take action. Let me know what you did. Let me know how it turns out.

Take action. Communicate with me only if the action is unsuccessful.

Take action. No further communication with me is necessary.

Someone you have just appointed to a leadership role should be kept nearer the top of the list until you work out their competence and build trust in their judgement. As that trust and competence increases, you can move them down the list and give them more autonomy.

However, delegation decisions depend heavily on the issue at hand. The more important and complex the issue or action you are delegating, the more likely it is that you will want to stay around the top of the list.

Although there will be movement up and down the hierarchy, most leaders will have a base position. Where this sits will depend largely on what type of person they are and how they like to manage.

Whichever approach you use, consistency is key. A sure-fire way of creating chaos and demotivating staff is to backtrack on your position.

For example, if you tell a colleague they can make a decision and report back the outcome, don't suddenly change your mind if something goes wrong and claim that you should have been consulted before action was taken.

One school leader did just this: he asked a colleague to prepare a display for parents' evening and said he did not need to be consulted about the detail. But when a parent complained that their child's work was not included, the headteacher disciplined the colleague for not consulting him. Unsurprisingly, this school leader found hanging on to staff rather difficult.

Negative outcomes of delegating badly or not delegating at all are not limited to poor staff retention. Delegation is central to how a school works. Ultimately, if you can't trust others to take responsibility, that distrust filters down through the staff and to the students. And this creates an environment that is the antithesis of what is required to enable a school to thrive.

This is an edited version of the chapter "D is for Delegation" from The A-Z of School Improvement: principles and practice by David Woods and Tim Brighouse, published by Bloomsbury at #163;24.99. To claim your TESS subscriber 20 per cent discount, visit www.bloomsbury.comeducation and use the code GLR 8RW.

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