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Delegation: 7 ways outstanding school leaders get it right

Delegation sounds like a simple thing… Ask other people to do things. But it’s clearly not as simple as it sounds or we’d all be a lot better at it wouldn’t we? When talking to middle and senior leaders in schools and colleges, they often give similar reasons why they fail to delegate:

  • It feels disrespectful
  • They think they should be able to manage all their tasks without help
  • It’s quicker to just do a task yourself
  • They get fed up of chasing up on incomplete tasks

Those middle and senior leaders who manage to navigate these issues and delegate successfully also share some attitudes in common, and there is much we can learn from them.

They know their own strengths and weaknessesDelegation
A good leader usually has a keen idea of where their strengths and weakness lie. They are also aware of the strengths and weaknesses of their team and they bear these in mind when distributing tasks. It means that when delegating tasks it’s not seen as passing jobs off that they can’t be bothered or don’t want to do, but rather that they are assigning each and every job to the most skilled or relevant member of the team.

They are consistently respectful of more junior staff
Respect earns respect, and the best leaders are respectful of, and thoughtful towards, everyone from the lunchtime supervisor to the head teacher. This tends to mean that everyone within the team understands their place and wants to pull their weight to support the whole team. No one feels they are being disrespected when asked to complete a menial task if they understand the importance of the task within the team, and if the act of delegation is done in a thoughtful and respectful way.

They never delegate a task they wouldn’t be willing to do themselves
This is another important way of ensuring we are respectful towards more junior colleagues. When we delegate a task that we wouldn’t be willing to do ourselves we send a clear message of ‘I am better than you’. It’s okay to delegate a task that we couldn’t do – then we’re drawing on the expertise of a colleague where their skills are different to our own – but if there is a task that we’re delegating because we don’t want to do it, then we’re more likely to run into trouble. A strong message can be sent to the whole team by occasionally rolling your sleeves up and pitching in with lower level tasks.

They don’t ‘cherry pick’
It can be tempting to hold onto fun or interesting tasks and delegate the less interesting or more difficult tasks. Good leaders don’t do that. If there is a job that will be genuinely done better by a different member of the team, the task is passed on… no matter how exciting it is.

They invest time and energy into training more junior staff
It is only quicker to do tasks yourself than to delegate them for as long as you fail to train up more junior members of the team. Investing in training and support for more junior team members is a cost and time effective way to ensure your team is as productive as it can be and also to ensure that every team member feels valued and engaged.

They set clear objectives and deadlines
Clear objectives, fair deadlines and a consistent approach to task management make it far easier for colleagues to complete tasks at an appropriate pace and within the necessary timeframe.

They have open lines of communication
Sometimes, it’s not possible for tasks to be completed on time. Poor managers sometimes instil fear or anxiety into their team who may consequently dodge the issue and fail to be honest about deadlines that may be missed or tasks that can’t be completed. Where lines of communication are more open and leaders welcome feedback and take a proactive approach to supporting the team, colleagues are more likely to raise issues early on – which means there is more chance of overcoming them.

Delegating appropriately is an important part of most leadership roles. No only does it enable you to achieve more, it is also a valuable way of growing the skills and knowledge of the whole team, and engendering a real spirit of teamwork.

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