My first day as an assistant principal was a whirlwind.
The day began at the district office where I completed paperwork and met district leaders. Next, I drove to my building where I was met by the head principal. After briefly chatting, we walked into the main office where I was introduced to several employees, including the nurse, counselors, custodians, and … my secretary.
"I can't believe I have my own secretary," I thought as I settled into my office. "I've made it to the big time!" At 26-years old, it was a surreal feeling knowing another adult's main purpose was to provide me with assistance.
However - only a few minutes later - exuberance turned to uncertainty.
“How exactly ... am I supposed to use a secretary?”
Despite having a masters in educational leadership, I quickly realized I had no clue how to manage the roles and responsibilities of another human being. Little did I know that being able to effectively delegate to others would be among the most vital - and most challenging - school leader responsibilities.
Only three at the time, my dad used the harsh Minneapolis winters to teach me the basics of delegation.
Delegation is defined as the shifting of authority and responsibility for particular functions, tasks, or decisions from one person to another.
From a school leader perspective, delegation occurs when an administrator assigns specific tasks to their employees. By delegating those tasks to team members, administrators free up time to focus on higher-value activities while also giving employees increased workplace autonomy.
While in theory it sounds simple, in practice delegation is anything but easy. As much as they want to delegate work to others, many school leaders refuse to do so. A handful of core reasons exist as to why administrators fail to delegate. Consider the following:
"But it would take too long to explain the task"
"But I want to feel useful and need job security"
"But I enjoy completing certain projects"
"But I feel guilty about giving work to others"
"But I can’t trust others to complete the work"
"But I'm the only person who can do the job right"
If you have used any of these lines, you are not alone. Most school leaders justify their unwillingness to delegate using one of these reasons.
To combat this thinking, consider using The 80 Percent Rule.
The 80 Percent Rule is a delegation "rule of thumb" and reads as follows: If there is someone on staff who can do a task 80 percent as well as you can, delegate it. Clearly, some tasks only school administrators should do (e.g., employee evaluation, severe student discipline). However - in most cases - this rule can guide delegation decisions.
For example, as an assistant principal, I loved being called upon to lead professional development. As an up-and-coming instructional leader, I felt great pride in teaching staff how to improve instructional practice. But when I moved a head principal role, I quickly realized we had other individuals who were very talented – at least 80 percent of my capabilities – at leading professional development.
Another example was master scheduling. As an assistant principal, it was my responsibility to create the teacher master schedule. Not only did I enjoy crafting this important document, I also relished having so much power over daily operations. But when I became a principal, I realized we had other individuals – such as assistant principals and counselors – who could also complete this task to at least 80 percent of my capability.
School leaders must understand there is simply too much that needs to be done, and not everything can be done by one person. By using The 80 Percent Rule, administrators should feel comfortable delegating less-important duties so they can focus on more-important tasks.
Looking to upgrade your delegation skills? Here are eight more ideas to consider:
Strengths: For most tasks, there’s likely someone on your team with the specific skill set needed to achieve the desired result. School leaders must always leverage employee skills by delegating tasks that play to employee strengths. Delegation gives others the opportunity to excel, which means employees are more motivated and engaged … thus increasing employee retention.
Time: Many people refuse to delegate when they think about all the time it will take to explain the decision and train the other person. This thinking is misguided, as administrators should look at every situation through a “how much time will this save me in the long run” lens. Any time spent delegating on the frontend will save loads of time on the backend … making delegation one of the most powerful, high-leverage activities in the leadership arsenal.
Power: Let's be honest, one of the biggest issues when it comes to delegation is power. Despite the fact they are taught to be "servant leaders," far too many administrators get on power trips and believe they need to control everything that happens in their building. I've got three words for you: get over it. Leadership is not about having power over others, but rather it's about using your influence to empower others.
Busy: Some employees will argue they are “too busy” to take on new tasks. Unfortunately, all employees are busy. If we used being "too busy" as an excuse for not taking on new tasks, that means that nothing new would ever get done. In these cases, administrators must explain their thought process, identifying the work that is most valuable to the organization. This could mean that some work is pushed to others, or eliminated altogether.
Compensation: This may be an unpopular opinion, but I believe administrators should always look for opportunities to compensate individuals who work beond their normal duties. "But Jared, there is no money in education!" Baloney. My current district operates a $160 million budget. You're telling me you can't find a few hundred dollars to pay an employee whom has been delegated a new task? Gone are the days when we can keep adding duties to employee plates without either taking something off their plate ... or increasing their compensation.
Secretary: As was previously mentioned, the administrator’s assistant must be a huge piece of the delegation puzzle. For example, my secretary controls my electronic calendar – dictating where I need to be each moment of the day. Furthermore, she takes care of virtually all my paperwork, state reporting, ordering, letters of support, and other routine tasks. Unfortunately, far too many leaders underutilize their personal assistant.
Support Staff: Rarely do school districts empower support staff to assume more responsibility. However, administrators who build capacity with paraeducators, custodians, food service, bus drivers, and other hourly employees quickly realize these individuals are eager to give more to their organization. It's amazing how potential blossoms when humans are trusted and given autonomy.
Follow Up: One important part of delegating a task is to document the agreement. Far too often, leaders get burned by employees who are fail to follow through on a commitment. And without a paper trail, it is hard to hold that employee accountable. Smart leaders utilize email, Google Docs, and other electronic tools to document decisions that are made.
Individuals who move into school administration quickly realize they have a lot on their plate.
Those who refuse to delegate get stuck in the weeds and create massive inefficiencies in their organization.
Alternately, those who delegate build confidence in others while freeing themselves to do their most critical work.