Orchestrate Rather than Do

Updated: Jul 30

One of the most important skills for any school leader is learning how to delegate.

According to Stephen Covey, "Effectively delegating to others is perhaps the single most powerful high-leverage activity there is."

Effective leaders look at every situation through a delegation lens. When they encounter a decision, they focus on mobilizing people and leveraging resources to achieve their goals. Successful leaders know how to maximize every asset and are continually aware of the resources they have at their disposal.

Think of leaders as the conductor of an orchestra. The conductor doesn’t actually play an instrument, but rather sees that the orchestra transmits a unified vision of esthetic music for the audience.

Effective leaders orchestrate rather than do.


Delegation is one of the most difficult ideas for leaders to grasp.

During my first day as a school administrator I was introduced to my secretary. After exchanging pleasantries I retreated to my office. About five minutes later I asked myself: “What the heck I am supposed to do with a secretary?”

To this day, I still struggle with how to best use my personal assistant.

I am not alone in these struggles. Most school administrators have difficulties delegating. Beyond secretaries, leaders find challenge in empowering others in their organization to complete meaningful work.

Why aren't school leaders effective delegators? Here are three theories:

  1. They don't know how: Leaders have not been trained or mentored to effectively delegate. I can’t recall a time when delegation was discussed in leadership classes or taught during administrator orientation. Despite being one of the most important leadership duties, delegation is rarely the focus of professional development.

  2. They don't want to give up power: Let's be honest, people like power and delegating tasks means giving up power. For example, for several years I enjoyed creating our building master schedule. I loved feeling needed and having everyone come to me for an answer. Not only was I creating a bottleneck of information in our building, I was wasting precious time that should have been focused elsewhere.

  3. They are too nice: There are times when leaders want to delegate tasks, but the thought of telling someone (or training someone) to do their work is not pleasurable. I admin - this is a personal struggle. Sometimes when I realize tasks could be completed by others, I decide against delegating because I'm afraid I already ask too much of others.

In his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell proposes a rule of thumb for delegation. It reads as follows: “If something I'm doing can be done 80 percent as well by someone else, I delegate it. If you have a responsibility that someone else could do according to that standard - or that could potentially meet that standard - then develop and train a person to handle it. Just because you can do something does not mean that you should do it. Remember, leaders understand that activity is not necessarily accomplishment.”

I often use this mindset when determining whether or not to delegate a task to another individual. A self-described perfectionist, I sometimes cringe when I delegate tasks and notice the outcome isn’t quite how I had envisioned. By embracing the 80 percent rule, I give myself permission to relinquish control and accept the results of a not-quite-perfect end product.


Leaders need to delegate the details. Those who find themselves involved in the nitty-gritty should view this as a bad sign.

Are you playing an instrument or conducting the orchestra?

Looking for a great book about delegation? Consider reading Big Potential by Shawn Achor.

Copyright © 2019 by Dr. Jared Smith LLC.  Specializing in Leadership, Education, and Personal Growth.