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Polish Your Delegation Skills

Doing it all yourself leads to burnout—and isn't good for your parent group, either.

by Darylen Cote


Do you just keep getting busier and busier? Are you doing more work than your executive committee or any of your volunteers? Do you tend toward perfectionism? Do you neglect to elicit the opinions of others or accept their ideas? Do you often feel it’s just easier to do it yourself? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may need to check your superhero cloak at the door and improve your delegation skills.

Delegation is one of the most important tools at any group leader’s disposal. Leaders of organizations, including PTO groups, need to mobilize and organize their resources, especially the human ones, to get the job done.

Part of the definition of management is to get work done through other people. That doesn’t mean dumping unwanted tasks or issuing marching orders. It does mean using your most important resource wisely. As Gary Fellows states in his book Dos and Don’ts of Delegation, it is “better to have 10 people do the work than to do the work of 10 people.”

What do we gain by delegating? First, it helps members feel that they are vital to the organization.

Most people join the PTO because they want to contribute something to the work of the group. If members have a part to play in actually implementing projects, they feel more connected to the group. Their participation becomes worthwhile to them. Even with limited time, people are often willing to do part of a task.

In addition, the group can accomplish more tasks than any one person could by working alone. The more the group is able to accomplish, the better people feel about the PTO. It feels great to be part of something successful.

All the know-how you need to be an effective and successful parent group leader!

Delegating also allows you as the leader to begin to develop other people’s leadership skills within your organization. Part of the job of the leader is to train and mentor group members so that you will have even more resources to call upon. Delegation can provide a perfect training ground for the future leaders of your PTO.

To delegate successfully, leaders need to do one of the hardest things known to humankind: Let go! That doesn’t mean letting go of the responsibility for getting the job done; it means letting go of the details of how to do it. It may also mean letting go of the notion that you have all of the good ideas and accepting the ideas of others. It may mean letting go of your own need for recognition when a project goes very well. It also means trusting that when you let go, the people you’ve selected to delegate to can get the job done.

10 Tips for Delegating

That doesn’t mean leaving the results to chance. There are some steps you can take to ensure that when you delegate, the results will be what you wanted. Here are 10 tips to help you shed your superhero image and start you on the road to effective delegation.

  1. Select the right person or group of people for the job. Determine the strengths and weaknesses of your members, and match them to the tasks to be done. You maximize your strengths if you do a good job of matching. Don’t just delegate to the next warm body who walks into the parent resource room. Choose carefully!

  2. Make sure there is a free flow of information. Don’t hoard when it comes to sharing knowledge, information, and plans. People need the big picture to see how their task fits.

  3. Focus on the results, not the methods. The way the task is achieved is very rarely as important as being clear about the results you want. For example, say you run a gift shop for kids every December so that children can do holiday shopping for their parents and family members. You need to have an inventory of what is left from the last sale so that you can make choices about what to order for this year. Encourage the competent person you have chosen to work on this task to describe her ideas about how it should be done. Then give her the go-ahead to carry out the task. Issuing detailed instructions may cause you to miss out on some innovative ideas, because we tend to prescribe only the methods we know about. In addition, the detail conveys a lack of trust. Still, you have been clear about the results you need; the inventory must be done.

  4. Use dialogue to delegate effectively. Issuing orders is not effective delegation. Involve the person you’ve chosen in two-way communication about the task. Setting goals and deciding on timelines together gives that person a voice in the process and allows you to check for gaps in information or understanding.

  5. Set firm deadlines. Avoid hovering, but set realistic checkpoints that will allow for accountability. Never say “Get this done as soon as you can” or “when you can get to it.” Deadlines and checkpoints also allow for feedback. People don’t feel abandoned when they know they will have an opportunity to check in along the way to the deadline.

  6. Point the people to the necessary resources to get the job done. Letting them know, for instance, which drawer holds the catalogs for ordering the teacher recognition gifts is important. Saying “See Bill for information about last year’s recognition event” is another way to point toward the right resources.

  7. Offer advice without interfering once you have made the task clear. One way to accomplish this is to point out the pitfalls the person might encounter. For instance, you might say something like “You may not get great cooperation from the secretary in the guidance office on this booklet. Once she gets to know you, it gets better.”

  8. Describe the limitations and the freedoms the person has in connection with the project you are delegating. For example, a budget and deadlines give the task limitations. Within those parameters the person has the freedom and authority to make the decisions that she needs to make to accomplish the job.

  9. Support the person if disputes arise. Never leave someone you have delegated to dangling without your backup when disagreements or controversies happen.

  10. Give full credit if the job was done successfully and honest, accurate feedback about what went right and wrong. “Thank you” is mandatory after the job is done to acknowledge the contribution.

A Winning Strategy

When it comes to delegation, the time you spend not doing everything yourself will pay off in the long run. Sometimes it may seem like it’s more trouble to teach someone else than to “just do it.” But if you are concerned about long-term health for yourself and your organization, delegating is a skill and a practice that you can’t afford to ignore. The payoff will come in the vitality of your volunteers, yourself, and your organization. You will maximize your ability to achieve your group’s goals for your children and their schools.

Originally posted in 2003 and updated regularly.

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