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The Secret to Successful Leadership

The most overlooked skill—delegation—might just be the best one you'll ever learn.

People have different skill sets and talents, but there’s one skill that the most effective parent group leaders have all mastered. It’s a technique that, if you learn to use it well, can take your group to the next level. But many people don’t see it as a skill at all. They don’t think it’s something you have to learn or practice. It’s a skill that gets no respect.

True leadership begins with the realization that you can’t do it all yourself. It’s what you do after you’ve come to that conclusion that determines what kind of leader you are. You can complain about the workload. You can cut back. You can work yourself until you’re burned out. Or you can learn and exercise that important skill that gets so little notice: delegation.

Despite what it might feel like, delegation is not the act of passing off your work off to someone else. Nor is it getting someone else to do the jobs you don’t want to do yourself. It’s the art of using another person’s skills, talents, and time to best address the group’s needs. Effective parent group presidents don’t spend hours figuring out the color scheme for the school dance or the best place to order prizes for the school carnival. Instead, they concentrate on the big picture of how to help the group meet its goals and fulfill its mission. They let others do the detail work and provide their own expertise and experience in setting goals and solving problems.

First, of course, you need someone to delegate to. If you’re having trouble attracting volunteers, take a good look at how you’re treating people who want to help. Don’t put every newbie on the cleanup committee while the same three officers do the meaningful work. Not many people will come back time after time because they enjoy cleaning up.

When people express an interest in helping, look for ways to get them truly engaged. That doesn’t mean putting someone new in charge of the auction the first time out, but it does mean letting them use their own skills and creativity to make a real contribution. For example, perhaps you don’t want someone with no experience to run the school carnival. But you might let her organize the refreshments. You give her a budget, a timeline, and details about what’s been done in the past. You would also share any key information she needs to do her job; for instance, maybe it’s important for refreshments to get set up early to be out of the way when the more complex setup of the games takes place.

Perhaps, for past carnivals, you’ve asked parents to bake. When your new refreshments chairwoman decides to ask the local bakery for donations instead, don’t interfere—remember, you set the goal, not the method of getting there. On the other hand, maybe there are parents who look forward to baking for the event and feel more involved because of it. One of the parameters you might give your volunteer at the start is to include a parent involvement component. If she decides that means asking parents to supply more healthy items to supplement what she gets from the bakery, resist the urge to micromanage.

Delegating successfully involves the risk that the job will not be done as well as if you had done it yourself. You do it because the benefits of delegation—adding energy and creativity to your project, nurturing new leaders for your group, providing more time for you to concentrate on big issues and key topics—far outweigh that risk. It isn’t as easy as you might think. But done right, it can build involvement and strengthen your group. For a skill that people so often dismiss, those are pretty good results.

5 Keys To Successful Delegation

  1. Give people the information and tools to do the job, then let them do it.
  2. Set goals and guidelines, not specific procedures.
  3. Have checkpoints along the way to assess progress and address problems.
  4. Don’t be afraid to let people make mistakes; it’s part of the learning curve.
  5. Say thanks and recognize people for their work, and be honest in assessing how well goals were met.

Craig Bystrynski is editor in chief of PTO Today magazine and ptotoday.com. Connect with Craig in the ptotoday.com Community.

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