Leadership & Management

Am I delegating…

or am I dumping?

Alice Lewes profile photo

Alice Lewes, Early Years Leadership Consultant

18 February 2017

I needed some help! I had rather over enthusiastically bought 4 Kilos of Marmalade oranges. My marmalade has a very good reputation, so I thought that I would make lots this year.

It is however VERY time consuming! Forget putting the peel in the Magimix, it doesn’t work as it shreds it. I’ve experimented over the years, and the truth is you just have to cut the peel up by hand – it’s the only way I’m afraid.


Photograph by Jonathan Pielmayer via Unsplash

So I asked my partner Johnny to help me. His response wasn’t that positive, but being a nice kind person he agreed to help. And this was where it started to become VERY challenging. I have a tried and tested way of cutting up my oranges, I like to get through it as quickly as possible so that I can move on and get on with the next step.

His method was a little different! He was practically measuring each piece of peel to make sure that they were the same width and length, which was taking rather a long time.

“Why are you doing it like that” I asked? “They are only going to get boiled up for hours so they don’t have to be the same size?” His response was, “You have your way of doing it, and I have mine” That was brave of him, I had a very sharp knife in my hand!

How often is accepting that others have their way of doing things one of the most difficult challenges we face when we are leading and managing our team? Do we have to accept that as long as the end result is acceptable, does it matter how we got there? I was left with a choice – I could do it all myself, or accept that his way was different, a bit slower perhaps, but the end result was probably better than mine.

More oranges

Photograph by Erol Ahmed via Unsplash

I have worked with many Nursery Owners and Managers who have found delegating effectively a real struggle. It’s understandable, we have our own standards, values etc, and want things done the way ‘we think is the right way’. When you start up your business, it’s metaphorically ‘your baby’. You are taking financial risks, are probably working 24/7 to begin with while you get everything set up and running effectively. So when success comes and you are rushed off your feet, you have to delegate.

It is an art and a skill. There is a fabulous book by Ken Blanchard called, ‘The Manager Meets the Monkey’ – well worth a read if you are have issues around effective delegation.

When I ran the Lucie Clayton College of Nursery Training we used to arrange for students to go to Day Nurseries to learn the practical side of Nursery Nursing. We very soon identified the one who saw a very useful extra pair of hands for washing paint pots, changing nappies etc (which is part of it of course) coming to help them, but were not so committed to the effective training of the students. This was what I would call “dumping’ not ‘delegating’!

Effective delegation is about developing your trust in those who work with you, and then lessening your control. They won’t do it ‘your way’, but does that matter?

The other very important factor is to match the skill set of your team to the competencies needed for the job to be done effectively.

Knowing your team is crucial here. I am a big fan of the Honey and Mumford Learning Styles theory, which helps us find out whether your team members are Activists, Reflectors, Pragmatists or Theorists. I am an extreme activist; so find detailed work that requires a high level of attention to detail very difficult. I take short cuts, and although I have high standards, I am untidy. When working I need space, and to be able to spread myself about – I’m organized in a disorganized way!

And some more oranges.

Photograph by Brian Jimenez via Unsplash

Here is some theory! Below are eight steps that will help you increase your effectiveness and develop your delegation skills:

1. Identify the job that needs doing (seems a bit obvious I know!)

2. Identify the key requirements of the job, and the essential characteristics of the job holder (communicator, attention to detail, reliability, etc.)

3. Identify the individual who you will delegate the task to.

4. Match the individual’s existing competence against the requirements of the job (point 2 above) based on your direct experience of the individual.

5. Identify if there are any gaps between 2 and 4 above.

6. Decide how you will ensure that the gaps will be filled during the delegation process. Depending on the task being delegated, these could include some, or all of the following:

  • Regular monitoring of progress
  • Being included in all e-mailings
  • Organising specific training courses
  • Job-shadowing
  • Specific training
  • Regular coaching sessions

7. Discuss the process from 1-6 above with the individual to whom you wish to delegate the job. Ensure that s/he understands that your aim is to lower the level of control as they become more competent in doing the job.

8. Keep an eye on the process to ensure that you are systematically lessening your control; if you are not able to do this, you will know that you have misjudged one or both of points 2 and 4 above.

The other important factor here is that you are giving your staff team an opportunity to grow and develop. They might make mistakes (obviously not in a way that would compromise children’s well being), but they will learn form them and move forward. In training we call mistakes ‘learning opportunities!’

Now…the marmalade is made so I think I’ll delegate the washing up of the very sticky pan and utensils, and the general clearing up to Johnny – I’m sure he will be VERY appreciative!

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