Commentary: The benefits of effective delegation

Walter Bumphus

Walter Bumphus

Editor’s note: This article comes from the current issue of the Community College Journal, which has been published by the American Association of Community Colleges since 1930.

As a president, you bear the responsibility for all of the operational decisions and outcomes at your college. That is a very daunting thought. Good leaders are effective delegators and by building a team that has the authority to do their jobs, you are accomplishing much more than effective operations, you are growing leaders.

Delegation is not a new concept, but it is one that comes up often in conversations with new leaders. The keys to delegation seem straight-forward — they are “who” and “what.” It is up to you to determine who is the best person to act as your proxy in operational matters and to also determine what tasks you are able to delegate. Sounds simple, right?

In fact, these are among the most critical decision you will make as a community college leader.

What to delegate

What to delegate is sometimes tricky to determine for college presidents. Strategic planning, organizational goal setting and guiding policy are often the work of the college’s board and requires specific attention from the CEO. Operations and process-driven tasks, however, are a good fit for delegation.

Organizing a student event, presenting a fiscal plan, facilities planning and student recruitment campaigns are task-driven and calendar-specific examples of delegation-friendly tasks. These types of tasks are also measureable, providing you with an opportunity to discuss milestones and provide feedback along the way, providing important guidance and mentoring to developing leaders on your team.

My team is very familiar with the term “inspect what I expect.” It is a phrase I use often to make sure that as I have delegated tasks, I have also effectively communicated what my expectations are regarding the outcomes. I actively reflect upon my expectations and communications so that I know my team is aware of the expected outcomes. Reflection is critical and sometimes leads to further discussions and amended expectations. These discussions and changes are usually far easier to manage than the disappointment of unexpected results.

In the case of a long-standing team, the process may appear to be more seamless. But, in time and with consistent nurturing, a new team will be able to meet and exceed expectations for operational tasks.

Help your team succeed

Regardless of the length of time a team has been together, as a leader it is incumbent upon you to determine how that team comes together. Selecting your staff members is the first step, but beyond that it is your responsibility to provide them with the tools they need to be successful. Providing them guidance and feedback when they take the helm of a delegated project will help them grow as leaders, help balance your workload and help to develop a pipeline of leaders that permeate your organizational structure.

It is important to remember that guidance and feedback are great tools to use when nurturing the development of leadership skills for your team members. Be aware of your style and demeanor so that you are not seen as micro-managing. We have all been micro-managed at one point in our lives, and I would guess that it was not an effective motivational tool.

If you honestly reflect and feel that you are micro-managing, assess why you are doing so. Many times, it is because you have had a negative experience with delegating a task that perhaps did not work out so well. Be honest with yourself and provide honest (and, sometimes vulnerable) feedback to your team and you will build trust and show them first-hand how to delegate as a leader.

About the Author

Walter G. Bumphus
is president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges.