Issy Freeman: Delegation - letting go and moving on

A key attribute of a good leader is knowing when to pass work on to someone else, writes our columnist

Issy Freeeman
Issy Freeeman

It’s said that if you want a job to be done properly, it’s best to do it yourself. But for those at the top of the ladder it is important to recognise when doing the job yourself is not in everyone’s best interests.

A leader reaches their position by doing a job well, but knowing when to hand work down to the next in line is a valuable attribute. Experience might make the boss more skilled than those lower down the ladder, but delegation can clear up time to do work more appropriate to the top level. Crucially, it can also give more junior staff the opportunity to develop and get the team fully engaged with the charity’s work.

Handing down ownership of decisions can be empowering for junior staff, increasing confidence and ability over time. Previous experience and training should help the appropriate person to carry out delegated tasks and, in the long term, this can prove vital to the charity. Succession planning depends upon a good leader passing on knowledge, skills and responsibilities. If a leader has led well, they might have somebody prepared to step into their shoes when they move on.

I sit on the board of trustees for Kidscan, a small charity with a small team of staff. In an organisation of Kidscan’s size, it’s common for one person to look after several areas of fundraising. Making sure that income streams are grouped effectively means paying careful attention to employees’ skills and delegating accordingly. A good community fundraiser, for example, will often work well with volunteers and others at a grass-roots level, but a very different skillset is required for dealing with major donors and the more corporate tasks of making applications to trusts and foundations. Where only a few people are available to deal with several income streams, responsibility should be handed to the people best suited to each one.

When delegating non-front-line work, it’s important to maintain a balance between keeping on top of supporting tasks – database management, for example – and putting in the time to talk to supporters. If there’s no time for one or the other, a balance hasn’t been achieved. The back office and front line should complement one another without either one taking precedence, and choosing the right people for the job makes achieving a balance much simpler. A workforce that is effectively managed is likely to be better at its job, and a key part of good leadership is the recognition of valuable skills.

Where the necessary skills are simply not available, charities should look to external sources. Skilled professionals are often keen to use their spare time and abilities to help out with the work that charities find difficult. Corporate sponsors, for example, could offer secondment opportunities, lending skills such as marketing – plentiful in the private business sector – to a charity that might find those skills difficult to find. Even the most careful delegation might not produce perfect results where the skills don’t exist, so securing outside support can help to develop a well-rounded team. In her previous role at St John Ambulance, Kidscan’s director of development, Lowri Turner, was herself seconded supporting staff by a corporate sponsor. Bringing in skills that the charity struggled to recruit, the sponsor was able to provide valuable support to an important campaign.

Drawing on that support was key to the campaign’s success. Handing over control for the good of the charity, and resisting the temptation to act as jack of all trades, Turner demonstrated a fundamental skill required of a leader: the ability to ask for help.

Issy Freeman is a director of HR and a trustee of the children’s cancer research charity Kidscan

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