Does this sound familiar? Amy finally had enough. She was on the verge of burn-out and knew that she had to take something off her plate of responsibilities—it was no longer optional.  Fortunately, her coach showed her how to delegate in a way that worked for her, so that nothing was ignored or abandoned, and jobs were handled in a satisfactory and timely manner.  

The initial step was for Amy to identify what to delegate first.  In a “congruence” exercise, her coach asked her to write down the six main things that consumed her time and/or she was responsible for handling.  For each activity, they analyzed the time involved, the significance of the outcome achieved, and the degree to which Amy’s unique skills and knowledge were required. 

It quickly became apparent which responsibilities made sense to keep and the ones to delegate to someone else. But Amy was reluctant to do this. She had tried in the past to hand off tasks, only to be frustrated with the results or lack thereof.  

With her coach, Amy discovered that she had often missed the distinction “delegate vs. abdicate.”  Essentially, when a leader delegates something, they still need to follow up by requiring progress updates and a report on results.  It is not good leadership to simply toss a hot potato to someone and move on to something else (hoping or assuming the task will be taken care of). 

Stress- and problem-free delegation needs a simple system. Amy chose one task to delegate—ordering office supplies.  Maybe this doesn’t sound like a big deal, but Amy realized it was taking up her time and space in her mind that could be put to use in a way that is more congruent with her skills, creativity, and abilities. Also, she felt comfortable taking this baby step to using a delegation system by choosing something that, while important, wasn’t going to crash her company if it fell through the cracks. 

Do you have a concern that brings out the “control freak” in you? If you are highly resistant to creating delegation systems, well, you might want to consider that your unwillingness to release control might be the real bottleneck. Regardless of the reason for resistance, a delegation system can give you the peace of mind that things can get done by others, on time and correctly.

What is a delegation system? Knowing the four parts to any system is the key to good leadership in delegation. In Amy’s example, the system might look like this: 

  1. Name of System:  Office Supply Inventory Management; 
  2. Set-up Needed: a) Checklist of items and quantities to keep in stock b) List of special requests c) Staples® online account access;
  3. Frequency: Every other Friday;
  4. Procedure: a) Using the Inventory Checklist, look at each shelf in the supplies closet and also by the copier and both printers.  b) Prepare the order from that stock check and from any special requests. c) Place the order online and note the expected delivery date. d) Check the order once delivered to be sure it is complete. e) Place each item in its place in the supplies closet, or by the copier or printers. 

And that is your system to create and implement to ensure you never run out of printer ink just when you need it most.  Because it is crystal clear, just about ANYONE can use it. You could delegate it to a different person every quarter, for example. Or, if the person responsible for it is out of the office or leaves the company, it is super easy for someone else to step in and handle it flawlessly. 

What recurring tasks do you handle at work, home, or anywhere that could fit into a simple 4-part system? Even if you decide to keep the job for yourself, write up a system and you’ll find it so much easier to accomplish it on time and with less stress.  One day, you may be ready to hand it off and that will be done with much more peace of mind. 

BONUS: (Optional, for whom systems are especially interesting…)

Nature is synonymous with System.  The next time you are outside, perhaps walking by a lake or hiking through a forest, notice and consider the systems at play, all around you. Feel the sun, smell the blooming vines, hear the crunch of leaves under your feet, see the red male cardinal. Each is part of a system. Without systems, life itself would not be possible. 

Nature has genius-level systems, nothing like I could imagine or build for myself.  Excerpted from an article on, here is a condensed version of one system you’ve probably observed, but never appreciated: the reproductive system of a pine tree. 

A grain of pine pollen contains the genetic information from the pine tree on which it hangs. Each grain of pollen is equipped with two small wing-like structures that help the pollen become aloft in the air and promote a wide distribution. The grain of pollen (from the male) then finds its way to a receptive female cone, which appears to be solid and hard. Once the pollen lands on the cone, it grows a long thin tube into the center of the cone where the egg is located. There, the genetic information in the pollen grain is combined with the genetic information in the egg, and a fertilized embryo results.

As time passes (usually about two years), the embryo grows into a seed and the cone becomes brown and develops scales. It is at this time the pine cone resembles the familiar cones seen littering the forest floor. If one of the pine cone’s scales is pulled off, a mature seed can be seen at the base. If planted, this seed will grow into a pine tree.

 Some pine cones remain tightly closed until they reach an extremely high temperature, as would be present in a forest fire. Only when these cones are heated do they release their seeds, which corresponds to the likely death of the parent plant in the fire.

That is Nature’s system: 

Name—Pine Tree Reproduction; Set-up—winged pollen grains from males, each containing the genetic information of its parent tree; a female structure (cone) to produce an egg that, when fertilized, develops an embryo, which eventually grows into a mature seed, needing soil, sun and water to grow into a pine tree.  Frequency—large amounts of yellow pine pollen are produced each spring; Procedure—This system has been automated, and Nature simply takes its course.

Every system has the four building blocks you now have in hand. Go build your systems!

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