Too Busy to Lead

perfection is the enemy of success

Are you running your business, or is the business running you? Do you spend your days putting out fire after fire and never getting to the tasks or projects that you want to work on? Is there so much on your plate that you barely have time to answer your staff’s questions, let alone provide valuable leadership? If your answer is an annoying little “yes” to any of these, it’s time to talk about delegating.

FACT: Running a business (or a nonprofit) is hard work. There is always more to do than what you have time for in a day. As the leader, you feel responsible for making sure everything gets done, and gets done right. And the more successful you are, the more work there is to manage.

FACT: Every successful leader in the world has had to figure out how to delegate. And they have likely all struggled to figure out what and how to delegate. Effective delegation is key to managing your business while also leading your team.

The idea of delegating might seem impossible. After all, don’t you have to have everything organized in order to delegate it to someone else? The answer to that is no, and we’ll talk more about that later. Effective delegating is one of most important skills you can learn as a leader. In order to learn the skill, it helps to have some basic structures in place to make delegating easier. These three components create a solid foundation for effective delegating:

  1. Establish the right structure

  2. Hire quality staff

  3. Understand your strengths


Finding the right structure for your business not only helps with delegation, but it sets you up for success in many other ways as well. This means establishing and communicating a clear chain of command, thoughtfully creating positions and departments, and ensuring everyone knows what they are accountable for and how their work impacts the success of the company. You can read a lot more about this topic by reading Structure – Getting it Right to Grow.

Quality Staff

Quality staff does not always mean that you pay the very best or you provide the most glamorous jobs. Quality staff are those people who you trust. Those whose values align strongly with yours and those of your company. Those who have a positive attitude about the success of your business. In order to have confidence in delegating, you need staff who are willing, able, and motivated to help advance the work.

We all know that solid staff don’t grow on trees. And I’m not suggesting that this is a simple step. However, I do have a few tips to help. In addition to creating the right structure (mentioned above) for your business, here are some proactive steps you can take to create a breeding ground for quality staff.

  1. Communicate your vision. All. The. Time. When staff do not see the bigger picture vision for your business, then all they have is a job. But when a picture is painted of the direction you are taking the company, and their role in helping to get there, then it becomes much more. They see the work they are doing as valuable. They want to help accomplish goals. And they understand better why things need to be performed a certain way.

  2. Communicate your values. All. The. Time. Use your values when you talk about the big picture of your company. Use them to make hiring decisions. And use them in performance conversations. The first step is obviously to establish your values and to ensure that they truly reflect who you are as a company. Then, the more you use them, the more closely your staff will align with the values you hold dear. Staff will either self-select out if they don’t have the same values, or they will be drawn in if your values resonate with them. Both of those consequences create a stronger team.

  3. Practice your listening skills. People want to be heard. Even if you cannot accommodate their requests, people feel better when they have been genuinely listened to. When we truly listen to someone, they feel valued and respected. What a great gift to give to someone! And don’t you think that staff who feel valued and respected will also be motivated to help you and your business? Listening is one of my very favorite topics, you can read more about developing these skills here and here and here and here. (Clearly a favorite topic.)

Your Strengths 

This part isn’t just about understanding your strengths. It’s also about understanding the things you love to focus on; as well as the things you’re not that great at or don’t like to spend time on. Here is a fairly simple exercise to help you determine what you should be delegating. Take a piece of paper and divide it into 4 quadrants. Label the boxes as follows:

  • Top left = enjoy, not great at

  • Bottom left =  don’t enjoy, not great at

  • Bottom right = don’t enjoy, great at

  • Top right = enjoy, great at

From there, insert all of the tasks, responsibilities, and relationships that are on your plate. Look back at your calendar for a few weeks to make sure you capture everything. Once everything is recorded, it should be pretty easy to see which items would be good to delegate. Additionally, by practicing your listening skills, you will hopefully have an idea about staff who would enjoy or be good at the things you don’t like or don’t excel in.

Just Do it

Back to the point at the beginning of this article. Leaders often feel like they have to have everything in place, just right, before they can give a project or task to someone else. As the quote above states, perfection is the enemy of success. Perfection is an illusion, and if you keep waiting for everything to be perfect, you will never be able to let go. By creating the right structure, nurturing quality staff, and communicating consistently you will create a culture of trust. When that exists, you can trust your staff to handle projects and ask for help when needed. Also, your staff will trust that you will support them, even when they get stuck and need additional guidance.

The last point that I want to share on this topic has to do with the fact that you cannot be an effective leader if you are running from one crisis to the next and never taking the time to “work on the business”. A good leader spends time thinking about the direction they are taking their company. They spend time strategizing on how to reach their goals. They focus on how to lead and develop their team members. All of those things take time. Time spent away from the doing and fixing and scrambling. So as you consider what and how much to delegate, make sure you are giving yourself enough time to lead.

Need help establishing the right organizational structure for your business, creating a strong culture, or figuring out how to effectively delegate? Email me at to schedule a free 30-minute consultation to see how we get you moving on the path to growth.

Structure – Getting it Right to Grow

James cash penney quote

The staff structure you create for your business can mean the difference between growth and stagnation. The unfortunate reality is that all too often a company’s organizational structure is never considered. Especially as small businesses start to grow, the staff structure evolves organically and often haphazardly; rather than being thoughtfully developed.

When a new business is born, there are usually just a few people involved, and they do everything. Susan might be best at finance, so she handles the books. Angie might have big ideas, so she is creating products or services. And Olivia may be very charismatic, so she takes the lead on sales. This is a great start!

As the company grows, they bring in team members to help with sales and production and service. When they are still small the company can get by without creating much formal structure. This is often preferred as they want to remain responsive and nimble and casual. As long as everyone is productive and working well together, this free-flowing construct can work for companies up to about 7 to 10 people.

Challenges arise when the company starts to grow bigger and the structure doesn’t get addressed. The bigger a company gets, the harder it is for the leader(s) to keep their finger on the pulse of what is going on. Team members have less accountability if there is no clear chain of command. Expectations may be misunderstood. Decision making becomes inconsistent and confusing. This is the point where companies that have solid growth potential, start to stagnate.

Components of a Strong Structure

You may be wondering what it means to create a strong structure. Here are the key components that can help you organize your team for greater growth:

  • Organizational Chart

  • Clear Accountabilities

  • Delegation & Mindful Expansion

  • Thoughtful Supervision

Organizational Chart

This is a simple concept. Everyone has seen an org chart and understands how they work. The tricky part lies in finding the right one for your business. Generally speaking, the work of a business can be divided into three categories:

  • Finance

  • Sales

  • Operations

When thinking about your organizational structure, think about groups of accountability. In a smaller business, one person may be responsible for everything related to finance. As the business grows they will likely need help managing things like payroll, accounting, budgeting, and more. It usually makes sense to add staff or contract services under the person who is responsible for finance. That forms a department.

Depending on the type of business, you may have multiple departments in each category. For example, if you deliver several different product lines, each one may be a different operational department. If you sell to both the general public, as well as to corporations, those may be two different departments under the sales category. A department may grow too big for one person to manage and rather than adding layers, it might be best to divide it into different departments.

In addition to having departments leading finance, sales, and operations, there needs to be one or two leaders above this level. This is usually the business owner or owners. They are responsible for setting the vision and culture, creating new ideas, key decision making, leading staff, and driving strategy (as well as a million other things). In his book “Traction”, Gino Wickman titles these roles as Visionary and Integrator. The Visionary sets the course for the company. The Integrator drives the work. Depending on the size of your business, one person may serve as both roles.

There is not a “right” org chart that will work for every company. You need to determine what your different departments look like. You need to figure out what gets lumped together and what needs to stand alone. The number of layers is dependent on the needs of your company and how you want it to function. The focus, purpose and vision of your business will determine how this looks and what’s “right” for you.

Clear Accountabilities 

Establishing your organizational chart is the foundational step needed for clear accountabilities. In addition to listing positions and names on your org chart, this step involves listing the things that each position is accountable for. Keep it fairly high level, not including every task that the position manages, just the items that the person in that seat is expected to take responsibility for and drive.

Each position should have 3 to 7 elements listed. Anyone who supervises staff should have LMA (Lead, Manage, hold Accountable) on their list of accountabilities. Other items to include could be managing of processes (like payroll), ownership of outcomes (such as sales numbers), and production expectations. Again, the work of the business will drive what goes onto these lists. Everything that the business needs in order to function, needs to be on someone’s accountability list.

Delegation & Mindful Expansion

You will notice that each of these structural components builds on the previous one. Establishing clear accountabilities helps determine where delegation is needed. When listing out the accountabilities for each position, watch for lists with more than 7 elements. This will often create a barricade as the person in that position has too much on their plate. This could be by choice (control issues, amirite?) or because the company isn’t to the point where they can add positions yet.

Choosing to hold onto everything is very common in small, growing businesses. The person or people who created the business often feel like they are the only ones who can do it right. Unfortunately, this practice is not sustainable. The person choosing to be responsible for everything is going to eventually burn out, while at the same time keeping the business from growing and thriving. When this is the case, a crucial conversation needs to be had, explaining the problems created by the behavior.

As a business is growing it is important to make staff additions conservatively and thoughtfully. The finances need to be able to sustain the addition and it needs to be made based on the most pressing demands. The org chart and accountabilities can clearly show where the pain points are. When your chart shows that a position has 8 or more accountabilities, you have the opportunity to think through your options. Is there someone to delegate some elements to? Does the company have the financial ability to add a position or split the position? If the resources are not immediately available, plan out what your next move will be based on where the work is concentrated.

This method for planning your staff growth helps ensure that the squeaky wheel isn’t getting all of the resources. It allows for decision making based on what will allow the entire team to be most productive. It also helps determine if there are internal roadblocks limiting your capacity.

Thoughtful Supervision

Finally. The last element in a strong organizational structure is supervision. And not just regular “I report to him, you report to me” supervision, but thoughtful and intentional supervision. This can be a tough one for small businesses. Especially when the business was founded by friends or family, and now all of a sudden we need to hold people accountable. Establishing clear supervision can be tricky and feel uncomfortable at first, but it is 100% worth the pain and effort.

I find that many people truly hate supervising people. They get frustrated by having to tell people things more than once. They expect people to have the same level of understanding or work ethic as they have. They dislike the confrontation of redirecting staff when they are off track. And all of that can be difficult and uncomfortable if you haven’t taken the steps of creating an organizational chart, clear accountabilities and delegating/mindfully expanding.

By establishing this clear structure, your supervisors have a much easier job. The organizational chart creates a clear chain of command. Every person in the business knows who they need to go to for support and direction. The expectations are clearly outlined in their accountabilities. Staffing decisions about how to delegate and expand are made easier because they are informed. Now all of this is not meant to imply that supervisors don’t need training and practice on how to effectively LMA, rather that this structure sets them up well for success.

Similarly to the number of accountabilities per position, it’s important to be intentional about the number of direct reports to a position. The general rule of thumb is that a supervisor leads up to seven staff or staff positions. That means that in a department with different people managing different functions, a leader should have no more than seven direct reports. However, in a department with several people doing the same thing, a supervisor can manage more people. For example, if a department has 15 cashiers, one supervisor can manage them effectively because they are all doing the same job. Ensuring a team leader has a manageable workload is paramount to setting them up for LMA success.

Need help establishing the right organizational structure for your business? Email me at to schedule a free 30-minute consultation to see how we get you moving on the path to growth!