FANNING: How I learned the power of delegation from making coffee

By Ben Fanning, contributing editor  |  I’d just turned 16 years old, and I took on the big responsibility of making coffee for my church.

I woke up at 5:30 a.m. every Sunday to head into church to make five massive pots of coffee so that when churchgoers rolled in, they had the required caffeine fix.  My responsibility also involved unlocking 14 doors, turning on 37 lights and turning the air conditioner to 67 degrees because all those bodies in one space generated a lot of heat.


Now this might not seem like a big deal, but it was actually really important.  The churchgoers expected the coffee to be ready when they arrived. And the preacher needed everyone be awake for the sermon…and the offering plate.

Reflecting back on this experience really helps me recognize the power of delegation.  It shows up by:

  • Increasing your value – Helping you leverage your time and focus on the things you’re best at.
  • Building a bench – Developing the talent around you.
  • Decreasing your stress – Giving you more time to do your own job.

5 quick lessons on delegation at work

Here are 5 lessons in delegation I learned from making coffee in my youth that you can apply to your work day:

1.) Understand the value of your own time.  Making coffee isn’t that complicated. What made the work valuable was how early I was willing to do it.  The preacher’s time was better spent getting some extra sleep before the sermon versus making coffee at the crack of dawn. If he nailed his sermon, it’d resonate more with the congregation (and maybe impact the offering plate too).

  • At work:  Take a minute to really grasp the value of your own time and what work activities leverage this value.  Once you do this calculation, you’ll more clearly see what the prime tasks are to delegate.

2.) Find a hungry person. At 16, I was eager to make some extra gas money.  While this may not have been a good fit for everyone, I was happy to sacrifice sleep once a week.

  • At work:  Leaders often delegate work to the same, dependable person they’ve been delegating too for years.  Sometimes it’s better to delegate to the greener, hungry person versus the tried and true delegate who is burned out on helping.

3.) Delegate to someone you trust.  My entire family and I were involved in the congregation so the preacher trusted that I’d be able to pull this off and show-up early even after a late Saturday night.  Even when I was learning and had a few missteps, he trusted that I’d make it right and improve.

  • At work:  Identify someone who is sincere, reliable, and competent for the work you’re delegating.  Delegate to someone who’s committed to excellence and wants to get better.

4.) Be specific.  There was no question as to what I was supposed to do. The incumbent walked me through the routine several times and I took detailed notes.

  • At work:  One of the most challenging steps in delegating is being clear.  Instead of just telling someone what to do, try showing them.  It will make a much bigger impression.  Tell, show, oversee, monitor, then measure.

5.) Delegate to develop.  The preacher saw me as a budding leader and someone who could help with the youth programs around the church, so this responsibility was a natural step in my own development.

  • At work: Delegating is not just about lightening your own workload.  It’s how you can develop leaders in your organization.  By delegating they grow and the entire organization benefits.

So now it’s your turn.  Apply these five lessons to your own to-do lists.  Which of your work activities are prime for delegation?


Comments are closed.