There’s a number for every CEO or Executive Director. The number is how big the organization can be before significant control is effectively delegated to other leaders. A good ED might manage a $500K operation with hands on control of nearly everything. A really good ED or CEO might manage minute details up to $1.5 million. At Habitat for Humanity, Millard Fuller with his quick wit, gracious manner and steel trap mind led Habitat to well over $100 million, hundreds of employees and global reach before the scope overwhelmed his style. A friend began leading a small, $500K non profit two decades ago and led its growth to the current $5 million and is still growing. He keeps his finger on the pulse of important things and lets others handle the rest.
At some point, complexities of managing data systems, key relationships, financials, staff guidance, strategy, social media and adapting structures overwhelm any leader’s capacity. I’m not very good with the hands on control thing. If I were an ED, my number would probably be $500K and then I’d need a lot of help with the daily minutiae.
It falls on the board to identify and monitor the number. And boards don’t usually figure it out until the number is exceeded, leaving budget deficits, declining staff morale, razor thin margin of errors and damaged relationships to clean up. There are plenty of warning signs if board leaders are tuned in. But it’s a tricky area with difficult truths that boards usually try to avoid.
The path through this thicket varies with the dynamics of every organization but there is a path.