Why no one in your charity should be indispensable

Organisations must not rely on individuals too much says Debra Allcock Tyler

I'm currently recovering from a very nasty case of 'bird' flu. I'm calling it that because someone told me recently that women get bird flu and men get swine flu - which made me smile. Anyhow, I was completely out of action for more than a week. I couldn't log on to work, couldn't take phone calls - I was completely useless, frankly.

And the consequences of my being off work were absolutely shocking. To my utter outrage, my team coped perfectly well without me. In fact, when I finally dragged my sorry tushie back into work and said, in a voice of long-suffering, "I'm back!", the response was: "We didn't realise you were off." Huh?

Here's the thing: I am, of course, important to my organisation - as is every single one of my staff. But it is my role that matters; my presence as an individual is not critical. Those in the Directory of Social Change team know why they exist, what needs to be done and how to do it. They are competent, capable and fully able to discharge their duties without me.

I'm not saying that chief executives and managers aren't needed - of course they are. Nor am I saying that I, as an individual, don't add value to our work. What I am saying is that if your organisation is individual-critical - if you have key individuals without whom you can't function - then you are in serious trouble. If your organisation is to have longevity, you have to create structures and processes that are independent of any one person.

Don't build your team or your organisation around any one person - build it around the cause and around values and processes that are going to enable anybody to step in and deliver the work that needs to be done.

That's not to say that individual characteristics aren't important. It is your job as a leader to work hard to bring out the best of people's individual personalities and skills - but do not ever become dependent upon one person's passion, skill or experience.

Oh, and if any of my trustees are reading this, I'm making it all up. Of course the Directory of Social Change couldn't survive without me.

- Debra Allcock Tyler, chief executive, the Directory of Social Change


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