My family and I just got back from a camping trip. We camped out near Salida, CO in the Arkansas River Valley. It was a wonderful trip with my three nieces, who had never been to Colorado before, and my two boys. Upon our return the mountain of laundry in my laundry room was a little overwhelming. It took several days to tackle and I will admit, I probably pushed the capacity limits of our washing machine with each load.
This mundane task got me thinking about our leadership capacity. Is there an actual limit to an individual’s leadership capacity? Can a leader develop a greater capacity to lead? According to Dictionary.com, capacity means: actual or potential ability to perform, yield, or withstand. eg: He has a capacity for hard work. or The capacity of the washing machine is 3.2 cubic feet, or 10 pounds of dry clothing. If we break down this definition into two parts we have actual Capacity and potential Capacity. I think these two things are very different, particularly when it comes to leadership. Let’s dissect this definition.
Actual capacity: If I think about my washing machine metaphor, then actual capacity in a literal sense cannot be increased. The washing machine’s capacity is limited to the size of the tub and how much water and clothing it can handle at one time. That is the literal capacity, so in this sense the capacity cannot be increased. In Leadership, actual capacity might represent time or energy. As leaders we cannot create more time in a day. How we choose to use that time may vary from day to day, but we literally cannot create more time. Our energy has a limit as well. We can only operate on high tilt for so long before we literally wear out. Our capacity with time and energy have limits.
Potential capacity: If potential capacity is your potential for growth then we have a completely different scenario. My washing machine has the potential to wash up to 10 pounds of dry clothes at one time, but I can choose to do a small load and only wash 3 pounds at a time. I have the potential to do more. In leadership, can capacity be developed? Do I have the potential or ability to do more as a leader? You bet. I always have the potential to learn new skills or gain experience. I have the potential to do whatever I set my mind to, if I allow myself the time and energy to do it.
Unfortunately, people do not come with capacity labels like small, medium and large loads like washing machines do. It’s not as easy as switching a knob to choose what level of capacity we would like in any given week. Determining a person’s capacity for leadership can be challenging, however we all have the ability to grow as leaders. It’s important to know what competencies you are proficient in and where you have opportunities for growth. What leadership competency could you target as an area of growth?