A recent post from Josh Whitehead:  http://www.joshwhitehead.net/2009/07/27/leadership-development-capacity/ :

“I’ve been struggling with this thought for awhile and decided to throw it out there to you guys: can a leader develop a greater capacity to lead. Let’s start with a dictionary definition of capacity: Actual or potential ability to perform, yield, or withstand From my perspective, capacity refers a persons leadership ability and stamina. It answers questions like: How much can the person handle? How many people can they oversee and delegate responsibility to? How much can they work and maintain a healthy balance in life and ministry? How hard can the person work? Leadership capacity is almost difficult to explain.

But each of us knows when we see a person with great leadership capacity. They have the actual ability to perform, and they perform well. However, a lot of people appear to have the potential ability to perform but do not have the capacity. Can their capacity be developed? Can they become a high capacity leader? Or, is this something that is innate – you can’t get better or worse. You are who you are.”

Some quick thoughts from where I sit: Great questions bro – I think they’ve been pondered for years… my two cents:

Capacity – in a literal sense, I don’t think capacity can be increased. Capacity is, per the definition, that person’s potential. I immediately think of a washing machine (yeah, crazy I know – with 3 kids, I wash a lot of clothes). That washing machine’s capacity is limited to the size of the tub regardless of what I do… its capacity cannot be increased. Now, it’s not near as productive or efficient if I don’t fill it up, but there’s nothing that can be done to increase its capacity.

I believe leadership capacity is similar – but only in the general sense mentioned above. As Anne (@FlowerDust) stated, capacity is quite subjective to the specific areas in question. Creativity, delegation, vision, empathy, problem solving, administration are just a few of the areas to measure one’s capacity.

These are some of the areas on which we focus when consulting with church clients – determining the specific requirements NEEDED for each leadership position, then specifying the actual experience verses potential (capacity) the prospective leader has.

There is so much to this, but a few other points:
-Unfortunately, people don’t come with a small, medium, large capacity labels as washing machines, so determining their capacity is quite challenging. We’ve yet to find a tool, other than their leadership history, to prove that out (and past performance doesn’t always predict future performance – (several years back Hybels interviewed a Harvard dude who spoke to that)).

-I’m interested to know how you’d answer these questions – In what ways does someone “appear” to have the potential ability? How do we measure their potential? – Great questions to ask – I have my thoughts on those but will save for another time.

-If you do have a leader with “high capacity,” you’ve only just begun. They have to be taught, trained, coached, developed… over and over again – Look at professional athletes – millions of dollars are spent drafting “potential” – but how many of them actually become all-stars or pro-bowlers? Professional sports organizations have incredible “farm” systems and training resources to maximize their team potential, but still, many don’t make it.

So, I think our role is to first understand the VERY specific needs (competencies) for each leadership role, then develop the most productive tools to identify leadership potential, experience, ability, and capacity. And then, create a strategy to develop those very things to best fit the leadership position and the organization.