It happens every year. An incredible college athlete gets drafted to go pro, but one year into his career—it becomes clear he’s already reached his potential. He peaked in college. We’ve all seen a marvelous AP high school student—who everyone knew was going to take Yale or Princeton by storm— get stuck. She not only floundered at college, she dropped out. Somehow, her best days were already lived.
My guess is, you’ve seen this close to home. Perhaps your son or daughter, or maybe a young staff member, who showed so much promise in the beginning, later began to fizzle—instead of sizzle. Early on they demonstrated the signs of being a superstar as an adult, but then, they fell way short. Why does this happen?
In so many ways, these scenarios revolve around a person’s capacity.
One of the hottest topics among leader development experts today is “capacity.” It’s a term that describes the bandwidth that you and each team member possess to be productive. I believe it’s important we understand two elements of capacity:
- Everyone has a unique parameter to their capacity. We have various levels of talent, IQ, and capability to expand or develop, and our individual capacity should grow until we reach our potential. It’s rare, however, that a person’s capacity is reached early in life.
- Almost everyone falls short of reaching his or her capacity. We think we’ve reached our limit to produce or create, but we usually stop short of that end. Most of us hide behind the excuse that we’ve stretched as much as we can. It’s not true.
According to a study by Halogen Software, one in three employees report that their career progression to date has failed to meet their expectations. And 37 percent say it is unlikely or very unlikely they can fulfill their aspirations in their current job. On the other hand, employers suggest they feel the same way. A recent Gallup Poll reveals an alarming 70 percent of American employees aren’t working to their full potential, which is slowing the economic growth for their companies. What’s more, that same poll reveals only 30 percent of employees are even engaged at work. Like a rock climber who stops halfway up the mountain, this person stops improving.
So, is there a way to increase someone’s capacity?
Five Ways to Increase Your Capacity
Whether it’s you or someone on your team, the good news is—capacity can grow. It has limits, but it can develop. In fact, Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck tells us our brains work like a muscle. We just have to employ the right exercises to grow that muscle. If you have a team member who seems to have stalled and now shows no promise of improving—try these five ideas:
- Good Systems.
In our office, we’ve introduced new systems for getting our mission accomplished. The result? Without much change in our staff size, we’ve increased productivity measurably. Putting efficient systems in place actually enable team members to get more done than they ever imagined. Systems are like a track that helps a locomotive engine make progress more effectively. We need systems to reach our potential.
- Growth Mindset.
According to Dr. Carol Dweck, people tend to embrace one of two mindsets: a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. If we’re not intentional, we drift into a fixed mindset that observes past experiences and says, “I’m just not good at math” or “I just can’t dance.” A growth mindset drops those restrictions, and adds the word, “yet”—“I’m not good at math, yet.” Growth mindsets believe development is possible whatever our age.
- Expanding & Demanding Experiences.
Generally speaking, we do not reach our capacity unless we’re placed in demanding situations. “If you aren’t over your head, how do you know how tall you are?” wrote T. S. Elliot. The truth is, people are like rubber bands: we’re most useful when we’re stretched. Demanding experiences are like lifting weights. They make us stronger. I am speaking of the contexts that force us to work long and hard and show grit.
- Input and Feedback
I learn best when I welcome feedback and develop thick enough skin to take it to heart. I grow the most, not when all goes well, but when life is tough—and I must discover my weaknesses or flaws. John Maxwell often says: “Sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn”. My capacity is increased when I invite difficult input into my life. This means I must ask for accountability and assume responsibility for my growth.
- Taking Risks in New Territory.
Years ago, I had to recognize that I could not expand my capacity by continuing to repeat the same tasks and perform the same routines that I had accomplished in the past. The only way I could get to the next level was to progress into new territory. I had to try new things. It’s scary but worth it each time I do. Starting Growing Leaders in 2003 took me into a whole new world where I saw new capacity in myself to lead and create.
With our young team members, I must balance the drive to increase their capacity while not breaking a young person’s spirit. I must impart belief and affirmation; I must empathize with their efforts, and I must not fail to equip them to grow into new experiences and roles. I believe we perform at our best when we work somewhere between “stretched” and “overwhelmed.”
Orison Swett Marden said it best, “The greatest thing a man can do in this world, is to make the most possible out of the stuff that has been given him. This is success, and there is no other.”