Capacity building is an ongoing process through which individuals, groups, organizations and societies enhance their ability to identify and meet development challenges.

Often, when I’m employed by organizations to work with various members of their leadership, it is about building their capacity. That capacity is about increased production and improved effectiveness.

Jackie had worked for her company for almost seven years. She was technically sound, very focused on her work and her success. She was a good problem solver as a team leader and people seemed to enjoy working with her. When she was promoted to manager over the department she was thrilled and excited to get started.

Within weeks her boss was complaining that Jackie didn’t pay enough attention to detail, seemed more disorganized, and wasn’t paying attention to all of her job. She was less effective with her staff and less productive.

When I started to work with Jackie it was evident that she was overwhelmed. In a short time we uncovered that she wasn’t prepared for the increased scope of her work and demands on her time. Jackie hadn’t changed the way she worked. Our first task was to increase her capacity in a way that allowed her to deal with the increased scope of her work.

Here’s what she did:
• She made a list from her job description of her major responsibilities (people, tactics, process/procedures, technology) and created a sheet with those headings at the top.
• She spent the first part of every day asking herself what were the most important things for her to get done that day. She wrote them down under the appropriate column.
• As tasks came her way she made sure she asked herself, “Is this something to do, to delegate, to defer, or to not do at all?”
• She revisited at the end of the day what she got done. For any item that was not completed she made note of what she did instead that prevented her from getting the most important things done. (It is always necessary to reassess priorities. Sometimes, the interruptions we get (i.e., client issues) are the most important things. An honest, critical eye will tell us the truth.)
• She reviewed e-mails on a less frequent basis (twice during the morning and twice during the afternoon).
• She repeated the process each work day.
• Once per week, normally on Friday afternoon, she thought through her list for the month (connected to her major responsibilities) to make sure she was addressing all she needed to. She wrote down the things she most needed to accomplish in that months’ time.
• She made sure she was up walking around and making contact with her employees. If she had some feedback to give them, she made sure she did that. Sometimes it was simply, “How are things going?” Other times it was, “I saw your work plan for the new client. I liked _______. This area _____________ I thought needed tweaked. I didn’t think it was clear enough.”

While Jackie’s approach to her work continued to evolve, it was this process of thinking and making changes that were the most helpful. In general, Jackie became more focused and intentional with her work. Her changes enabled her to be more efficient and effective and put her in position to do more of the things she was paid to do.

It took her about six weeks to build new habits the first time around, and not without moments of reverting to old behaviors. Over a nine-month period Jackie continued to make changes in order to accommodate her ability to handle all of her job.

Building capacity is first about personal development. This can be acquisition of a new skill, knowledge, changing how we think, growing in how we react and behave, and constantly challenging ourselves to a different level of effectiveness. Lifelong learning is about building capacity.

Leaders at all levels determine the ceiling for the people that work for them. Departments, divisions and organizations take on the tendencies of their bosses. If you own or run the company that means your behavior is affecting the entire organization. We know it, we just don’t think about it. The principles of leadership are not as powerful as the person behind them.

How is your behavior contributing to what you see around you? Is it time to retool?