Capability = The power or ability to do something; the extent of someone’s or something’s ability.
A good word picture to define the word “capability” is to break the word into two parts; cap and ability. Then, picture an actual cap on your ability. Ability, meaning your gifts or talents. A cap, meaning a lid. What is the cap on your ability?
Too many times in leadership, we focus on someone’s ability first, and that’s not always a bad thing. Ability is the easiest thing to see. As an athletic coach, the first and easiest thing you see on the field or court is someone’s ability. In the workplace, ministry, school, whatever it is, someone’s gifts, talents, and abilities stand out. They are the outward appearance if you will.
The problem is, abilities, gifts, and talents are wonderful, but they will only get you so far. There are some other, more hidden things that matter more than ability. You see, ability can be coached. Ability can be developed in a person by applying the right methods, practices, or time. Sure, there are certain times where someone has been given an extra amount of talent by God Himself, and some people are pre-disposed to being more gifted in one area than another, but for the most part, ability has no limit.
So, once again, what is the cap on our ability?
When it comes to leadership, leadership development, or team dynamics, I believe three specific things become the cap, the lid if you will on ours or others’ ability. These three things are more important than talent but are most often the least focused on aspects in developing ourselves and others. You can have the most talented person on the planet, but if they don’t excel in these three things, there will be a cap on how far they can go.
Using the acrostic C.A.P., here is the cap on our ability:
1. Character — The legendary UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, is recorded as saying, “Talent will get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.”
How many times have we seen this play out in the business, sports, entertainment, or ministry world? A high profile, incredibly gifted leader or performer rises quickly to the top, only to crumble under pressure and lose it all because of significant moral failure or an unseen character flaw. They rose through the ranks rapidly based on ability; they fell just as fast when they hit the cap on their character.
In Titus chapter 2, verses 6 and 7, Paul speaks to this young man who was one of his trusted assistants. We know Titus had some noticeable ability because he was not only tasked with special assignments by Paul, as referenced in the Corinthian letters, but he was also charged with helping to consolidate the Church in Crete. (Thank you NLT Study Bible)
Titus 2:6-7 6 In the same way, encourage the young men to live wisely. 7 And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind. Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching. 8 Teach the truth so that your teaching can’t be criticized. Then those who oppose us will be ashamed and have nothing bad to say about us. (Underline added)
Paul wanted to remind Titus, and we need to be told as well, that our ability is first limited by our character or lack thereof. Ability is excellent, but will only get us so far. Work on your ability, expand it, deepen your skills, but don’t forget about your character. As John Wooden said, “Talent will get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.”
Not only do we need to be reminded of this in our leadership and life, but we need to remember this about those we lead as well. It’s very easy for us to be enamored with someone’s ability. Don’t be so enamored with someone’s ability that you overlook their character flaws. Character matters. It matters much more than ability. Start there.
2. Attitude — Pastor, author and theologian Charles “Chuck” Swindoll said, “Attitude is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than what people do or say. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill.” (Underline added)
Like character, attitude cannot be coached. Someone can develop it and grow in it, but it’s not something that is influenced by anyone on the outside. We’ve all seen incredibly talented people ruin the chemistry of a team only by their poor attitude. We’ve also seen less gifted people do the opposite, boost a teams potential, by the attitude they display. Attitude affects everything.
Again, the Apostle Paul speaks to this in our spiritual lives. In a challenge to the Christians in Philippi, Paul calls out our attitude. Notice, he doesn’t say that our actions should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, which is what we most often focus on, but our attitudes.
Phillipians 2:6-7 says 5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. 6 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.
It was the attitude of Jesus that led to His actions of humility. I heard someone say that the definition of humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less. It’s the wide receiver that celebrates even when he doesn’t get thrown the ball. The executive who is genuinely happy for the other person who got the promotion. The worship leader or pastor who takes joy in seeing other members of the team lead and be recognized. It is the person with the greatest ability who also understands the importance of the overall team.
Again, it’s our attitude that can cap our ability, and it’s the attitude of others than can cap theirs. When we are leading others, how much do we look at their attitude? The attitude of one person can bring an entire team down. It divides. It derails. It diminishes potential. I’d rather have less talented people with impeccable character and humble attitudes, than the most talented people with questionable character and prideful ones.
If talent gets you to the top and character helps you stay there, then attitude helps others remain there with you.
3. Perseverance — President John Quincy Adams said, “Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.”
Leadership is hard. The path to success is not easy. Talent can only take you so far. The most successful people in the world are not the ones who were always the most talented; they are the ones who persevered through the most trouble. Very few people are overnight successes. Most of them powered through challenging obstacles along the way and persevered to the end.
If character keeps you at the top and attitude keeps others there with you, then perseverance makes sure you don’t quit along the way. And you will want to quit. You will never accomplish anything significant in this life without facing great difficulty along the way. Success requires sacrifice, and sacrifice requires perseverance.
Romans 5:3-4 says 3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance (perseverance). 4 And endurance (perseverance) develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.
Yes, Paul was speaking spiritually here, but the principle applies to our ability as well. The only way to grow is through resistance. Without resistance, there can be no growth. That’s why this becomes a lid for so many people; at the first sign of trouble, their out. With the first problem, push back or pain they decide it’s not worth it. I’ve seen some unbelievably talented people waste their talent only because it got too hard.
In life and in leadership, as we continue to grow, expand, and succeed, the problems will continue to attack. With every barrier busted in life and leadership, there will be a new burden for us to bear. If we do not have the perseverance to carry the weight, then we will never break through the barrier that stands in our way.
So, what is the cap of your ability? What is the cap on the ability of those you lead? Sure, there are other lids we can place on ourselves, but more often than not, the most common caps to our growth are found in our character, our attitude, and our perseverance.
Make those a priority in your life, and you’ll not only see your ability grow, but your opportunity to use it will as well. And for those you lead, make sure you are focusing as much of your influence on their character, attitude, and perseverance as you are their ability. It matters more than you know.