Thursday, December 13, 2012

How to Expand Your Leadership Capacity

Guest post By Brian Gast:

What’s your leadership capacity? I was 35 and the CEO of one of the fastest growing telecom companies in the US. I had created $400 million in value from an idea, was managing a 1,500 person company that everyone wanted to work for and a public company that was a darling of Wall Street.

Then things got tough. Competition increased and my patience with my team decreased. I began to avoid real problems and became isolated from my board. I didn’t know it at the time but my capacity to lead was a lot lower than I thought. It took getting fired to wake up and realize that I was not going to sustain effective leadership by relying on an MBA and my natural talent.

Anyone can stay calm and communicate clearly when things are going well. How do you respond when you have to have difficult conversations with a person who thinks very differently than you do? How about working for an unsupportive boss or inspiring the troops when slumping profits show no sign of improving? Such conditions test your leadership capacity. Is your capacity where you want it to be?

Leadership capacity is a way to measure a leader’s ability to be effective in a wide variety of situations and conditions. The greater your ability to access the appropriate behavior at the appropriate time, the greater your leadership capacity.
Executive Development and the Quadrant Model

Consider this four quadrant model as a tool to assess and increase leadership capacity. Let’s start with a brief description of each quadrant.

Acting          This quadrant houses your ability to get things done, to deal with hard facts, to enforce boundaries, and to make and keep agreements.

Thinking:       This quadrant helps us analyze, maintain objectivity, see patterns, and reflect on options and possibilities.

Feeling:         This is where we find our Emotional Intelligence, our ability to connect with others, to have empathy, to maturely express our emotions, and to understand the affect our relationships have on our lives.

Being           This quadrant is the home of our Executive Presence, that intangible vibe we bring when we enter a room. It’s also where we access our vision and our ability to see the big picture, ask for what we want, observe contradictions and inconsistencies, and express gratitude and praise.

Each quadrant has a mature or healthy state and each has “shadow” sides. The shadows reflect either too much or too little of the qualities of a quadrant. For example, too much Thinking energy can result in Analysis Paralysis or being a manipulator. Too little Feeling quadrant capacity and you become numb, stoic or distant.
Your Success Becomes Your Undoing

Successful leaders get bigger jobs because they’re strong in the Acting (working hard and strong) and the Thinking (high IQ and good political instincts) quadrants. Most leaders derail later in their careers for the same reason. They either overuse these two quadrants or they neglect developing their presence, emotional maturity or interpersonal skills.

Another limitation to potential is a leader’s inability to move from one quadrant to another when events warrant different skills or a different way of being. I see this when a leader is convinced that his team needs to work harder when actually it is in desperate need of support, inspiration and a vision.

Not only are single or double quadrant leaders lacking in leadership capacity they are often lacking in the area of personal fulfillment. They may lack the ability to affirm and support themselves internally or to believe in themselves enough to set healthy boundaries around how much they work. This means discontent at home gets brought to work and vice versa.
Know Thy Bubble, Know Thyself

I describe the four quadrants and their shadows in my book The Business of Wanting More: Why Some Executives Move from Success to Fulfillment and Others Don’t. The book also talks about how we come about our shadows. We live encased in a Bubble that distorts the way we see ourselves and the world. Our Bubble is filled with limiting beliefs. Executive development is the process of understanding this Bubble, the blind spots it creates, and examining the beliefs that drive our behavior.
How to Increase Your Leadership Capacity

The first step in increasing leadership capacity is to take an inventory of where you are on the Quadrant Map. In which quadrant are you strong and balanced? What are your shadow behaviors? Do you avoid conflict? Lose your temper? Show off? If you aren’t sure, ask someone you know who will tell you the truth. Ask that person, “In which of these four areas do you see that I have a blind spot, a persistent (not necessarily frequent) behavior that gets in the way of my effectiveness as a leader?”
The next step is to create a vision for becoming a Four Quadrant Leader. Write down what that looks like and begin to create a roadmap to get from where you are to where you want to be. I notice that leaders who do this kind of planning begin to build their own Court of Support, a circle of peers and coaches that will challenge them to grow.

Maybe it’s time to invest in expanding your executive capacity. You will not only experience benefits in your career and business but also in your relationships and level of personal fulfillment.

Brian Gast is an executive coach, top team alignment expert, author, and speaker. He is the author of the book The Business of Wanting More: Why Some Executives Move from Success to Fulfillment and Others Don’t (released October 2012). You can reach Brian at 303.707.1340, or


Jennifer V. Miller said...

Brian - thanks for the excellent information on professional development. You frame it as a model for executives, yet I can easily see it as useful for leaders at all levels.

I just had this exact conversation with a coaching client the other day and the issue of "being" and "presence" came up. This is a great framework to use.

Thanks to Dan for allowing Great Leadership to be a conduit for fantastic leadership development content.

Dan McCarthy said...

Jennifer -
Thanks for your comment. I'm very fornunate to have really good guest bloggers!

Andy Phillips said...

Nice to see this much honesty on a post. I like the model too for analyzing leadership capacity. We do though tend to do jobs before we have the capacity to actually do them. Looking back I would love to have known what I know now when I did my first management job but then learning as you go is part of the fun!
Lots of great stuff here Dan and a great post Brian!

Dan McCarthy said...


Anonymous said...


Excellent work!

God bless the work of your hands as you develop leaders. I hope to always return for more info and personal development as a leadership developer.

Dan McCarthy said...

EL -
Thanks! I'm glad you find GL to be of value.