Change is hard and it takes time, but if we want to think in new ways, we need to start by changing the words we use. For example, people who talk and think in terms of communications will tend to think of people as targets to hit with a message. In contrast, people who talk and think in terms of communication (sans s) will tend to think of interaction with people.

In previous NoCabulary posts, we introduced a range of terms leaders might use to to create a Communication-Based Leadership (CBL) mindset over time. Examples include using the term communication rather than communications, publics rather than audiences, and response rather than answer.

Today we’ll explore the terms capability and capacity.

Capability and Capacity Defined

A capability is the ability to perform a task or activity, whereas capacity is the amount of a task or activity that can be effectively performed. For example, a company may have the capability of producing a particular product or providing a particular service and the capacity each week to produce five of that product or service five clients.

Why the Distinction Matters

When it comes to setting goals and planning delivery of products and services, capability and capacity are limiting factors.

For example, one of NoC’s clients is a start-up real estate appraisal company. The company’s CEO developed a streamlined order intake system and highly efficient quality control process, but initially only had one appraiser on staff. Despite the fact that marketing and sales was bringing in plenty of leads and the QC team had the capacity to process them, the company’s business flow was limited by the capacity of the single appraiser to conduct the actual appraisals.

Although the company had the capability to conduct appraisals, their entire operation was slowed by that limited capacity to conduct them. By identifying this critical choke point, we were able to help the CEO prioritize and allocate resources toward hiring and training additional appraisers rather than continuing to build sales and QC capacity.

In context of CBL, being aware of the distinction between capability and capacity contributes directly to a leader’s application of Communication-Based Leadership (CBL)Truths and Principles to leader development, organizational communication, and public engagement,  particularly the Truth that a leader’s communication capacity is finite.

Leaders must be careful not to mistake our capability to communicate with our capacity to do so.

Thanks to advances in communications technology, a leader’s capability to broadcast is practically infinite. However, while communications technology enables the capability of near instant delivery of information to a global audience, a leader’s capacity to engage in rich interactive communication remains limited.

Since our capacity to communicate with people is finite, to build trust-relationships that lead to enduring success, leaders must select methods of engagement that strike the right balance between our need for information delivery and the benefits of rich human interaction.

Just because we can communicate at or to a global audience at the speed of send doesn’t mean we have to or even should.

Communicating with prioritized key publics is generally more beneficial.

Changing leader and organizational mindsets begins with an introspective look at the language organizations use day-to-day. We encourage leaders to identify terms and lingo common to your organizations. Give serious thought to what those words mean and how they inform or reflect your organization’s mindset.

NoCabulary is a place to start. Incorporating capacity, capability, and other NoCabulary terms into common language will help you develop a CBL mindset that encourages intentional communication and avoids the speed trap by prioritizing timeliness of engagement over speed.

To learn more about NoCabulary and how to develop a Communication-Based Leadership mindset, visit the Blog of Hard NoCs  and sign up to receive our weekly From the High Ground newsletter and gain access to our growing collection of CBL tools and resources.

Guest Writers Welcome!

If you are interested in writing and publishing on a topic related to CBL, drop us a line. We’ll work with you to refine your work and include you as a by-line contributor to the Hard NoCs blog.


Cliff W. Gilmore Administrator
Founder and CEO , North of Center LLC

Cliff holds a PhD in organization and management with a specialization in leadership. A U.S. Marine Corps veteran, he completed operational deployments to Fallujah, Iraq and Kandahar and Helmand, Afghanistan. He has led multi-national and inter-agency teams including approximately one year on loan from the Corps as Director of Policy, Planning, and Outreach for the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs. He also directly advised the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on public and media engagement regarding national security matters for two years as Special Assistant for Public Communication. Today he puts that experience to work helping people become the kind of leaders they would want to follow.

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