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Strategic Discipline Blog

Turn On Your Capability Switch

Posted by Douglas A Wick on Mon, Apr 8, 2024

In the movie, Apollo 13, “Failure is Not an Option” culminates in a heroic collaborative effort resulting in all 3 Apollo astronauts making it home successfully!

Let’s be honest, failure is always an option, even if one we don’t like. It stings and feels vulnerable and embarrassing.

But it doesn’t make us less worthy as a human.

My first job after college was in radio as a salesperson. Failure became too frequent an option! After just three months I left. I took a sales position earning half of what I had been to learn from my mistakes and improve.

Compassionate Accountability - FIGURE 5.1. The Capability switch. With our capability switches on, “We squeeze every bit of intelligence from our failures and turn them into stepping stones for success.”

In the movie, the engineers at NASA didn’t have an option if they were to bring the astronauts safely home.

In my second radio position, I still failed a lot. My sales manager had a compassionate mindset. He made me feel valuable, capable, and responsible. I learned how to sell radio with ideas and learn from my mistakes.

The compassion mindset is a decision and attitude that views yourself and others as valuable, capable, and responsible.

When the Capability Switch Is Off

When the capability switch is turned off, we view capability as limited or stagnant. We see barriers instead of opportunities. We nurture beliefs such as “You’d never understand” or “You don’t have the proper education to grasp this.”

We expect people to prove themselves before we trust them or believe in them.

We take failure as a sign to abandon ship or give up.Compassionate Accountability - When the Capability Switch Is Off

Four clusters of behaviors let you know your capability switch is off:

  • Getting attached to our own solutions – We’re invested in our ideas. We want our ideas recognized rather than looking for the best solution. Our identity is wrapped up in being heard and recognized for our ideas.
  • Having a scarcity mindset - With a scarcity mindset, leaders see limitations and obstacles instead of opportunities. The focus is on what can’t be done, what’s getting in the way, and what will go wrong. Failure is seen as an indictment of our value. Avoiding failure becomes a priority. Seeing the glass as half-empty, our teams are infected with pessimism and negativity.
  • Avoid investing in people - We decide that building capacity is not worth it. The busier we are, the easier it is to focus on production at the expense of building production capacity. Engagement and retention suffer because people aren’t learning and growing.
  • Controlling information and resources - Information and resources are used to gain power rather than to empower. We hold on to information that might give us an advantage. Sharing resources that could help others is seen as a threat to our position. Due to this, our environment lacks curiosity and innovation and creativity suffer. People aren’t included or challenged, and engagement drops.

greg_mckeown,_liz_wisemean_multipliers-resized-600Leaders whose capability switch is off are what author Liz Wiseman calls diminishers. They treat employees as resources to be deployed and left to languish. The opposite are multipliers, leaders whose capability switch is on and who multiply talent, generating up to two times more productivity.

Turn On Your Capability Switch

Because people are capable, everyone deserves the invitation to contribute, participate, take ownership, and be part of the solution.Compassionate Accountability - Turn On Your Capability Switch

Here are the five behavioral strategies to help you turn and keep on your capability switch:

  • Seek First to Understand - Compassion allows us to suspend judgment in place of curiosity. We take time to learn about people’s experiences, skills, and gifts. Seeking first to understand means testing our assumptions about others to be sure we aren’t heading down the wrong path.
  • Share Ideas and Resources to Find the Best Solutions - “A good idea doesn’t care who had it!” In the Tao Te Ching, Lao-Tzu writes, “The sage does not hoard, and thereby bestows. The more one lives for others, the greater his life. The more one gives to others, the greater his abundance.”
  • Invite People to Be Part of the Solution - Garry Ridge’s leadership, WD-40 Company credits their success to the company culture's ability to pivot around fear. Garry’s secret to success came from learning three simple words, “I don’t know.” This phrase is so powerful because it shows humility. Garry invited others to be part of the solution by not trying to have all the answers. He empowered others to step up and participate.
  • Invest in Each Other’s Success - Capability is enhanced when we invest in the success of others. Bobby Herrera, the CEO of Populus Group, embodies this philosophy. “Want more for your people than you want from them.” The best leaders succeed by helping their people thrive.Success represents the 1% of your work which results from 99% that is called FAILURE - Soichiro Honda-1
  • Turn Failures into Learning Opportunities - Failure isn’t the problem. Failure is normal. Failure happens many times each day when we don’t reach our goals, don’t follow through on a commitment, or come up short despite our best efforts. Failure is a terrific teacher if we allow it. With our capability switch on, we don’t fear failure, because it’s not an indictment of our value or capability.

The Differences When a Capability Switch is Off Versus On

Compassionate Accountability - Summary of the differences when a capability switch is off versus on

Apollo 13 Failure is Not an Option

To create an environment where everyone is inspired to give their best, contact Positioning Systems to schedule a free exploratory meeting.

Turn your team into a growth organization.  

Growth demands Strategic Discipline.Compassionate Accountability - FIGURE 6.1. The Responsibility Switch.

In the next blog, we explore the third switch of the compassion mindset, the switch of responsibility. As a Leader, I often took too much responsibility for the feelings, thoughts, and behavior of others. We are responsible for only our own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, not those of others.

Building an enduring great organization requires disciplined people, disciplined thought, disciplined action, superior results, producing a distinctive impact on the world.

Discipline sustains momentum, over a long period of time, laying the foundations for lasting endurance.

4Dx Cadence of AccountabilityA winning habit starts with 3 Strategic DisciplinesPriorityMetrics, and Meeting Rhythms.   Forecasting, accountability, individual, and team performance improve dramatically.

Meeting Rhythms achieve a disciplined focus on performance metrics to drive growth.

Let Positioning Systems help your business achieve these outcomes on the Four most Important Decisions your business faces:












Positioning Systems helps mid-sized ($5M - $500M+) businesses Scale-UP. We align your business to focus on Your One Thing! Contact to Scale Up your business! Take our Four Decisions Needs Assessment to discover how your business measures against other Scaled Up companies. We’ll contact you.

NEXT BLOG – Turn On Your Responsibility SwitchCompassionate Accountability - When the Responsibility  Switch Is Off 


Topics: Accountability, Responsibility, Compassionate Accountability, Nate Regier, Marshall Goldsmith, How Leaders Hold People Accountable

Challenges of Scaling Up a Business 







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Doug Wick, President

Positioning Systems


The Strategic Discipline Blog focuses on midsize business owners with a ravenous appetite to improve his or her leadership skills and business results.

Our 3 disciplines include:

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- Meeting Rhythms

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