As a leader, one of my favorite ways to rejuvenate is getting out in nature and experiencing God’s creation. A few years ago, I took my three sons camping in Redwood National Forest. An opportunity for “man time” with my boys, we took a tent and camping supplies, left the modern technology at home – talk about roughing it – and had no agenda other than to set out and take in the beauty around us with hikes during the day and campfires at night.

One day as we were hiking, I noticed some of the amazing behemoth Redwoods were infested with termites and internally rotting due to the critter’s effect on these gigantic pillars of strength. I also noticed the annoying tapping of woodpeckers and the unavoidable external rotting that had simultaneously overtaken the giants. 

As I reflected on my observations, I began thinking about the application of my experience to leadership. Throughout my leadership journey, what “termites” have had an internal effect on my leadership? What external “woodpeckers” have affected me and kept me from being at my best? I concluded that in order to thrive in the 21st-century workforce, I must exercise self-awareness as a remedy to my existing “termites” and “woodpeckers” and armor to defend against future “termites” and “woodpeckers.”  

As a leader or aspiring leader, what techniques do you use to assess internal and external leadership challenges? How are you ridding your day-to-day of “termites” and “woodpeckers” so that your leadership is most effective? An effective technique is to assess your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats – or conduct a SWOT analysis.   

Termites (Internal Challenges)

Strengths are traits and characteristics that set you apart from others in your personal or professional life. In order to help candidates that I coach identify their strengths, I ask them to reflect on questions like: What do you do really well? What sets you apart from others? What do others say you do well? I would also encourage you to write down why you believe you have the particular strength.

Weaknesses are qualities that regarded as a disadvantage or fault. Define your weaknesses, how they slow you down, and why you believe you have them. Ask yourself: What do I find difficult to do? What struggles have others mentioned to me? Where am I challenged personally or professionally? After you’ve inked your weaknesses, jot down an impact statement for each one to provide greater self-awareness.

Woodpeckers (External Challenges)

Opportunities are factors or events, that if properly managed, can help you succeed in the future. Just as before, write down whether these opportunities are personal or professional and why it’s considered as such. Define the upcoming events you have at work or personal life.  How can you begin to take advantage of each one now? What resources might you need that you currently lack?

Threats are the known or unknown factors that are out of your control but can derail your success. Ask yourself: If you could see yourself in the future and you’ve accomplished every goal beyond your wildest dreams, what obstacles would you have had to overcome to get there? Once you’ve identified your threats, write down contingencies to mitigate each one.

Bringing It All Together

The final step in the process is to take full advantage of your opportunities. Connect each opportunity to an identified strength that can help you achieve it. Then, determine what weaknesses and threats can keep you from achieving each opportunity while considering the mitigation thoughts you established.

Twenty-five years into my leadership journey, I make it a point to do semi-annual internal and external checkups (SWOT) to ensure there are no “termites” or “woodpeckers” rotting away at my leadership potential. I’m at my best when I identify future opportunities enabled by my strengths and mitigate weaknesses and threats through a deliberate plan.  

How do you check for internal and external challenges affecting your leadership? What alerts do you have established to let you know when your leadership is lacking? If you are unsure, the method described above can get you started.