In the business world, “born leaders” are few and far between — for most people, leadership is a learned skill. Behind every great manager is a career path littered with self-insight, personal development, and constant improvement.
If you want to become a better leader, this is great news. It means that with consistent action, you can improve your skills and grow into an effective and inspiring leader.
Not sure where to start? Borrow a business tool: the SWOT analysis. This structured framework provides a way to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
Businesses use the SWOT analysis when they’re planning strategic moves. You can repurpose the same framework to conduct an honest self-assessment of your leadership skills and abilities. It’s also a way to find opportunities for growth and see how you stack up to colleagues.
After completing the SWOT process, you’ll come away with strategic action items to take your career to the next level.
Use the personal SWOT analysis any time you’re lacking direction or planning a major professional move. The results help you gain clarity, so it’s easier to make smart career decisions.
You might SWOT yourself when:
If you’re honest in your personal inventory, it can have a transformative effect on your professional life. The analysis does four key things to benefit your career:
Do you feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of leadership courses and resources on the market? The SWOT analysis can help you narrow down the options and choose the one that will have the biggest impact.
Before you perform a SWOT analysis on yourself, it’s helpful to understand how the tool is typically used in business. The process is simple. Company leaders make four lists:
Strengths are the things that give a company an advantage over competitors. Some strengths are tangible: skilled employees, a state-of-the-art production facility, or cutting-edge software. Others — such as brand awareness, intellectual property, and employee loyalty — are intangible.
Weaknesses are the opposite of strengths — they’re the areas where competitors have the advantage. Some common weak points are tumultuous supplier relationships, outdated technology, or inexperienced employees.
An opportunity is an external opening or chance that can help a company be more competitive. This might include an unmet customer need, increased demand due to market trends, or leads to potential customers.
Threats are the external factors that negatively affect a company. They’re obstacles that stand in the way of business goals. Some common threats are new competitors, problems with the supply chain, or a lack of qualified applicants.
As a leader, you can repurpose the four SWOT areas into a self-assessment tool. Instead of analyzing a business, you’ll evaluate yourself. To help, we’ve created a template that walks you through the process. As you work through the steps of the SWOT analysis, write down everything that comes to mind. Don’t censor yourself, and don’t worry about using complete sentences.
Keep in mind that self-evaluation isn’t always easy. To help you think objectively, we’ve included a list of questions for each step. Pay special attention to the questions that feel too personal or painful — they’re striking a nerve for a reason.
List all of the things that make you an effective leader. Tangible strengths are things you can quantify, such as years of education or industry experience. Intangible strengths are more ephemeral: a positive attitude, natural charm, or a willingness to go the extra mile.
Your true strengths are often things that come naturally to you — so naturally, in fact, that you might assume everyone has them. These are often your best qualities as a leader.
To find them, ask yourself these questions:
If you’re stuck, ask a trusted colleague, friend, or former boss for help. Often, other people see strengths that aren’t obvious to you.
Now, it’s time to list the things that weaken your leadership. Write down both measurable and intangible shortcomings. In some cases, it can help to compare yourself to a colleague or professional contact at your level or higher.
This part of your personal SWOT analysis demands unflinching honesty. It’s hard to examine your own weaknesses, but that discomfort leads to growth. Take heart: no one else will see what you write.
These questions can help you think about areas for improvement:
Opportunities are the chances you have to improve your leadership and further your career. Some opportunities will be obvious — you could apply for a promotion or take on new challenges at work.
Other opportunities are rooted in your dreams, interests, and desires. To gain clarity in these areas, ask yourself the following questions:
If you need more ideas, try these strategies:
When you’re assessing your own leadership, threats are the things that are standing in your way or holding you back. When you understand these factors, you’ll be able to adapt, adjust, and overcome.
These questions can help you identify both internal and external threats:
The hard part is over — you’ve gotten through the introspective part of the SWOT analysis. Now, it’s time to put the information to use.
After you go through this process, you should have a list of action steps. Now, do another round of prioritization. Rank the list in terms of feasibility, importance, and time.
Don’t get too hung up on practicality — if you feel particularly excited about a specific action item, make it a top priority. It might be just the thing you need to re-energize your career.
The SWOT analysis and the performance review are two different professional assessment tools. A performance review is a formal process where your supervisor assesses your work and offers feedback about your strengths and weaknesses. The session might also evaluate your progress toward corporate growth objectives or revenue targets. These reviews usually happen once or twice a year.
A SWOT analysis is an assessment you do by yourself and for yourself. It also covers your strengths and weaknesses, but in a way that’s informative rather than punitive. The goal of the process is to create strategic actions to improve and grow.
Topically, there is some overlap between the two assessments. The difference is the end goal — a performance review focuses on how you serve the company, while a SWOT analysis helps you find ways to serve your career.
The Threats section of a personal SWOT analysis can be challenging, especially if you’re happy and successful in your job. For leaders, some common threats are:
When you’re ready to take the next step in your career, clarity is key. After performing a SWOT analysis on your own leadership, you’ll have the information to move forward with confidence.