The Right QuestionsWhere (Situation and Vision)

The Essential Importance of Situation Analysis

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The Importance Of Situation Analysis And Knowing Where You Are

‘Where’ is the present location and the destination; the starting point and the vision.  The first of these we need to consider is our starting point.  In other words we need to do some situation analysis.  This is because, when you set off on any journey, you need to know where you are first.  If you look at a map or want directions, the initial thing to identify and confirm is your present location.

I learnt this lesson as an officer in the military and as a mountain leader.  Constantly we were asked during training to get out our maps and indicate to the instructor exactly where we were.  You can’t expect to lead others unless you know where you are and where you are going.

The same applies for any new project or venture in any walk of life.  Your route or your plan can only properly be defined once you know your start point.  This is not just a geographical appreciation, it is an understanding of how you relate to your present circumstances.  Therefore going through a thorough appreciation of where you are is essential before moving forward.

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”  Seneca

Identifying where you are

There are various exercises to get you going, as an individual, in working out the reality of your present situation.  Here are few things you can try:

Phone a friend

In terms of your personal life why not ask someone close to you – a good friend or partner – how they think you are doing.  What do they see as your strengths and weaknesses? What hopes and concerns do they have for you?

Check your diary and finances

Have a look at your calendar and personal finances for the last few months.  How you spend your time and money will give you an idea of your values, commitments and pressures.

Do some self reflection

Review your journal or note books.  If you don’t have a journal, start one! What themes can you identify in your thoughts and actions?

Write your biography

One good idea is to write a short biography. Try and keep it to one page but try to encapsulate your story to date; how you arrived where you are today and what have been the key milestones.

Review reports and appraisals

Regarding your work life you can look at past appraisals, reports and testimonials you might have. All of these things start to build up a picture.

Try a personality or psychometric test

There are plenty of paid and free personality and psychometric tests available online.  Tests such as Myers-Brigss and The Big 5 are very popular and these and other tests can be found on sites like and

Update your CV

You can also write a new CV. This process helps you to summarise your achievements in a structured way. There are lots of resources online to help you and if you don’t know where to start then click here:

How to write a successful CV

The SWOT Analysis

Another simple assessment tool you can do for yourself, your team or your whole organisation is a SWOT analysis. ‘SWOT’ stands for:

  • S: What are the biggest strengths of you, your team or your situation?
  • W: What are your inherent weaknesses?
  • O: What are the opportunities of your situation?
  • T: What are the external threats that you are facing?

The great thing about the SWOT analysis is takes a balanced view of your present situation. This is very important because we face a couple of dangers at this stage.  Firstly we can paint too rosy a picture of our situation if we choose to overlook or gloss-over certain facts.  The second danger is that by looking at all the challenges the situation can seem overwhelming and this can lead to paralysis rather than action – just the opposite of what we are trying to achieve. So we need to have the right perspective.

You can read more about the SWOT analysis in this post on How to do a SWOT analysis.

The importance of perspective

Keeping the right perspective is not always easy. Jim Collins in his excellent book ‘Good to Great’ talks about the ‘Stockdale paradox’, the idea of confronting the ‘brutal facts’ of the situation while maintaining the belief that you will prevail. Admiral James Stockdale survived as a prisoner of war in Vietnam for over seven years under the most horrific conditions. Stockdale concluded this about the mentality that helped him survive:

“This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” 

Stockdale did not try to fool himself over his present situation and neither should we, especially as what we face is unlikely to be anywhere near as bad as the years of torture he had to confront!  When one looks at the hard data it can be daunting at first but as you take things to their natural conclusion it can also be releasing.  If we ask ourselves ‘so what?’ of every challenge we face, and think through what could happen, and – more importantly – what you would do if the worst was to happen, then we can confront our fears.

The challenges of life

Compared to a prison camp we might think our problems are small, but life is full of its own challenges that can seem big enough. Unless we identify and deal with these issues they will hold us back.  You cannot be happy or successful by ignoring things.  As Philip Wylie said, “Ignorance is not bliss, it is oblivion.”

What are you facing at the moment? Financial insecurity? Challenges at work? Difficulties in your relationships? A lack of confidence or motivation?  Whatever it is, the first step to overcoming the challenge is to identify it.  Do some situation analysis. Call it out; don’t ignore it, deny it or hide it.  Confront it.

This can be easier said than done, I know.

In my experience, as well as taking time to think about an issue it can also be worth writing it down or speaking to someone about it.  Externalising can help (and I say that as an introvert).  This is where a good friend, coach or mentor can be invaluable.

I have appreciated times when people have really listened to me when I have been working through problems and professionally I have spent a lot of time, as a coach, creating an environment where people can talk about and think through challenges.  And in my experience, it really works.


Have you ever resolved a bad situation by facing up to it and seeing it in a new light? What was the outcome? Do leave a comment and share your story.

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