The place where your feet meet the ground matters. In an age where a large part of our communication and information appears on digital screens from all over the world, it’s easy to forget the importance of the geographical environment in our daily lives. Two books that remind us of the power of place are The Map that Changed the World by Simon Winchester and Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall.
Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall
Tim Marshall’s book about ten maps that explain everything about the world will now forever be a reach away on my bookshelf. As he described the geographic features of ten key areas of the world, my eyes opened to the significance that weather, rivers, oceans, mountains and prairies have had in the development of countries throughout the world. I never before linked the war in the Ukraine to Russia’s need for warm water access to an ocean or considered the global importance of the United States being flanked by two oceans. Marshall sums up this helpful book by saying that “geography, and the history of how nations have established themselves within that geography, remains crucial to our understanding of the world today and to our future.”
The Map That Changed the World by Simon Winchester
While Marshall provides a macro view of the major geo-political regions of the world, Simon Winchester dives deep into the micro experience of one man, William Smith, and paints a lively picture of how Smith’s life at the just the right place and time propelled him to spend 22 years creating the first geographical map of England. 
It is in Smith’s story that we see elements of how England was primed for a scientific revolution in the late 1700’s when capitalism was also picking up speed. Knowledge was now available to all economic classes and there were great advances in areas such as the arts, philosophy and applied science. However, Marshall also notes an important barrier that existed during this time. “There was still a terrible hesitation about humans’ understanding of the most fundamental questions of why they were where they were, who had placed them there, what was the point, what were their origins, what was their fate?”  He goes on to say to ask such questions was viewed a heresy to the largely Protestant population. Indeed, Smith’s discoveries about the age of the earth are still at odds with Biblical purists and Christians throughout the world. Yet, Smith prevailed in creating an accurate map that described the geology of England’s land. Something that would prove to be immensely useful for ages to come.
Impact of Place in Leadership Today
So what’s the impact of all of this on leadership today? Both Marshall and Winchester show in different ways that the physical landscape of a place matters. Whether you are a leader of your family, a leader of an organization or a leader of your community, it’s critical to have an awareness of the landscape, earth and natural resources in your area both to understand the past and to plan for the future. It makes me think of the importance of SWOT analysis in any leader’s tool kit.
SWOT (an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) is a framework that is credited to Albert Humphrey, who developed the approach at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) back in the 1960s and early 1970s. The primary objective of a SWOT analysis is to help leaders develop a full awareness of all the factors involved in making decisions. A strengths and weaknesses assessment is geared toward the internal factors that impact success and the opportunities and threats are external factors that may influence the future. In both categories, I can now see the importance of recognizing geographical factors, especially as opportunities or threats since they are things one cannot control.
It is impossible to accurately map out a small business’s future without first evaluating it from all angles, which includes an exhaustive look at all internal and external resources and threats,” Bonnie Taylor, chief marketing officer at CCS Innovations, told Business News Daily. “A SWOT accomplishes this in four straightforward steps that even rookie business owners can understand and embrace. 
The physical place in which a leader finds herself can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s important to understand those realities and plan accordingly
 Marshall, Tim. “Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Explain Everything about the World.” New York, NY: Scribner, 2016, 7.
 Winchester, Simon. “The Map That Changed the World: The Tale of William Smith and the Birth of a Science.” London, England ; Viking, 2001.
 Winchester, 23.
 The British Library. “What Is SWOT Analysis?” The British Library. Accessed February 26, 2023. https://www.bl.uk/business-and-ip-centre/articles/what-is-swot-analysis.
 Business News Daily. “How SWOT Analysis Can Help Grow Your Business.” Accessed February 26, 2023. https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/4245-swot-analysis.html.