Your Leadership Legacy in One Sentence

Posted 06.29.2009

By now, pretty much everyone has heard of the elevator speech.  You know the drill, describe what you’re working on, why it matters and what the other person can do to help in 60 seconds or less.  I’ve read lately that the Tweet is the new elevator speech.  Can you describe what you’re working on and why it’s important in 140 characters or less?  It’s all about the idea behind the famous line from T.S. Eliot, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”  It takes time and effort to boil down the essence of what you’re trying to do to a short and memorable idea.

Al-fdr-rp In her weekly Wall Street Journal column, Peggy Noonan built on this point by telling the story of what 20th century renaissance woman Clare Booth Luce once said to John F. Kennedy, “a great man is one sentence.”  As Noonan explains, “His leadership can be so well summed up in a single sentence that you don’t have to hear his name to know who’s being talked about.”  The first two pictures in this post are captioned with Noonan’s examples to give you additional insight into her point.

For the fun of it and to add some gender diversity to the examples, I've added a third picture of another leader with my own one sentence caption.  (What one sentence descriptions can you come up with for other well known leaders?)

Someone once said that strategy is as much about what you’re not going to do as what you’re going to do.  Great leaders know how to focus and to keep the group’s attention focused on the most important things. 

If you were to focus on crafting a short sentence that you hope would sum up the essence of your current work as a leader what would it be?  While you’re thinking about it, take a look at the following 30 second clip from the well known cowboy philosopher Curly for some inspiration: