The Power of One Word

fingerI love finding great ideas in one area of life and applying them in other areas.

In the book My One Word, Reverend Mike Ashcroft encourages people to scrap their long list of New Year’s resolutions. (88% of these resolutions end in failure anyway.) Instead, he encourages them to choose one word for the next year that encapsulates who they want to be, where they want to grow or what they most want to accomplish. “Do something about one thing this year instead of nothing about everything,” he says.

This “one word” concept is simple and powerful. And it has all kinds of other applications beyond New Year’s resolutions.

Personal mission/mantra: I talked with a friend and colleague over lunch recently about our personal life missions. (You run that risk when you eat lunch with me.) He said that he is a “connector.” He’s naturally great at connecting people, he loves it and that’s the thrust of his career, too. That one word captures who he is and the kind of impact he aspires to have in life and work.

Company mission statements: What if organizations boiled down what they were all about into one word? CSX Corporation (a North American railroad company) did just that in a slogan they had: Delivering. Currently, they describe themselves and their mission like this: “How tomorrow moves.”

Whether one word or three words, the point is that it is clear. Simple. Meaningful. Down to earth yet inspirational. And easy to ‘get.’

Advertising campaigns: Advertisers and marketers understand this idea more than most of us. “Just do it” is a great and well-known example from Nike. It’s memorable, action-oriented and motivating.

Strategic corporate initiatives: Here’s another good example from YUM Brands, who owns KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. “Back the front” was their internal mantra in the mid-1990’s to help ensure all their corporate staff workers’ efforts were aimed at supporting their restaurant colleagues on the front lines.

Deciding on a good name or mantra for a mission, campaign or initiative may sound simple, but it is not necessarily an easy thing to do. And if you make it too far beyond where you are now, then people may become skeptical; the mantra or mission may seem empty and backfire.

I heard Guy Kawasaki speak years ago on the topic of missions/mantras; he agrees this is a crucial and worthwhile idea. If you can’t boil down what you’re all about into a few words, then it’s not going to communicate and stick with your customers or your employees. Or with you.

Do you need a one-word mantra?

Image Credit: Joe Baker

Joe Baker is a Partner with PeopleResults. In his work as a leadership consultant and executive coach, he enjoys helping leaders and organizations get clear on what success looks like and how they’ll get there. You can reach him at or on Twitter @JoeBakerJr