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Who are you? In six words or less.

Ernest Hemingway was challenged to write a story in six words and eventually sent this in to the magazine that challenged him to do it:

For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.

Isn’t that evocative, sad, moving, all in just six words?

It’s prompted a couple of people since then to use this ‘six-word’ exercise to focus you sharply on how you see yourself – who you are and how you lead.

The latest is John Baldoni, who in his Harvard Blog, says this:

“Clare Booth Luce once told President Kennedy that “a great man is one sentence.” It may feel impossible to sum up your accomplishments in a handful of words but it’s a good exercise in self-reflection. Ask yourself what you want to be remembered for, whether you left the organization or the world better than you found it, and how you influenced others. This exercise can guide your decisions about what you want to achieve and help you understand more clearly what work means to you.”

I remember Dan Pink doing something similar on his blog recently, prompted by the book “Not quite what I was planning: six word memoirs by writers famous and obscure“. He collected a whole load of comments from people summing up their life so far in six words or less.

How you apply it to distilling the essence of how you lead / how you live/ who you are is a neat challenge. What would yours be? Here are a couple of thoughts to start you off:

I’d like my legacy (though that sounds pompous) to be, maybe

Brought out the best in others.

Or, phrased in terms of my purpose, to…

Bring out the best in others“.

Actually, I really like:

Extraordinary performance levels from ordinary people

…as I think that’s what we are all here for – to inspire ‘ordinary’ people to realize they are capable of extraordinary things. That includes ourselves.

But, I also always want to bring out the best in myself (it’s lurking in there somewhere), so those words aren’t the complete picture. They are also a bit generic and could apply to anyone. Maybe that’s the limit of a six-word thing – it won’t cover everything.

I had to do a ‘three word’ exercise once. The profile field I was filling in on an online community said “Three important words.” For me, the answer was “No-one is ordinary.”

If you apply the six word exercise to famous leaders from history, it’s actually easier, as you are summing up their legacy and achievements. So, Baldoni reports that Peggy Noonan, the columnist, says Lincoln’s six words would be:

“Preserved the Union. Freed the slaves.”

One that popped into my head this morning is Julius Caesar:

“I came. I saw. I conquered.”

In Latin it’s down to three words – Veni. Vidi. Vici.

So, what about you? Who are you or what do you want your legacy to be – what people would ‘label’ you as when looking back on you – in six words or less?

Here’s the John Baldoni blog to prompt your thinking.

Here’s the Dan Pink blog where lots of reader comments contributing their six words should jog your brain cells into coming up with six words for yourself.

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