What’s Your One Thing?

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?

[holds up one finger]

Curly: This.

Mitch: Your finger?

Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean sh*t.

Mitch: But, what is the “one thing?”

Curly: [smiles] That’s what *you* have to find out.

From City Slickers


Who would figure that Jack Palance, as Curly in the film City Slickers, would be such a philosopher?

Curly’s right, the secret of life is our “one thing” – figuring out what our “one thing” is. It’s also the secret to a successful career

When I work with clients to fine-tune their LinkedIn profiles, they’re often tempted to provide a litany of roles and opportunities they want to pursue. Sometimes they’ll ask about the possibility of having more than one profile on LinkedIn to reflect their varied interests. (Pro tip: Nope, only one profile).

The trick is to figure out what is that one thing you’re really good at and build your LinkedIn profile – and your career – around that.

When Everything’s A Priority, Nothing Is A Priority

In his book, Radical Inclusion: What the Post 9/11 World Should Have Taught Us About Leadership, retired Army general and Joint Chiefs of Staff chair, Martin Dempsey, shared the story of a new command assignment to an armored cavalry regiment of 5,200 soldiers. The regiment had experienced tremendous leadership transition and a move to a new, unfamiliar army post. In addition, the Army was publishing “numerous, detailed, expansive, and mandatory instructions” that had to be accomplished by all unit commanders and soldiers. Each instruction was considered a top priority.

Dempsey noted that there was not enough time or resources to adequately address all the mandated priorities. He asked his unit leaders “what’s the one thing? What’s the one thing that will define your time as a leader in this regiment?” He explained that organizations that have identified the one thing most important to them – the one thing they want to do better than anyone else – know how to prioritize which elements of their business to focus on.

Dempsey’s leadership team focused on the primary mission of a cavalry regiment – to fight for, accumulate and provide information to the corps commander – the leader of about 45,000 soldiers. Dempsey and his team adopted the slogan “We are all scouts.” His entire regiment of 5,200 soldiers (scouts, tankers, artillerymen, chemical specialists, logistics specialists, aviators, cooks, and administrative specialists) embraced their “one thing,” they were scouts. Dempsey’s leadership team used their slogan to prioritize their activities around the mix of mandated instructions issued by the Army.

The same applies to individuals seeking their next professional opportunity. If people feel they are “utility players” who can do almost anything in an organization, they’ll be perceived as having minimal value. The old adage, “jack of all trades, master of none” applies.

If you can’t demonstrate mastery in a specific instance that aligns with an organization’s needs, there’s no reason to keep you or hire you.

What’s Your One Thing?

One of the questions I ask new clients in our initial meeting is “In a sentence or two, what is it that you do well?” Their response usually informs their “one thing” and we make it the cornerstone of their leadership narrative, which becomes the foundation for their key marketing documents like their resume and their LinkedIn profile.

So, what’s your “one thing”? What are you really good at, that you can do better than most other people?

That’s what you focus on.


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Image copyright: Hong Li