Tell Your Executive Story in Six Words
Written by Dan Christopherson
Some like to ride with a quick, slick elevator pitch. Others prefer many arduous steps to get that big, bright idea to the top.
Earl Newsome is different. Efficient. He’ll assert his direction — and you’ll know where he stands — in the time it takes an elevator door to slide shut.
Six words. That’s all Newsome needs. The CIO and VP Americas of Linde PLC will happily wrap his leadership style and strategic vision in a simple series of six-word stories.
It all starts with his six-word purpose statement, “Every day above ground is good.” Newsome picked up the life-affirming mantra along a 30-year professional journey that includes senior IT leadership roles at Praxair, TE Connectivity and The Estee Lauder Company.
Driven by the power of storytelling, Newsome has led others through the six-word exercise, which traces back to legendary writer Ernest Hemingway. Challenged by colleagues to tell a story in six words, Hemingway penned this:
For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.
For Newsome, it made him wonder what happened, and drove his belief that executives can learn a lot from succinct, focused storytelling.
"You can take a lot of inferences from those six words. It’s a powerful way to think about sending a message.”
Newsome places his personal six-word stories into success-oriented categories, and recommends all executives do the same:
- Vision: Know you. Love you. Do you.
“Really understand who you are,” Newsome says, “Be one hundred percent authentic.”
- Leadership: Be out front. Know the way.
Share your principles and goals.
- Strategy: Know the right hill to attack.
“Make sure you’re focused on the right objective, then attack it aggressively.”
- Technology: Embed yourself, use it, drive it.
“I expect IT people to embed themselves in technology. But the first to use it in your business and drive it.”
- Career: Success is allowing everyone to win.
Find new ways to engage the team and stakeholders in each other’s success.
- Lesson: Your ambition, their ambition, should match.
“This is the ultimate lesson I’ve learned in my career, and it goes for career and family. Be honest about your ambition, understand the ambitions of others, and make sure you’re aligned.”
CIOs have limited time with the Board, and with their teams, to make their case and to explain a vision. Reframing your strategy and roadmap as six-word stories can serve as a critical method of focusing your goals and your message. It is also a simple way to check your tactics and actions – as a department and more personally as a leader.
Here are six-word stories from other executives who Newsome has led through the exercise:
- Ideas are nothing without execution.
- Step up. I’ve got your back.
- Light a path. Lead the way.
- Passion, honesty, integrity, considerate or bust.
- Turn to change direction. Not slowdown.
- Coach with passion. Celebrate the achievement.
As an executive, it can also help you hone your personal brand. Being clear about who you are as a leader enables you to be more authentic and model that behavior for your teams and aspiring technology leaders. Recently, Newsome visited a class of disadvantaged youth to talk about careers in technology and cybersecurity. A student shared that they felt they had no chance to be a CISO. Newsome needed only six words to flip the narrative:
You’re the story you tell yourself.
"When you say ‘never,’ that will be your lot in life,” Newsome told the classroom, and it’s also his advice to other executives. “Remember, it’s not what other people say your story is. You’re the story you tell yourself.”
Content adapted from the 2019 New York CIO Executive Summit. Special thanks to Earl Newsom and Linde PLC.
by CIOs, for CIOs
Join the conversation with peers in your local CIO community.