How to Find the One Thing Everything Else Needs

The success of every project or initiative boils down to one essential behavior.

The one thing is – the thing – everything else hangs on.

Messy baby

If someone took responsibility for the project you currently lead, and you could tell them only one thing, what would you say?


The one thing cannot be:

  1. Something to think.
  2. An attitude.
  3. Technical knowledge. It’s a given that they have technical knowledge and skill.

Every time you saw them doing the one thing, you’d say, “Yes! That’s essential.”


Yesterday I had breakfast with a U.S. executive who develops leaders for his organization in cultures as diverse as Guatemala, Vietnam, and Brazil. I asked him the “one thing” question.

“If you could say one thing to your successor, what would you say?”

Many skills and behaviors go into success, especially in a cross-cultural context. But, the first thing he said was, “Eat the food.”

After he said, “Eat the food,” he hesitated and felt the need to explore and add more. I don’t blame him. I hadn’t prepared him.


You feel a need to talk about knowledge, attitudes, or skills. Don’t.

The need to expand the one thing is natural. But, after you settle on it, don’t expand it. Just keep doing it.

Eat the food:

  1. We connect around food.
  2. Food helps us drop our guard.
  3. Eating their food says, “I accept you.”
  4. Eating the food says, “I respect your culture.”
  5. Sitting at the table says, “I want to be one of you.”

There’s more to developing leaders in a cross-cultural context than eating food. But, eating the food is the one thing everything else needs.


Identify one observable behavior that’s essential for success and challenge your team to do it, over and over.


The one thing may change as your context changes. But, what’s the “one thing” you would tell your successor, if you could tell them only one thing?

What’s the one specific, observable, public, behavior that is essential for your success?