Welcome to the 3x5 Leadership podcast where we champion intentional leaders who create significant impacts. In this show we share simple, practical strategies to help you live, lead, and learn more intentionally.
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Now, let’s get into today’s episode where we explain how three simple questions can transform how you think, how you communicate, how you develop others, and ultimately how you lead. Let’s get to it.
I’m Josh Bowen and I first want to welcome you to our very first 3x5 Leadership podcast episode! We are so excited to get this started and I’m thrilled that you have joined us. So, thank you.
Intentional leadership demands a lot of us every day. It involves some essential activities like reflection, communication, being curious and asking questions, and developing other leaders. All of these require us to make or to find a clear and compelling point. What is the issue or the idea? Why does it matter? Why should I care and ultimately commit to doing something about it?
Today, I offer the three most important questions I use to unlock clarity around, give purpose to, and create an actionable plan for any idea I have or message I convey.
So, I woke up pretty early this morning, before my wife and kids got up. I made a cup of coffee, took a seat at our kitchen table, and pulled out a blank piece of paper and pen to begin working on a new 3x5 blog article.
And while getting up early and starting with a blank canvas is a regular habit for me, so is what I do with the paper to start crafting each new piece. I draw lines to break the paper up into three sections and I title each of them using a total of five words: what, so what, and now what. This is how I begin to design my argument and structure the article.
I start with, “what.” Here is where I clarify and bring focus to the topic – what are we talking about and not talking about. I use this question to do two things – to draft my thesis and define key components of my argument. So, for an article on say mentorship, I’ll first build an argument like, many of us don’t have a mentor, though it is one of the most powerful developmental relationships we can engage in. We fail to have a mentor because we keep blinders up and don’t see the many diverse mentoring relationships and opportunities around us.
Now, after formulating that argument, I may need to go on to define mentoring and bring to light that it can look different than what we expect – like seeking mentorship from a peer or colleague, a short-term relationship, group learning, and even virtual relationships.
So, as you can see, the “what” question can be quite versatile. But it ultimately aims to bring focus to the topic and clarity around it.
Then, I transition to question two, “so what.” Here, I argue why this topic is worth reading, caring about, and even doing something about. I give purpose to the argument and relevance to others’ lives. In the case of the mentoring argument, I can offer statistics about the power of mentoring. I can list the benefits of it and how it impacts your leadership. Or I can tell my own mentoring story as an anecdote. These all aim to hook the reader who is asking, “sure, I get mentoring, but why should I care? Why should I go out of my way to pursue mentoring?” Through question two, I now hopefully have the reader hooked.
Which then leads to the final question, “now what?” I don’t wish to merely pontificate on the topic. I want to offer recommendations for future actions to equip others to successfully take some first steps. So, to answer the “now what” question, we can offer a list of initial steps to take, equip them with resources to learn more, or define a habit they can use to make certain actions natural within their leadership. So, with the mentoring argument, after equipping the reader with a better understanding of what mentoring relationships can look like, here I can offer a few opportunities they can explore this week to extract the value of mentorship from their existing relationships.
Through these three questions, I clarify my idea, complete my argument, and make it compelling to call others to action.
And this is just one powerful way I use these three important questions. So, let’s quickly review the questions so we understand what we are actually talking about.
The three questions make up a single and very simple framework. This framework helps me clarify an idea, complete an argument, and craft compelling messages. The three questions, using a total of five words, are:
One, “what.” This defines the idea or argument at hand. It helps you focus and fully describe what you are exploring. It can look like what I described in the mentoring article. Or it can help you make connections between seemingly unrelated ideas, like one I recently explored: “what is the relationship between feedback and developmental experiences?” What comes from that relationship. So, first question is, “what.”
Second, “so what.” This gives purpose to the idea. Why do I need to care about mentorship, or feedback, or developmental experiences? Why should others care about your idea? Why should they listen to your argument? Help others understand why.
Finally, “now what.” Until this point, we are simply trying to bring clarity to the idea and help others understand. “Now what” transitions us from thinking to doing. It calls us to action. With understanding what and so what, what do I do now?
And that’s it! Those are the three simple questions. But, as you can see, this framework – these three questions and five total words – can be incredibly powerful for your learning and ability to communicate. And if you notice, the three questions follow the logical flow of what, why, and finally how.
Now, of course, we can’t end this episode without a few recommendations on “now what!” How can we use this framework. So, I want to share three main ways I use this framework pretty much every day.
One, I use it for personal reflection. When I’m trying to make sense of a recent experience, clarify my learning from a book I just finished, or trying to make connections between seemingly random ideas – I turn to these three questions to structure my thinking. It helps me organize my thoughts, give meaning to them, and finally create a path forward to do something about it.
Number two, I use this framework when making an argument. And I think one of the most impactful ways to use this is to communicate change to your team. Change is hard. It’s scary. And it will certainly face a lot of resistance. But you can help settle nerves, help others understand, paint an encouraging picture of the future, and ultimately illuminate a clear path forward by organizing your argument using the three questions. Tell them what is changing. Then, rather than simply telling them what’s going to happen with the change, help them understand why. What is the urgent need. Why is our current state untenable. Why does this matter for our survival. Help them see the need and invite them to join you. Finally, by ending with “now what,” you make the change a lot less scary. Give them the first set of steps you all will take to initiate the change. Show them it’s not as big or hard as they might initially think. This final step can also show them that there are plenty of things that won’t change as part of this process, helping them anchor to those knowns that will still endure.
And finally, three, I use these questions when leading a developmental conversation with someone like with a mentee. If, during a meeting, a mentee of mine expresses a lot of concern around a current struggle they are experiencing, I use the questions to structure and guide the conversation. First, clarify what the root of the problem is. Let’s get to the heart of the issue and not simply dance around superficial symptoms. Second, why does this matter, because it does matter! Let’s talk about why this is such a big concern. Is it challenging your reputation, your credibility, or integrity? Is a relationship maybe hindering your team’s progress and decision making? We can use this question to help our mentee know that this issue matters and it’s ok to be concerned. It can also help improve their self-awareness through the process too. And lastly, “now what,” moves us from simply venting or complaining to productively creating a plan of action.
The three questions are simple, versatile, and powerful. The framework serves as a guide to structure your thinking, make it clear and compelling, and create action around it. And I believe you can find ways to use them to unlock new ways to grow, to create compelling and impactful messages, and energize others’ development.
Now to end, I offer just one simple step to use these questions more effectively. Start by writing them down! Like I shared in my article brainstorming process, I encourage you to write out the questions on paper or a whiteboard. Use those as buckets to gather and organize your thoughts. Then, you can iterate over them and clarify them more with it written out in front of you. You’ll achieve a much clearer thought, more compelling message, and deeper developmental conversation.
And that’s it for our first episode, friends! I’m so glad that you joined us. Now, as you go, I ask three simple favors from you.
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So, until next time, friends, take care and lead well.