Brag, Worry, Wonder: A Leadership Framework

March 13, 2019

By Amy McDonald, FONA President

I’ve talked about mirror reflections before. But how do you take the time to reflect on the past, present and future when you and those you manage are often pulled in different directions? How do you empower your people during your one-on-one meetings, while getting to the heart of what matters most? My advice to business leaders, no matter the industry, is to use the brag/worry/wonder approach.

It’s not a new concept. I first learned about it from Chuck West – an amazing mentor whom I met when I began teaching Executive Management & Leadership at the University of Wisconsin School of Business. It’s the topic of a book by Steve King.

With a person’s direct reports, it’s easy to hash through the checklist of things that are happening, to focus on the reactive needs. That’s why I love brag/worry/wonder because if you punctuate a conversation with that, you’re actually carving out time to get to the heart of the matter, and quickly.


What do you brag about?

Talking about what’s bragworthy is a way to recognize what you want more of – for both you and your people. It starts your conversation on a positive note, and it highlights those activities or qualities that have positive business or cultural impact. It’s a way for both of you to show that you’re paying attention to the positive contributions being made around the business.


What do you worry about?

Asking about (and sharing our own) worries is a powerful thing. Worry is a way to frame challenges that we’re facing, or that we foresee. It’s a gut check that helps us see around corners and anticipate future hurdles. I’ve noticed that when you start to talk about what worries you, it’s easy to get very quickly to the root of the problem. If we are spending mind power worrying about something – deep down, we know there is a source, a reason. And if there is a reason, there is a solution. Having that gut check and talking through worries is the first step to an action plan.


What do you wonder?

Wonder is all about the future. Wonder forces us to step outside the bounds of now and next and prompts us to think differently about our goals and plans. I think it’s important for the manager to start the “wondering.” I usually say something like, “When I think about you and helping you succeed, I wonder what you could accomplish if X-Y-Z obstacle was removed.” Or, “I wonder what more could you do in this area if ___,” etc. I tend to push for expansive thinking and push them to share their “wonders” as well. It’s fun to end a one-on-one conversation with a wonder. It’s filled with optimism. It lets you both dream big, identify obstacles and call your shots!

A Simple Approach with a Big Impact

It’s really that simple. You don’t need a workbook or a trainer. Just asking (and answering) these three points helps reset and prioritize any conversation. I truly believe that it’s a good leadership practice and management feedback process that anybody can adopt. You don’t have to formalize a new process. You can start doing it today. It allows employees a voice and a framework to express the good and the not-so-good in a clear way. Even something simple – when done with discipline -- can have huge impact.

At FONA, we’re always looking for ways to improve our leadership and our connectivity with each other. We’re striving at every level of the company, to achieve self-awareness and reflection. (Why do I feel the way I do? Why am I worried about this particular thing?) Brag/Worry/Wonder certainly helps us with that.

Moving Forward…

What is your brag/worry/wonder list? How can you see using this framework in your business?

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Thanks for reading,