You Can Lead (Better) With Three Words

February 28, 2015 — 22 Comments

My old college roomie, years ago, sent me a book called:

“What Would Jackie Do?”

Image courtesy of stockimages at

Don’t Get Stuck When A Difficult Leadership Situation Pops Up!
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subtitled: “An Inspired Guide to Distinctive Living”.  If I were to follow the wisdom of Jackie O as outlined in the book, I could know what to do and bloom!

My old roomie would raise her eyebrow if she knew that some on my team asked that same question: “What Would Jackie Do?” — thinking Jackie Y instead of Jackie O — not for “distinctive living” but rather to figure out how to handle difficult work situations.

It was an effective crutch for their leadership (glad it worked!) and an ego boost for me (we all need that sometimes! ~ thank you, team!!), but …

As a leader, you don’t want to be the crutch for people long term. 

You want people to graduate from You! 

You want to see the core values you set for the organization become their own — internalizing these so they become leaders in their own right and make decisions from their minds and hearts.

Mission statements can be a helpful guide, but how memorable and inspiring is yours? (If yours is like mine was, it’s time to review and update. Some tips in this article from Business News Daily.)

For a simple approach with needed internal heart fueling power …

Try the “3 Words Exercise” 

Chris Brogan, CEO of Owner Media Group and NY TImes Best Selling Author, created this exercise for personal growth and as “something that would work within our thought process daily”.

Here’s how to get started.

Select Sign Post Words For You & Your Team 

You can do this yourself or invite your team to participate.  I like team participation — you’ll get the connection and dialogue going upfront!

Your words can be goal-oriented, based on values, a way of being and/or doing.  Your words can be a verb or noun or adjective.

You can start any time of the year.  Don’t wait for January.  If January has passed, no worries — just get started!

Chris Brogan suggests: 

Pick three words that can be packed with depth.

Pick words that will be your own.

Negative words aren’t especially helpful. It’s really hard to rally to a word or mission that starts with “Don’t.”

Jackie’s Caution: 

“Don’t Choose Corporate Buzzwords!

Buzzwords are too impersonal and boring.  They’ll slide out of your brain in seconds.

You want words that you and your team will embody, words that will get down into the cellular level, words that will make your mitochondria sing!


Real Life 3 Words From Real Life People

Artwork courtesy Dorlee Michaeli's ( 2015 Three Words

Dorlee Michaeli ( Transformed Her 2015 3 Words into Art!
>> Let Your 3 Words Inspire You & Your Team. <<

To find fruitful, juicy, nourishing words; spur your imagination via the 2015 Three Words chosen by Chris Brogan for himself and from my Twitter Friends who are not only veterans at this, but have blogged their commitment.  You can click on the string of three words next to each 3 Word author for more detail.

Plan, Leverage, Fabric – via Chris Brogan (@ChrisBrogan)

Devour, Poetry, Luxuriate – via Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter (@ValueIntoWords), Master Resume Writer (1 of 27 Globally) and Glassdoor Career and Workplace Expert.  Jacqui introduced the “3 Words Exercise” to me several years ago.

Fresh, Discoverable, Discourse  –  via Hannah Morgan (@careersherpa); Job Search, Career and Social Media Strategist and Contributor to US News Careers.  Hannah’s post is where Jacqui was introduced to this exercise! Love the connectivity.

Clear, Reach, Embrace – via Dorlee Michaeli (@SWCareer), Social Worker and Social Media Consultant, Founder of the Social Work Career blog.  Dorlee, not only came up with 3 Words, but illustrated it. Yes, that’s Dorlee’s artwork that’s the lead-in for this section of the post.

My 3 Words for 2015

Image courtesy of domdeen at

Aspirations Grow via The 3 Words Exercise
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Sometimes the three words will come easily to you.  Like grace, gratitude and growth in the closing of an email to a friend near the cusp of the new year where I mused that these could be my 3 words.  But, the alliteration of “G’s” became an alliteration of “A’s”:  Apollo, Abundance and Aliveness.

No need to fret because both sets of words work and any that you choose will work, too!  These words work for one’s personal life and corporate life — because aren’t we integrated beings?


In junior high, I was immersed in the adventurous tales of Greek and Roman gods.

Apollo is the god of light, poetry, music, healing, and prophecy.

A reminder that we thrive not through one thing, but many.  Reach out, discover the new, and incorporate that into our being.  Be deliberately interdisciplinary — personally and in the corporate world.  And don’t forget that NASA got us to the moon via Apollo 11.  Let that motivate us to sharpen our skills beyond the edge.


In her article, “Four Words to Seem More Polite”, Olga Khazan asks: “If we humans are locked in a nasty, brutish, and short struggle for resources, why would we stop to give a hoot about each other?”

Such an implacable, cold, iceberg of a world that we live and work in!

What if we were to see the world from an abundance vantage?

From the abundance vantage, the world becomes a bright expanse — a lush, green, giving field — and our actions warm and become nurturing and empathetic.

Empathy is considered by many psychologists to be essential to cooperation, problem-solving, and to human functioning in general” per Olga.

Precisely what we need in our personal and the corporate world.  Abundance is a good word.


Life and work can be mundane as the drip-drip-drip of daily tasks that gnaw at us.  We forget we are alive and …

Aliveness is energy… It’s the energy that moves a relationship from the status quo to something grander and much more expansive, something that makes our hearts beat faster, our minds, and our eyes open wider than ever before.

Everything is of interest to a person who is truly alive, whether it’s a challenge, a loving moment, a bucket of grief, or a glimpse of beauty

~ Daphne Rose Kingma

Work makes up at least one third of our lives and one half of our waking hours.  We cannot be alive if we’re not feeling the aliveness at work.  Let’s pledge to bring this energy to our work situations and know that your energy will transfer to and transform others.

You’ve Got to be the Farmer of Your 3 Words!

Living your 3 words means you’ve got to till the soil, water the roots, and provide the nutrients.

Different farmers use different methods.  Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter uses post-its and you’ve seen how Dorlee Michaeli puts her three words into art.

For the Corporate World:

  • Plant the seeds for the 3 Word Exercise at your All Staff Meeting.
  • Celebrate the harvest of your team’s 3 Word leadership success stories.
  • Fortify by practicing difficult work / leadership situations with your team using your 3 Words for guidance
  • Embed the 3 Words into individual performance planning and goals and/or into corporate bonus plans.
  • Cultivate the 3 Words into everyday conversation.  They can become your trigger words like the rubber band around your wrist that you snap, but this wouldn’t be hurtful. 🙂

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

What are your thoughts and reactions to this 3 Word Exercise?

Would you be willing to give it a try?

Are there other alternatives that you would recommend?

Hope you’ll leave a comment.  

Do Tell me about your 3 Words, whether it is for yourself or your team

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

#TakeThisMoment to strengthen your inner guiding star.

Your Leadership demands it ~ Jackie Yun

Image courtesy of suphakit73 at

It’s Your Leadership Responsibility.
Strengthen Your & Your Team’s
Inner Guiding Star.
Image courtesy of suphakit73 at

p.s.  In case you are curious …

My 2014 three words:

Flowers – Encouragement to do what’s important with grace and beauty because life is fleetingly short.

Heart – Reminder to live from the heart because the heart can be an equal partner with the head, even in seemingly mind-dominated situations.

Enrich – A daily ask: Am I enriching others by my actions? Am I enriching myself?

My 2013 three words:

Awesomeness – Owning it within, appreciating it in others and in the world

Art  – Making a point to look at things differently, be creative, plus curate a bit of beauty into everyday life

Jump –  Be bold, enjoy the feeling of flight, and a much needed reminder to exercise.

Cheers to You and Your 3 Words for Leadership & Living!

22 responses to You Can Lead (Better) With Three Words

  1. Jackie,

    I love your creative idea of recommending that leaders use the three words concept to replace an organization’s typical [and sometimes boring] mission statement so as to inspire, motivate and engage their employees.

    Your post not only succeeds in bringing your innovative application of the three words alive, but illustrates how exciting and fun it could be!

    It may only be the second month of the year, but you’ve already managed to imbibe all three of your words: Apollo, Abundance and Aliveness!

    Your innovative use for the three words demonstrates interdisciplinary reaching (Apollo), nurturance and empathy for both the leaders and employees (Abundance), and energizing of our souls at work (Aliveness).

    Thanks so much for your wonderful post and kind shoutout about my picture/three words!


    • Good morning, Dorlee!

      I’m finding that we often take the comfortable road, the one well-worn. If we could just step out and feel the uncrushed grass beside us, we could experience so much more! Chris Brogan’s Three Word Exercise helps with that — and I do believe it can be applied at work with our teams with a superb outcome. 🙂

      Thank you for your kind encouragement on my Three Word Exercise for 2015! Your artwork speaks to me encouragingly, too — and that’s one of the reasons I had to include it in my post. I see Apollo, Abundance and Aliveness beckoning me there.

      May I offer congratulations on the launch of your newly redesigned website? Hope everyone will get the chance to stop by to look, learn and comment!


  2. Jackie,
    You have a wonderful way with words!
    I enjoyed following your post as it led to the three words, through taking action on them!

    I, too, was a Greek and Roman god fan(atic). I majored in Humanities with a concentration in Ancient Greece and Rome- really.

    Good luck making this year one that holds true to Apollo. Abundance. Aliveness!

    • Hannah,

      Very happy that you enjoyed my post! Appreciating you and our connection!!

      I applaud how you are actively farming your three words — and how that has us, who are connected to you, live a bit of your words, too.

      Loved how you tested out the new video for Twitter feature and tweeted that to me and Dorlee Michaeli — made me think that I should try that, too. I see how your most recent post: “Why Send a Resume When You Can Do This Instead” will encourage jobseekers to take the next step and showcase who they are to their target employer — in a “fresh” way, that allows them to be more “discoverable” and hopefully initiates further “discourse” (i.e. the interview!).

      Take care and here’s to you and all who, like us, are Greek and Roman god fan(atics)!


  3. I can’t agree more with your comment about helping those you lead to graduate from you. I firmly believe this a key tenant of good leadership. To help those you lead to become self dependent and independent of their leader. Great post.

    • Hello Josh,

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment!

      I can see that you believe that as leaders we need to “help those you lead to become self dependent and independent…”. You are so on point when you say that we need to help our team through their fears, which you write about in your post, “Building Great Teams”. Fears can definitely keep us dependent and small.

      Hope we can continue exchanging ideas. I’m following you on Twitter now.


  4. Where to begin? Jackie, your posts are like meaty, nourishing articles and the comments sections become the dessert.

    Such a lovely expansion on the 3 words project. I, too, love how you tied this into a corporate mission statement exercise. As well, you share ways to farm it throughout the course of the weeks/months :: Plant, Celebrate, Fortify, Embed, Cultivate. In other words, you describe how to ‘activate’ your 3 words in a way that we all can relate to – in both work and in our personal lives.

    (Reading this, I realized, too, I must update my office whiteboard; in the past, I’ve displayed my 3 words there so I can look up during the day and read/be reminded of my ‘mission!’)

    Moreover, when you opened up this post, you wrote about how others would use you as their beacon; i.e., “What would Jackie do?” but that you also wanted your mentees to eventually become leaders independent of ‘you,’ to “become leaders in their own right and make decisions from their minds and hearts.”

    I think you ‘hit’ on something that I’ve admired about you, nearly from day 1 of knowing you. You are such a natural, intuitive leader that truly removes ego and cares about others :: nurturing, growing, encouraging and strengthening – offering them courage and independence!

    Finally, I adore your 3 words, and how you didn’t dismiss your initial, 3 words, but instead, graduated from them based on your final editing process. 3 Words IS a process after all.

    “Apollo” really was a pleasant ‘surprise’ word, and I appreciate how you explained it for us. The fact that we all “thrive not through one thing, but many” and the way you made the word/sentiment actionable by saying we can “deliberately be interdisciplinary” made sense. Lightbulb moment!

    “Aliveness” particularly resonated with me and I felt it complemented my 3 words ‘mission’. Feeling alive is oh-so-important to me on so many levels. You said it well, here:
    “Life and work can be mundane as the drip-drip-drip of daily tasks that gnaw at us. We forget we are alive …”

    But you went on to encourage us with [a quote from Daphne Rose Kingma]:
    “Aliveness is energy… It’s the energy that moves a relationship from the status quo to something grander and much more expansive, something that makes our hearts beat faster, our minds, and our eyes open wider than ever before.

    Everything is of interest to a person who is truly alive, whether it’s a challenge, a loving moment, a bucket of grief, or a glimpse of beauty.”

    YES! YES!

    Jackie, you are a true, collaborative, energy-sparking and collegial leader and friend. The relationship energy you share is long-lasting and reverberating. Thank you for making my heart beat faster.

    I value you and hope one day to meet you, as they say, IRL (in real life).


    • Greetings to you, dear Jacqui!

      I have to say that my heart is glowing from your blog post comment! Writing is such a personal outpouring. Vulnerability is hard. When what one writes connects, the writer soars!! You make me want to write — thank you.

      Know that you are so kind and generous. I am very lucky to have you as a friend and by friend, I think of this Jon Katz quote:

      “I think if I’ve learned anything about friendship, it’s to hang in, stay connected, fight for them, and let them fight for you. Don’t walk away, don’t be distracted, don’t be too busy or tired, don’t take them for granted. Friends are part of the glue that holds life and faith together. Powerful stuff.”

      You do all of that for me.

      Much love and to #MeetingIRL,

      • Wow – LOVE the Jon Katz quote. What a way to start my Monday morning, with a fuller, happier heart, and increased motivation to maintain a lifelong friendship with you and my other #SummitFriends.

        Thank you, Jackie!


        • Hello Jacqui,

          Cheers to #SummitFriends — you, Dorlee and Marianna! And so let’s bring Marianna into this. 🙂

          I looked up friendship on Marianna’s blog and found she had written this “Your source of inspiration is your circles of friendships. Water, fertilize and watch it bloom.”.

          We have another farmer in our midst. YAY!


          • I loved reading your interaction, the back-and-forth, and it’s as though, I could see both of you smile through the screen.

            I really enjoyed reading your past keywords. It’s thanks to you and Jacqui that I’ve decided to expand my one keyword to three this year.

            Mindfulness: that’s always been a constant since last year.

            Keep blogging, Jackie, and way to be vulnerable. 🙂

          • To Felice and Jacqui,

            “There’s an old proverb that talks about when children are born, children come out with their fists closed because that’s where they keep all their gifts. And as you grow, your hands learn to unfold, because you’re learning to release your gifts to the world.

            And so, for the rest of your life, I wanna see you live with your hands unfolded.”

            That’s what Albert Sykes said to his son at Storycorps — thank you both for including me in your “unfolding” lives. You are precious!


  5. Love the flirty intro on this post, Jackie Y! 🙂

    I am in complete accord with allowing people to graduate from you, while putting their own stamp within the company values. It may be flattering to have a bunch of Mini-Me’s, but rarely does that promote change, learning and growth.

    Words have power and you lend new meaning to making the A-List! I particularly like Aliveness – especially for the workplace where presenteeism is rampant.

    As long as you’re talking about farming, may I suggest weeding? Sometimes, weeds may sprout up between those carefully chosen words, so care needs to be taken to keep the soil weed-free.

    Jackie, there’s a light shining brightly wherever you are – you have this kinetic ability to connect bodies, hearts and souls. It’s evidenced here on your blog, on Twitter and most likely, in person.

    Thanks for bringing me into your circles!


    • Dear Marianna,

      Apologies for the delay in responding, especially after I corralled you in.

      Your suggestion of “weeding” is a must-add to the “ThreeWords” Farmer’s chore/responsibility.

      We can become distracted as more opens up to us.

      After receiving your comment, I came upon Tripp Braden’s post: “Can Entrepreneurs Embrace the Power of No?”

      Weeding has a lot to do with Tripp’s perspective that: “The second secret of the power of no is that you must have clearly defined mission, vision, and values for yourself. You will feel incredibly powerful the more you know about what you want to do with your life”.

      If we’re not at that level of definition as yet, we can catalog those weeds and try them in our garden in the future. Perhaps, those weeds are awaiting the right time and place to bloom as flowers.

      Hat tip to you, Marianna, for all your words of wisdom, interactive engagement, and kind compliments — I am so grateful!

    • Marianna:

      For the logical mind, it’s good to see the scientific evidence in the HBR article you shared regarding the power of the word: “Together”.

      In our hearts, we know how uplifted we feel by togetherness, like how an espalier supports an apple or pear tree.

      Here’s to growing together in 2015,


  6. Hi Jackie!!

    Thanks for connecting on this on Twitter. Just got a chance to respond, as I was traveling!!

    What a great post! I love the context you provided — especially not making these buzz words. Beyond that, I love that you shared some great examples!

    And for the main event, I just love your words! I love Abundance and Aliveness, yet found Apollo to be unexpected and refreshing! As well, I think it’s a word that ties all three together in a wonderful focus for your year.

    As for me, here’s what I shared with Chris Brogan’s Group:


    “This year, I really think I need just one word: Simplify.

    “That is, achieve more minimalism in my work and life. I’m seeking, this year, to begin mastering exclusion. I’ll seek to decide on the handful of activities I’ll pursue, both in the way I serve others and in my personal pursuits and relationships.

    “For the record, I did think about two other words: Imagine and Now. However, I decided I wanted to keep things…well…simple.”

    • Hello Walter!

      “Simplify” — your word resonates with me and so many others in this environment of more, more, more! And you choosing one word instead of three makes perfect sense.

      In your post: “Tell Me, Who Are You?”, you relay that Seth Godin “points out that making a life change that could lead to more effectiveness and success is often so risky that most people will choose to double down on their current story”.

      Perhaps this #threeword or the #oneword approach can make it easier for people to achieve that change.

      Thank you for sharing your one word — for sharing a part of who you are. Because as you wrote in your post: “Any time you relate a personal experience, you’re telling a part of your story… your story gives the listener a window into your life and a glimpse of who you are. And when those views reveal shared experiences, they foster a bond or emotional connection.”

      There’s definitely a story in our #threewords or #oneword.

      Grateful for our connection,

      • Wow! Thank you for your lovely response, Jackie.

        We definitely live in an environment of more, more, more! And it’s all too easy to succumb that thinking. In fact, by our own choices, we often create an overload of ideas, emotions, connections, and possessions that blinds us to what matters most in life.

        Interestingly, I see in your word “abundance” an antidote to “more.” Why? Because a scarcity mentality so often drives accumulation. When we become free of scarcity thinking, we can truly appreciate that less is more! For me, simplicity is a reminder of just that!

        Thanks, also for quoting my post. I wholeheartedly agree that the #threeword (#oneword) approach can make it easier for people to achieve change. On a purely personal level this approach helps us keep things simple and manageable, but also drives insights. And when we use those insights as a basis for sharing our identities we open ourselves to new and deeper relationships!

        I’m grateful for our connection as well!!

  7. Marianna ~ Honored to be part of your Blog Shoutout!! Thank you for including me.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

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