The 3 A’s Model

  • Posted on October 15, 2018
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The 3 A’s: Your Leader’s Roadmap to Mastering Difficult Conversations


The 3 A’s model is a great little roadmap that as a leader I could sit down and asked myself these three questions before I have that conversation and it would almost build the structure of my conversation. I want to know what is it exactly I’m addressing, what is the problem, and I then I will define it clearly.

1) Am I dealing with an attitude issue?

2) Am I dealing with an ability issue?

3) Am I dealing with an awareness problem?

So, do you have a bad attitude and good ability, but you’re just not aware of your attitude? I can help you with that. I can coach that.

If you have an ability issue and your attitude’s great, but you’re failing in the job, then that’s a training issue. And if you’re just not aware, well then, I can help make you aware, that’s the difficult conversation.

How does it apply to the care and candor aspect that we’re looking at?


Caring values the person, the individual him/herself, while candor values the person’s potential.

Trust and Care – First thing that we have to remember as leaders is that trust is the foundation of our relationships. If we don’t trust one another, then we aren’t going to engage in open, constructive conflict. We will just continue to preserve a sense of artificial harmony. Trust and care for your people on your team is the foundation to all influence that you build. They have to know that you have their best interest in mind. Whether it’s a change, whether it’s a tough conversation. The first thing that people are going to think to themselves is: what did I do? Or how does this affect me? And if as a leader, you’d built a foundational level to have that trust and that care, they’re going to trust you and they’re going to know that you have their benefit in mind.

Growth Mindset – You’ve got to understand that you have to have these conversations because you want your team, your leadership, your organization to be in a growth mindset. And, if they don’t grow or they don’t change, they’re going to become irrelevant. And, the only way for them to grow or to change, as a leader, your responsibility is to have those conversations with your team.

One thing, John’s taught me, is that caring establishes the relationship while candor can expand and will direct the Relationship.

You can’t lead people until you like people. Why? Because the leader begins to influence people with relationship, not with just position. Building relationships develop a foundation for effectively leading others. It also breaks down organizational silos as your people connect across the lines between their job descriptions or departments. When people feel respected, liked, cared for, included, valued and trusted, they begin to work together with their leaders and each other. Finding common ground and care will help you establish the relationship.

Now, those things usually aren’t enough to make a relationship grow. To expand a relationship, candor and open communication are required. I could find common ground with you or one of my team members and I could show them care, but our relationship’s not going to grow outside of that. The only way it’s really going to grow is if, as a leader I answered the questions that you put in front of us. I speak your language, show candor with them and I have open communication, continuous and open feedback.

Bottom line. Good leaders must embrace both care and candor. You can’t ignore either. When you think about expanding the relationship, think back to some of the difficult conversations people have had with you and as long as it was done the right way, think about your relationship with that leader now versus before some of those conversations. Because coming out of it right, we’re going to grow, we’re going to learn, and on the other side of the way, while it may not be comfortable in the moment, okay, after the moment and the growth that occurs, you’re going to look back and be thankful for it.

So, to you help you keep the balance between the two, see four tips that I’ve learned from John to manage a difficult conversation. We keep them in somewhat of a format and a structure of how we do things.

We say we -> Do it quickly, Do it Calmly, Do it Privately and Do it thoughtfully.


1. Do it quickly – shovel the pile while it’s small. We don’t let it continue to fester.

2. Do it calmly, NEVER, NEVER, EVER in anger – use the caring candor checklist.

3. Do it PRIVATELY – you want to help your people, NOT embarrass him or her. I’ll tell you, there’s one thing that rubs me the wrong way as a leader is when I see people having difficult conversations with their team member in front of other people in front of the team. Not the place to do it. We talk about how it takes a while to go up the levels of leadership. It’s a process. It takes time. You can come down very quickly. Just do that one time and see how quickly you become a Level 1 leader to that individually.

4. Do it THOUGHTFULLY, in a way that minimizes embarrassment or intimidation. When you listen, learn, then lead, you can be very thoughtful behind why you’re having this conversation, you can speak their language and it’ll come from the heart. And I think anytime somebody has given me really candid feedback or had a difficult conversation, I could see that they had prepared, I could see that they were thoughtful, I could see that they had thought about how it was going to impact me.

The last thing that I would tell you that all of this is a two-way street. I think if you want to be effective as a leader and you want to continue to grow in your influence, you must invite others to be candid with you.

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