My Highlights | Two of my crowning achievements are my family and my career. I have a beautiful, loving, and supportive wife and together, we have 10 children and 15 grandchildren. These relationships are paramount in my life. And when it comes to my career, VitalSmarts has profoundly blessed my life. Because of VitalSmarts, I’m a better father, spouse, son, brother, citizen, and friend. I am fulfilled in my work and career. I can look myself in the mirror and know the world is a better place because of what my partners and I and our employees do together. And, because of what I’ve learned and done at VitalSmarts, I’m better at receiving God’s grace.
A Successful Partnership | I have spent the past thirty years studying crucial moments that have the potential to change the trajectory of our career, lives, and relationships—moments when what we say and how we say it can mean the difference between success and failure. One of these moments occurred early on in my career. As my partners and I started a new company, we had a hard time figuring out how to compensate ourselves. Should we pay individual commissions? Should we pay fees for travel days? We finally decided we’d subtract expenses from revenues and divide the remainder by four. If anyone thought things were unfair, we agreed that we would dialogue about it. Ironically, the only time we actually had to have that crucial conversation over compensation was when one of our partners spoke up because he felt a prolonged illness had prevented him from doing his fair share and that he didn’t deserve his monthly salary. With this kind of abundant mentality in place, it all evens out over time.
What my partners and I have not only practiced over the years, but also found through our research is that when the stakes are high, emotions run strong, and opinions differ, the most influential individuals know how to create alignment and agreement. Instead of rushing to silence or getting angry and lashing out, they speak up and share their concerns candidly and respectfully regardless of the other person’s level or position.What’s more, in organizations that foster cultures of open dialogue, mistakes are caught more quickly, decisions are implemented more effectively, and innovation flows more routinely. We wrote an entire book on how to master these skills called “Crucial Conversations”.
Tips for High Stakes Communication | Here are just four tips you can use to get started when communicating in high stakes, political, or risky situations:
- Reverse your thinking. Those who are best at crucial conversations think about the risks of not speaking up. They realize if they don’t share their views, they will have to live with the poor decisions that will be made as a result of holding back their informed opinions.
- Change your emotions. Separate people from the problem. Try to see others as reasonable, rational, and decent human beings – even if they hold a view that you strongly oppose.
- Help others feel safe. Try starting your next high-stakes conversation by assuring the other person of your positive intentions and your respect for them. When others feel respected and trust your motives, they let their guard down and begin to listen – even if the topic is unpleasant.
- Invite dialogue. After you create a safe environment, confidently share your views and invite the other person to do so as well. If you are open to hearing others’ points of view, they’ll be more open to yours.
A Defining Moment In My Career | In my own career, the milestone moment for me and my partners was when we made the decision to leverage intellectual property and not human capital—to be a mission-driven research and training company and not a consulting company. That decision impacted how we spend our time, how we invest, how we collaborate and communicate, and how we hire and manage. We chose to leverage our intellectual property to influence influencers and not spend sixty hours a week problem solving on the road. This kind of strategic thinking comes from knowing our mission, understanding how our unique skills and abilities match-up with customer needs, and being clear about how we jointly define a superior quality of life.
I Am Driven By | A belief that my work blesses people’s lives and that my efforts are making the world a better place.
Principles And Values I Live By | One of the lessons I try to live by is embodied in a quote by a good friend, Stephen Covey: “Seek to bless, not impress.” If your focus is on impressing others you cut yourself off from your mission and your customers. It’s important to always ask yourself: “Is this making a difference for people? Is it improving their lives?”
Resources That Have Inspired Me | Four books that have been tremendous resources for me in staying informed and growing my business are:
“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey. Besides the fact that my name is in the acknowledgments (blush, blush), this seminal book legitimized inside-out learning and personal, interpersonal, and team development as necessary elements of effective leadership. Principles and paradigms become the building blocks instead of style and technique.
“Unsafe at Any Speed” by Ralph Nader. This almost forgotten, but still incredible, this book is about changing the car industry’s and the world’s notion of corporate accountability and the value of human life. Studying the motivations and strategies of this very successful Influencer can help inspire us all to understand how doing our work not only changes minds, but improves and saves lives as well.
“The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization” by Peter M. Senge. Peter’s book pushes past simple answers and insufficient techniques to explain five disciplines used to lead and improve organizations. I especially value his explanation of “systems thinking” and “the learning organization” as both foundational concepts and tools.
“Diffusion of Innovations” by Everett M. Rogers. I keep thinking we’ve moved past his pioneering work, but his research is an absolute necessity for current leaders and Influencers. Who would have thought that getting innovation adopted and change in general is a social process?
For Inspiration | I love watching the mini-series “Lonesome Dove” with Tommy Lee Jones and “Brave Heart” with Mel Gibson.
The Best Advice I’ve Ever Received | Always remember, no success can compensate for failure in the home.
Advice On Building Wealth | My advice would be to find passionate, skilled, talented and honest partners who are willing to sacrifice as much for the dream as you are. When it came to creating the team that founded VitalSmarts, this was my personal formula for success. I knew from the moment we decided to start the company that we would accomplish great things because of my three partners. Success was inevitable because of their world-class talents, knowledge and skills. However, in my way of thinking, these rare qualities are insufficient.
I also looked for uncompromising integrity, and the fiery passion of these men. Their whole focus was blessing people and making a positive, significant difference in their lives. Please don’t assume I’m passing on the credit to others or being overly modest. I was calculating and intentional in choosing my team. It was both like choosing a rugby team with the goal of winning the World Cup and getting married with the goal of being together a lifetime with someone you care for and enjoy being with. To fund the start-up, my partner Joseph and I agreed to throw in the on-going revenues from a current AT&T account while a third partner, Al, pitched in an account of his own. Our fourth partner, Kerry, who wasn’t working an account at the time offered to put in some matching funds of his own and we all said not to worry about it, it will all even out. That unselfishness convinced me my faith was well placed. Later, Kerry was instrumental in landing what came to be one of our most important clients.
It’s also vital to make your product or service so unique and desirable, so much better than anybody else has ever thought about, that customers won’t even consider buying from your competition. A final thought. Don’t ever confuse means and ends.
Wealth should be a means to your end. There are too many individuals who sacrifice most of their lives to acquire stuff only to find that at the end of it all, they are emotionally and relationally bankrupt and empty.
Inspiring Others | Transparency is one of the keys to keeping employees positive and motivated. Each month, we hold company-wide meetings where we share confidential information with our employees including updates on corporate strategy and the company’s financial standing. We also share our profits directly with our employees through a quarterly profit-sharing bonus program—which is always a driver of motivation to control costs and invest wisely in the business. We also share “stories from the road” of how our clients are using our products, principles, and skills to improve their organizations and individual lives. We feel that communicating a compelling vision, strategy, and plan for the company, along with concrete examples of the good we are doing in the world, helps our employees stay motivated to contributing to both the bottom line as well as our mission to change the world for good.
Watch Ron in action below