Ron Price and Stacy Ennis on disruptive leadership: An interview by Bob Morris

Ron Price is an internationally recognized business advisor, executive coach, speaker, and author. Known for his creative and systematic thinking, business versatility, and practical optimism, Ron has worked in 15 countries and served in almost every level of executive management over the past 40 years.

Stacy Ennis is a creative consultant, success coach, speaker, and writer, as well as the cofounder of Next Level, a women’s leadership training program. Her background includes serving as the executive editor of Healthy Living Made Simple, a Sam’s Club magazine that reaches around 11 million readers, and a longtime ghostwriter for a Nobel Prize winner.

Their book, Growing Influence: A Story of How to Lead with Character, Expertise, and Impact, was published by Greenleaf Book Group Press (September 2018).

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Before discussing Growing Influence, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

Ron: It is difficult to limit it to one person. My dad, Og Mandino, Charlie “Tremendous” Jones, Peter Drucker, Stephen Covey, David Mefford…these are some of the people who have influenced me over the years. There are many more who inspired me by how they lived their lives: Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Helen Keller, Corrie Ten Boom.

Stacy: I’ll echo Ron — limiting it to one person is challenging. I can certainly point to people I care deeply about, like my parents. I’ve also been greatly impacted by books, which might not be surprising since I’m a writer. Books like I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Little Prince, The House on Mango Street, and other works that exposed me to different life experiences and perspectives have helped me develop my perspective of the world and better understand my purpose in it.

My earliest influence was in second grade, when I read The Chronicles of Narnia. Looking back, I don’t think it was the books themselves that had the greatest impact but the experience of reading them, of being transported to another world—I thought it was pure magic. As an adult, I am impacted by authors who are able to show up fully on the page without pretense, sharing the reader in the purest way another way of thinking, acting, or being in the world. I believe writers should write the truest thing they can, because that’s what will have the greatest impact.

The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

Stacy: I have a close mentor-turned-friend, Jennifer Wheeler, who encouraged me to follow my heart and talent, and make choices in alignment with who I want to become. Books, again, have guided me to think beyond boundaries. One that deeply impacted my early writing was Stephen King’s On Writing; another that impacted my leadership, Lean In.

Ron: Peter Drucker’s The Effective Executive was an early impact in my career. Og Mandino (I read all of his books and ended up being in two of them). Steven Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwarz’s The Power of Full Engagement, and thousands more books.

Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Stacy: I overcame a difficult personal obstacle in my early adulthood that taught me to appreciate life and live it as fully as I can; in many ways, I live every day in gratitude for the life I have now. I am a runner, and I remember a specific run. The course was not special—in fact, it was through my neighborhood and not that enjoyable from a runner’s perspective—but I felt this sense of resolve that pulsed through my body. That day, at age 22, I regained strength and purpose, and determined that I would live a life of courage and meaning. From there, I set about to do whatever it took to build a life of my desire and design, and impact the world in a positive way, to leave it better than I came. My career grew naturally out of my talent for writing and a natural care and concern for others.

Ron: I fought becoming a “leadership expert” for many years because there are so others many who claim this title. When I began to realize that an “expert leader” is someone who helps others, it became obvious to me that it was my job to help other leaders grow. Not because I was smart, but because I had compassion and some experience that would be helpful. It wasn’t one moment, but a gradual awareness that came from interacting with leaders who needed a good listener with occasional advice and good questions.

To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Ron: My business education has been all informal, driven by the joy of learning and my desire to make better decisions in the variety of leadership assignments through the years. I served in a wide variety of executive positions and started each with a sense that I needed to be a learner.

Stacy: I finished my master’s in professional writing and editing in 2015, just months before my second child was born. While the program I completed was great, it was actually my personal resilience in growing a business, raising (and growing!) a baby, and being the sole earner for my household (my husband is a stay-at-home dad). It took me four years part time to complete a two-year degree, and when I received that diploma in 2015, I felt like I could do anything.

Of all the greatest leaders throughout history, with which one would you most like to be engaged in one-on-one conversation for an extended weekend? Why?

Stacy: Michelle Obama. I see Michelle continue to lift up women and people of color, and to give a voice to the voiceless. She epitomizes grace, integrity, and heart—all qualities I strive to embody in my leadership.

Ron: Great question! Jesus, though it would be very challenging. In the Bible, it didn’t seem like he was ever content to just converse. He spoke in parables, challenged everyone to become something or someone more than they were, and didn’t hesitate to call out hypocrisy or arrogance.

Now please shift your attention to Growing Influence. For those who have not as yet read it, hopefully your responses to these questions will stimulate their interest and, better yet, encourage them to purchase a copy and read the book ASAP.

First, when and why did you decide to write it?

Ron: Colleagues heard me speak about the themes in the book and strongly advised me to write about them. As Stacy and I began to work on it, I felt the themes needed to be shared through a story. The more we worked on the early drafts, the greater sense I had that it contained important ideas that could benefit many people and that the relationship between Emily and David represented an intrinsic approach to leadership that was practical and deeply purposeful.

Stacy: Ron approached me about writing the book a couple of years before we began working on it. He sent me a recording of a talk he did related to the three dimensions of leadership, a concept in Growing Influence. I listened to it during a walk in the foothills and knew immediately I wanted to be part of crafting this incredible book. When we finally began work on it a couple years later, I knew I’d made the right choice to join him in creating the book.

Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.

Ron: During the writing process, I was moved tears upon completing the manuscript. I’m still humbled by the emotion of the story.

Stacy: Head snapping, no. However, there was a sense of awe and deep emotional connection when finishing a complete reading of the first completed manuscript.

To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?

Ron: It is everything I hoped for and more. I knew it was a challenge to make the story realistic and believable while teaching important principles. It could have been too much story without communicating the principles of influence, or it could have been too business-like without connecting us with the main characters. I could not be happier with the balance we found and how well the result reflected the collaboration Stacy and I experienced.

Stacy: I agree with Ron. Originally, this started as a nonfiction book, and while I think that book would have been good, I don’t think it would have done justice to the concepts. Emily and David bring the principles to life and do so in a way we can all relate to.

Why did you decide to present the material in the form of a business narrative?

Stacy: Story connects and teaches. People remember stories; they’re unlikely to remember all the concepts or facts they learn. The lessons in Growing Influence are not just learned, they’re felt, and we believe that’s the most powerful way to share the concepts in the book.

Ron: Answered above…we wanted to anchor the leadership insights in a story with tension, growth, and emotion. We wanted something that people would enjoy and benefit from reading multiple times.

Pogo the Possum once announced, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” To what extent (if any) is Emily responsible for her situation when the story begins?

Ron: I believe there are also multiple factors for what happens in our lives. Emily has a part to play in her frustrations and the resolution of those frustrations. Others both contributed to both as well. One of the primary themes in the story is Emily discovering and developing her influence at the same time as affecting negative circumstances that were not of her making. I believe most people don’t realize how much dormant power they have, or how to grow this power by developing their character and expertise.

Stacy: What a beautiful answer by Ron. I’ll add that we all hold some level of responsibility in our lives, even when things happen to us outside of our control. In Viktor Frankl’s incredible book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he says, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Emily realizes she can take personal responsibility for herself and lead herself first, and she sees the impact of her self-leadership on her life and work.

To what extent (if any) is her gender responsible for that situation?

Stacy: As women, we are always subject to gender bias. It is a living, breathing truth in every boardroom, business meeting, training, or professional encounter. Research backs this up—unconscious bias almost always impacts women and people of color in some way. Since that’s a fact, then we need to find ways to influence and impact the world around us, even though it’s flawed. In the book, Emily realizes she has been passed up for a promotion multiple times specifically because she’s a woman. She’s clearly the best choice for the job and yet she’s not getting promoted. She learns that, while gender bias exists, she still has the ability to grow herself and influence the people around her. And she sees the results of that influence.

Ron: Gender was a big reason for Emily’s experience at work, but realizing her own ability to influence from the inside out was the key to overcoming this obstacle. Though we don’t all deal with gender bias, we all have obstacles to overcome and many of these can be conquered through how we grow our own awareness and growth of influence.

You suggest that there are three key dimensions of influence. Please explain the primary function of each. First, control

Ron: Control – what can I take 100% responsibility for in my life? There is so much that I can control if I become more intentional and develop productive habits.

Stacy: I’ll let Ron take this one and the next couple, since he offers a robust discussion on the three areas of influence.

Next, collaboration

Ron: Collaboration – who shares common interests with me? What would we do together to bring about change? Too often, because we don’t see how to make big changes, we neglect the incremental changes we could contribute to by starting where we can, then growing more influential as we work together.

Finally, concern

Ron: Concern — how often to we waste energy and time on things that appear outside of our grasp. Sometimes, these things really are beyond our control and other times our ability to influence is simply invisible. We won’t see it until we have grown our dimensions of control and collaboration.

Ennis: David asks Emily to complete exercises during which — through a discovery process — she realizes how to make better decisions in her life. Identifying core values, for example.

In your opinion, what can your reader learn from Emily’s efforts?

Stacy: Self-awareness starts with space. Emily is busy: she has a full life complete with a full-time job and toddler, not to mention her husband, extended family, and friends. She hadn’t given herself the space to simply think and grow. Once she made space for discretionary time, she realized the power of focused introspection, and that, I think, is one of the most valuable takeaways from the book. We all need space to think, reflect, and develop awareness.

Ron: We can all choose the values we want to live by (how we govern our own behaviors and how we relate to others). Too often, we accept the role of victims when we have the power to choose how we respond to what happens around us. It is easier to be reactive, but much more fulfilling to choose our responses based on our own values.

In your opinion, what can supervisors learn from David’s efforts that will help them to accelerate the personal growth and professional development of their direct reports?

Ron: To care about and encourage the personal and professional development of those we lead. Realize that we have dual responsibilities toward what is best for both our direct reports and the organizations we serve, not only for the organizations.

Stacy: I hope managers will develop self-awareness, which will lead to recognizing their own biases; from that place of self-awareness, I hope they’ll encourage the people they lead to take their own journeys of self-awareness as well. Mitchell, Emily’s boss, was flawed but not a bad guy. I believe most people are good at heart, and when they’re willing to confront their beliefs and change their behaviors when appropriate, they can make a positive impact on this world.

In your opinion, what seem to be the most daunting challenges when writing a business narrative?

Ron: The right balance between the content you want the share with the storyline within which to present it. This was our biggest concern and Stacy gets the credit for striking this balance.

Stacy: I absolutely agree with Ron. There were also some tense scenes that I agonized over, and some difficult scenes to write because of the emotional weight they carried.

What about writing a business narrative in collaboration?

Stacy: This was one of the most meaningful projects I’ve ever worked on. Ron is an incredible person and thinker—someone I deeply admire—and every time we worked together, I left with a new bit of knowledge I could apply to my life and career. At the same time, I was able to bring my own experience and insights to his ideas, and together we were able to create a story to share those ideas. We were both present, at all times, to serve the reader, not our own interests—that lack of ego, I think, let us create the best book we could.

Ron: Writing this together was one of the best experiences of my career. I think the reasons were, first, we knew and respected each other; also, we had shared values about what matters to us, and finally, we each made unique contributions to the project. There was never a sense of competition during the project.

It seems certain that, in years to come, change will continue to be the only constant in the global marketplace. In your opinion, which of the lessons to be learned from your book will prove most valuable to business leaders when attempting to respond effectively to change?

Ron: First, when leaders carefully focus on what they can control and where the opportunities to collaborate exist, they will optimize their ability to influence in the midst of change. Second, when leaders focus on developing their character and expertise, they will continue to grow their influence through the change and, in most cases, the new positional opportunities will come. I think being intentional about growing expert influence will be a key, because so much change taking place today requires the development of new skills.

Stacy: Intentionality fuels Emily’s journey, and in a world that is constantly changing, we must be continually intentional. Learning is also a theme of the book, and for business leaders to be effective, they must be avid learners, focusing on expanding their expertise and awareness.

Of all the business books you have read thus far, from which you have learned lessons that you expect will prove most valuable as you pursue new adventures in the vineyards of free enterprise? Please explain.

Ron: Right off, some impactful books: Seth Godin’s The Dip, Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers (his podcast is incredible too), and Half the Sky (arguably not a business book, but an important read for all people, especially those in leadership roles).

Stacy: There are so many! The first that come to mind: The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker, The Only Way to Win by Jim Loehr, and 7 Habits of Effective People by Stephen Covey. It may sound self-serving, but there are two earlier books I co-authored that I refer to frequently: The Complete Leader, written with Randy Lisk (I was the executive editor) and The Innovator’s Advantage, which I wrote with Evans Baiya.

In your opinion, which of the material you provide in Growing Influence will be most valuable to those now preparing for a career in business or who have only recently embarked on one? Please explain.

Ron: I believe the frameworks provided in the story will benefit everyone, in large part because of the letters, emails, and texts we have received from so many people across the career spectrum.

Stacy: The values activity Emily walks through in chapter 5 is especially powerful and applicable.

To C-level executives? Please explain.

Stacy: I’ve heard from numerous C-level executives who read the book and had profound personal insights. One idea they’re especially impacted by is use of discretionary time. So many leaders at this level are running here and there all day, trying to squeeze in “work time” between meetings; when they intentionally protect space in the morning for focused growth and work, they’re amazed and how exponentially productive they become. That simple shift has massive impact and allows them to engage in the other lessons and activities in the book.

Ron: Growing Influence provides a framework for CEOs to evaluate and grow their influence in all three dimensions of leadership. I also think the tendency to spend too much energy on the circle of concern is a human challenge, so it is relevant to all people. CEOs face the challenge of responding to so many and diverse issues that it is very easy for them to become stagnant or fall behind in continuing to develop their own character and expertise. This story gives them a framework for continued growth that transcends their positional responsibilities and authority. Finally, the book provides a simple, but powerful framework for CEOs to influence and mentor others.

To the owner/CEOs of small-to-midsize companies? Please explain.

Ron: Many Leaders have given Growing Influence to their leadership teams and emerging leaders. It is cost-effective as well as efficient way to nurture leadership influence throughout their organization without investing large resources. Because the book is available in hard cover, e-book, and audible versions, there is an option for everyone to read or listen to the story and gain full benefit from absorbing and digesting the material, then apply it wherever it will be most helpful.

Stacy: This is a perfect company-wide read. When an owner or CEO gifts a book like this to her team, she is essentially saying, “I care about you as a person.” It’s been incredible to see the book make its way through entire companies and impact leaders at all levels.

Which question had you hoped to be asked during this interview – but weren’t – and what is your response to it?

Price: “How can Growing Influence help those who read it to leave a legacy or make an impact on future leaders?” Answer: This book has a special place in my heart—almost a sacredness for me. It touches on fundamental aspects of the human journey. I believe someone could use the three frameworks of this book (circles of influence, dimensions of leadership, roles of great leaders) to build a life that is rich, satisfying and meaningful. I have been using these models and will continue to use them to live the kind of life I will be satisfied with in the end.

Stacy: I’ll answer Ron’s question too: I hope to embolden women and men across the world to lead intentional lives—to know they have choice and influence, and to take full ownership over their ability to reach their potential. Then, with that awareness, to help others also develop this awareness and lead the fullest lives possible.

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Price Associates link

The Complete Leader link

The Innovator’s Advantage link

Treasure inside the book link

Stacy’s link

Next Level Women Leaders link

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