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How to write a book that sparks a movement, with Dina Dwyer-Owens and Chaya Weiner

Seeing and hearing examples of people who have begun making decisions based on their values has been the most rewarding outcome of people reading my books. A great example of this includes a CPA who, after realizing her business partners were not willing to commit to values-guided leadership in their shared practice, had the courage […]


Seeing and hearing examples of people who have begun making decisions based on their values has been the most rewarding outcome of people reading my books. A great example of this includes a CPA who, after realizing her business partners were not willing to commit to values-guided leadership in their shared practice, had the courage to leave to begin her own business with values at the core of it.

As part of my series about “How to write a book that sparks a movement” I had the great pleasure of interviewing Dina Dwyer-Owens, Brand Ambassador of Neighborly (formerly Dwyer Group), the world’s largest franchisor of home services with 22 brands under its parent company umbrella. America also knows her for participating in CBS’s Emmy-winning hit reality show “Undercover Boss.” Dina is a certified franchise executive with more than 35 years of industry experience, 15 years as CEO of Dwyer Group. Dina is the author of two books: Live R.I.C.H. and Values, Inc. that both share her global message for living and leading with a proven code of values (books available for purchase at Values-INC.com).


Thank you so much for joining us Dina! Can you share the “backstory” about how you grew up?

Before the company I serve as Brand Ambassador for was known as Neighborly, it was originally founded by my father, the late Don Dwyer Sr., as the Dwyer Group. It started much smaller than it is now, but my father always envisioned a company that would specialize in buying and building related businesses that would provide high-quality residential and light commercial services.

So, I literally grew up working in the business long before our company became the global holding company it is today. By age 13, I was learning all about sales and customer service at a car wash my father owned. From there I went on to work in almost every aspect of our family’s home services company. From cleaning carpets to franchise sales, I learned by doing.

After my father’s unexpected passing in 1994, I was elected by our public company board of directors as “acting” CEO of the company until they were sure I was the right leader for the job (at the time, many of our top franchisees did not see me as the best fit for permanent CEO of the company since I was a woman, and we work in a male-dominated industry).

Within six months, and with an amazing and supportive team of talented people, I had proven myself as a leader and went on to serve 15 years as CEO of the Dwyer Group, now Neighborly. In that time, I relaunched VetFran (a program designed to help veterans pursue franchise ownership), I was honored to be the second woman ever to serve as Chair of the International Franchise Association, I made two appearances as a boss on the CBS hit reality show “Undercover Boss,” and I wrote two books: Live R.I.C.H. and Values, Inc., both of which share my global message for living and leading with a proven code of values.

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story?

I like to think that I was one of the earlier adopters of audiobooks, before they were really such a popular thing. Rather than reading a lot of books that inspired me at a young age, it was the motivational cassettes, featuring role models such as Zig Ziglar, Stephen Covey, and Ken Blanchard, that really made an impact on my own leadership journey.

But as I got older, the book that has resonated with me the most over the years is Lead Like Jesus by Ken Blanchard. Regardless of your beliefs, this is a book that is all about servant leadership: Seeking opportunities to serve and support others through the authority you have as a leader.

What was the moment or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

Neighborly’s company culture was built on a very clear set of values that my father identified from day one: the “Code of Values.” The code was a collection of his beliefs — inspired by the works of great leaders of business, the military, and religion — that he grew to live by and intended for our company to abide by as well.

When my father died, our company was determined to make sure his legacy lived on by sticking to these values. In order to make them an integral and consistent part of the business model across all of our franchise brands, we came up with the idea of the operationalized code: “Live R.I.C.H.” The four key areas that make up this code today are Respect, Integrity, Customer focus, and Having fun in the process. 14 key values make up each of these areas, setting standards for how we conduct ourselves in business.

Over time, I saw the impact this “Live R.I.C.H.” mantra was making on our business. The way we conducted business was a strong selling point among our various stakeholders, ultimately enhancing the value of our company in a way that was more than just cultural, but also financial. I did not intend to keep this revelation that “Values create Value$” to myself, and what better way to spread a message than through a book?

In 2005, I published my first book, Live R.I.C.H., to begin spreading the message of the benefits of living and leading with clear values. It was not long before I found a deep recurring connection with readers who had a desire to grow that same values-based culture and message in both their professional and personal lives. This encouraged me to graduate my message to the next level in my next book, Values, Inc., which was named a Forbes Top 10 Business Book in 2015.

What impact did you hope to make when you wrote this book?

As I started to recognize the positive impact our operational and measurable values were having on my own organization, I started to envision the possibility of such an impact being widespread across businesses all over the world. Imagine how much good could come from all companies — regardless of size, industry, or location — adopting and applying their own sets of values to business? In a perfect world, this is the ultimate goal of sharing my message of values-guided leadership. But ultimately, if even one individual or one business can benefit from incorporating a standard set of values in their professional and personal lives, then I feel like I’ve accomplished something important.

Did the actual results align with your expectations? Can you explain?

The results actually far exceeded my expectations. Even though I would have been pleased if my message positively impacted just one person, it appears that it effectively reached many more. I’ve been asked to speak at a number of events, and I receive personal messages on a regular basis from people who have positively benefitted from incorporating values into their own daily routines. It makes me especially happy to know that people who have started doing this have not stopped at the professional level, but rather they have brought these operationalized standards into their homes, developing specific sets of values for their families to abide by in their personal lives as well.

What moment let you know that your book had started a movement? Please share a story.

Shortly after Values, Inc. was published, I was contacted by a young man in college who read the book. He shared with me that it helped him gain clarity of his values, and he planned to start applying what he learned to how he handled his leadership roles across the multiple campus organizations he was involved with.

What kinds of things did you hear right away from readers? What are the most frequent things you hear from readers about your book now? Are they the same? Different?

From the very start, I had readers contacting me to tell me that the book did a great job of demonstrating how values truly can translate into financial results, and this is the type of feedback I continue to receive to this day. Other responses I receive on a regular basis include people expressing appreciation both for the care that leading with values demonstrates as well as for how values-guided leadership helps to clarify workplace expectations.

Over time, another piece of feedback that has started coming up more often is a question of how employees can encourage the companies they work for to start applying values-guided leadership, even when those employees are not in executive leadership roles themselves. In response to this, I encourage people to buy copies of my books for their bosses, and to then offer to serve as the company’s champion of values to help the company implement them in daily practices.

What is the most moving or fulfilling experience you’ve had as a result of writing this book? Can you share a story?

Seeing and hearing examples of people who have begun making decisions based on their values has been the most rewarding outcome of people reading my books. A great example of this includes a CPA who, after realizing her business partners were not willing to commit to values-guided leadership in their shared practice, had the courage to leave to begin her own business with values at the core of it.

Have you experienced anything negative? Do you feel there are drawbacks to writing a book that starts such colossal conversation and change?

From sharing the message of my books with audiences far and wide, I eventually came to the realization that my message is sometimes difficult for people to hear. After noticing a contrast between my audiences that were fired up about the message and those that seemed almost somber about it, I eventually came to the realization that the difference between these audiences has been how ready they are to take accountability.

But still, I do not believe there are any drawbacks in writing a book geared toward inspiring a movement. While most may not take the action to put my recommended practice in place, those who do will cause a positive ripple effect in the lives of those they touch.

Can you articulate why you think books in particular have the power to create movements, revolutions, and true change?

Books are powerful tools for helping people envision their hopes and dreams. Reading allows our imaginations to let loose so that we see the world around us in a different way. When we read about ways we can improve our lives and the lives of those we surround ourselves with, we start to actually visualize the potential outcomes of these efforts, motivating us to strive for them in real life.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a bestselling writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?

While I am far from perfect, I consider it my duty to “practice what I preach” as closely as possible. I often joke that people probably get sick of hearing me recite Neighborly’s original Code of Values or going on about the importance of clarifying our values as much as I do (“There goes the crazy values lady again!”). But what kind of leader would I be if I were not constantly searching for the next opportunity to teach the lessons I write about in my books? I strongly feel that if I did not 100% believe in the messages I share with others, then no one else would believe in them either, and then what’s the point? I like to think that my passion for values-guided leadership comes across clearly in every interaction I have, whether it’s speaking to people in a crowd from a stage, through my words on paper, or even just in the daily interactions I have with strangers.

What challenge or failure did you learn the most from in your writing career? Can you share the lesson(s) that you learned?

I actually do not consider myself a particularly great writer. The messages I want to convey are clear in my mind but putting them into words on paper does not come as easily to me. In reality, I probably would not have two books published today were it not for the skilled writers who helped me organize my thoughts into cohesive works.

Coming to the realization that writing wasn’t my forte taught me a valuable life lesson: In life, while we may not be great at everything, we do have the option of combining our skills and talents with others who excel in the areas where we are lacking. I learned to accept that it was okay for me to secure help from those who were especially skilled at making my words come to life. Between my good ideas and experiences and their strong writing abilities, we created the perfect formula for a good book.

Many aspiring authors would love to make an impact similar to what you have done. What are the 3 things writers needs to know if they want to spark a movement with a book? (please include a story or example for each)

1. Be honest with your readers about who you really are — It is tempting when you’re writing a book to paint yourself in as positive of a light as possible in an effort to assure your readers that you’re a credible source. In reality, readers prefer for an author to be relatable, which may sometimes mean being brutally honest about your imperfections. A reader doesn’t want to take advice from someone who has been perfect since day one; they want to know how you’ve made mistakes and faced challenges, and what those instances of adversity taught you to make you the thought leader you are today.

2. Provide specific examples — Relate any advice you give or insight you share to your own personal experiences. Not only will this provide anecdotal evidence for why others should trust that your guidance is applicable to real-life circumstances, but it also helps readers visualize the value in what you’re sharing.

3. Try to put yourself in other’s shoes so you can understand the variety of ways in which your message will be perceived — As you write, have conversations with people from different backgrounds with different experiences to determine how your insight could be applicable to their respective journeys.

The world, of course, needs progress in many areas. What movement do you hope someone (or you!) starts next? Can you explain why that is so important?

I’d love to see a movement begin with a focus on “cheer leadership.” In my role as Brand Ambassador, a.k.a. “head cheerleader,” for Neighborly, I’ve seen firsthand how much it motivates people to know that someone believes in them and is willing to cheer them on to achieving their full potentials. We need to see more of this from today’s leaders!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find me on all of the major social media platforms! Here are my handles:

Twitter: @DinaDwyerOwens

Facebook: @DinaDwyerOwens

Instagram: @dina_dwyerowens

LinkedIn: Dina Dwyer-Owens

Thank you so much for these insights. It was a true pleasure to do this with you.

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About the author:

Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.

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