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How to Guide Your Tribe: 4 Takeaways from Dave Ramsey’s Success

One of the first things you learn when you come to a StoryBrand Workshop is that you are not the hero of your company’s story. Your customer is the hero.

That means your role is one of the guide, the “Yoda” who steps in to help the hero, Luke Skywalker, win the day.

But being a Guide to your customers is more than a marketing strategy. It’s a position of the heart.

But being a Guide to your customers is more than a marketing strategy. It’s a position of the heart.

When your brand commits to your customers’ problems and inspires them to overcome those problems, you do more than sell products. You transform lives.

Personal finance expert (and my good friend) Dave Ramsey exemplifies this better than practically anyone. He hosts one of the largest radio shows in the country, with more than 13 million daily listeners. People call in, and he offers financial advice to conquer debt and build wealth.

That radio show turns 25 years old this month, and the team at Ramsey Solutions has released a short but powerful documentary that tells the story of how it came to be.

When I watched it, I was blown away. It’s one of the most inspiring ways you’ll spend half an hour today, and I highly encourage you to watch it.

Why? Although it’s the story of Dave’s radio show, it is so much more than that. It’s a powerful glimpse into what has made Dave such an amazing “Guide” to his listeners for 25 years.

I’m going to unpack four big takeaways for us, so we can all step more fully into the role of Guide and help our customers truly transform.

He makes his listeners the hero

From the opening seconds of the video, you see that this isn’t your typical “origin story.”

It doesn’t start out saying, “25 years ago, we went on air with nothing but a microphone and a dream…”

Instead, you hear the voices of listeners.

That’s how a legendary Guide like Dave tells his story: by telling the stories of those he serves.

Why? Because his listeners are ultimately the hero of the story, not him.

Though Dave’s face is prominent on book covers and billboards, he never positions himself as the hero in his communication. Instead, he is practically obsessed with his listeners’ journeys, counseling, coaching, and emboldening them to take action.

That’s how a legendary Guide like Dave tells his story: by telling the stories of those he serves.

His staff get this, too. “Everybody knows [the show] now,” says Lara Johnson, one of its associate producers. “But it still comes down to the listener. It comes down to them actually doing the day-to-day work, making those good decisions, and then reaching their goals and getting there. They did it. All we did was put it out there.”

Like Dave, position your brand not as the star of the show but as the guiding support your customer needs to conquer their problems and live a better life.

He understands his customers’ problems holistically

On his show, Dave deals with listener problems about credit card debt, Roth IRAs, and sticking to a budget.

But when you really listen to the callers, you see there’s so much more beneath the surface than financial questions. People are feeling overwhelmed and powerless. They’re struggling in their marriages. They’re afraid they’ve failed deeply.

You’re hearing two completely different kinds of problems, and great Guides understand and speak to both of them.

In the StoryBrand framework, we make this distinction by describing the “external problems” customers have (those surface issues — the debt, the budget, the mortgage) versus the “internal problems” (the deeper, more personal fears or frustrations they experience). If you’d like to understand this concept more fully, check out this post.

From the beginning, Dave has been focused on both the external and internal problems of his listeners.

In the documentary, you’ll hear Dave’s former CMO, Bill Hampton, recognize this fact: “It’s the Dave Ramsey Show. It’s about life, love, and relationships — and how they happen to revolve around money.”

A Guide who only focuses on external problems will never have the greatest impact — because the transformation we want for our customers only happens when they resolve those internal problems.

These external and internal problems are woven throughout the documentary as we meet a few of Dave’s listeners: a young couple, a man who was stuck in credit card debt, a widow trying to forge a strong financial future for her kids, an older couple whose marriage had been on the rocks.

All of them succeeded financially — getting debt free, paying off their houses, saving for retirement. In other words, they solved those external problems.

But when you hear them tell their stories, that’s not what they focus on. What you hear from them — and what chokes you up — is how they’ve resolved the internal problems of fear, failure, and powerlessness:

“Having that freedom in our life and marriage is huge.”

“Nobody owns me anymore, except God. It puts you in a whole new level of living.”

“I feel relief. I feel powerful. I did it!”

A Guide who only focuses on external problems will never have the greatest impact — because the transformation we want for our customers only happens when they resolve those internal problems.

He empathizes with their pain

Around the 20-minute-mark in the film, we hear audio of a woman in tears who’s called in for Dave’s help.

WOMAN: “I lost my job and I fell behind on everything.”
DAVE: “Pretty freaking scary, isn’t it?”
WOMAN: “Oh my gosh, you have no idea.”
DAVE: “Yeah, I do. I’ve been there.”

And he has. Early on in his life, he lost everything to debt. As a result, his empathy for his callers is real. If you’ve listened to the show, you’ll hear Dave speak regularly about his own experiences and past failures.

His empathy powers his business. “Our driving force,” Dave says in the film, “is the person on the other end [of the line] — that single mom, that young couple struggling with their marriage, the old couple who’s worried about retirement, this person who’s losing their home, this person who’s about to do something stupid that’s going to cost them the next decade of their life to recover. I’ve been that guy. I don’t want that to happen to you.”

A hero needs somebody else to step into the story and confront those internal fears by telling them they’re different, they’re better, they can do it. That somebody is the Guide, and that’s exactly what Dave does.

His empathy doesn’t just come from his own experience, though. It’s also because he has stayed connected to his listeners over the last 25 years. He talks to them every week.

As business leaders, it’s easy to distance yourself from the day-to-day interactions with your customers, especially as your business grows. But to truly be an empathetic Guide, you’ve got to stay connected to their struggles. It keeps you going and strengthens your motivation.

He features their transformation

Ultimately, though, if Dave only did the three things we’ve discussed, he wouldn’t be nearly as successful as he his — nor would he have changed millions of lives.

Dave has set himself apart because of one major factor: he helps his listeners truly transform.

After executing his plan, listeners are invited on his show to perform what he calls a “Debt Free Scream.” You’ll see it near the end of the documentary. While Dave and his team cheer them on, his listeners stand and yell into the microphone, “I’m debt freeeeeeeee!”

“There’s something visceral that’s happening — something emotional, spiritual that’s happening in these people’s lives,” Dave explains about the debt-free scream. “They’re at a point in their journey, in their story, where they need to celebrate … the fact that they won. And this show has always been about them winning.”

Dave has set himself apart because of one major factor: he helps his listeners truly transform.

If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice that Dave is even speaking in narrative terms here. Once a listener has completed their heroic journey, Dave lets them know they’ve changed. They’re different now.

What Dave has done naturally with the debt-free scream is actually a common scene you’ll find at the end of many stories. It’s a scene in which the Guide comes back to affirm the transformation of the hero.

In Star Wars, after Luke destroys the Death Star, Obi-Wan affirms that he is, indeed, a Jedi. At the end of The King’s Speech, Lionel Logue tells King George that he will be a great ruler.

Scenes like this — and indeed, the debt-free scream — show us how far our hero has come. We see the contrast of where they were — $394,000 in debt — and now, free from it all after a journey of hard work and sacrifice, with Dave’s guidance at every step of the way.

There are hundreds of thousands of financial advisors out there. Many of them offer advice that’s as good as Dave’s. Heck, some of their advice is probably better.

But Dave enjoys a wider popularity. Why?

I’m convinced it’s his mastery of his customer’s heroic journey — and his role as their Guide in it — that has played a huge role in the longevity and success of his radio program.

How can you be a better Guide to your customers and create these kinds of powerful transformations for them? Leave a comment and let me know which of these points resonated most with you.

Your Guide to Being a Better Guide

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