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“You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the season, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.” —Jim Rohn
“The speed of the leader is the speed of the gang.” —Mary Kay Ash
In the direct selling industry, we’ve all had the extraordinary privilege of witnessing independent representatives command the stage during company events—leaders who, only years earlier, couldn’t have imagined possessing the confidence required to inspire an audience. Often, you’ll find their team members within arm’s reach on that stage, their very presence reflecting the interconnectedness of the entire group.
We all know that the genuine direct selling success stories are based on a long, patient climb—a continual striving to reach a little further, to ask “what’s next?” Perhaps why we continue to run up against misconceptions of the industry is because we still keep company with some individuals who want to portray direct selling as a means to get rich quick. We all know it’s not—it’s never been, nor will it ever be. Taking that approach to direct selling is akin to the lottery winner who spends his windfall overnight, then files for bankruptcy. The instant gratification of rapid recruiting and frontloading builds a very shaky foundation that inevitably will crumble, and from which nobody benefits.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
When approached correctly and according to its design, direct selling requires a keen focus on the objective directly in front of you—the potential customer, the team member, the next personal goal. Collectively, the accumulation of these individual wins is transformative not only for the initiator, but also for the beneficiaries of his or her actions. What the “get rich quickers” never grasp is that, in actuality, taking the slow road would have been far more lucrative, financially and personally. The foundation of the slow road is solid, the personal relationships deeper, the trust infinitely greater. And trust isn’t just the grease in the wheel of the direct selling industry; it’s the grease in the wheel of life.
The bottom line is that, in direct selling, your success is derived from helping others achieve their potential. What you give comes back to you—and then some. That’s what makes this industry unlike any other. You simply won’t get far if you don’t take others with you. Assuming a leadership role is mandatory. And therein lies the transformative power of direct selling. The leader on the stage didn’t start there. Her ultimate attainment of leadership probably had less to do with textbooks and college degrees than it did with an unceasing pursuit of personal development. Our very industry is built on this incredibly powerful concept.
When Did Personal Development Become a ‘Thing’?
Improving self-awareness, self-knowledge, self-leadership. Renewing identity and self-esteem. Becoming a self-leader. Fulfilling your calling and therefore your destiny. It’s easy to wave off personal development as just another movement that belongs on the self-help bandwagon, but its roots are deeper than that. The idea that realizing one’s potential enhances quality of life and contributes to the betterment of society was on the mind of ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu in the 6th century B.C. “Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power,” he said. Other ancient cultures, major religions and, yes, even New Age philosophers similarly have embraced the concept, although personal development really gained traction when it became linked to psychology in the late 1800s. It was the end of the Progressive Era. The Industrial Revolution was down to its last embers, but a tiny spark remained: the “rags-to-riches” dream inspired by such giants as Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt, J.P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller. The spark caught flame, setting forth the belief that our greatest resource as a nation didn’t lie with faster machines; it was within man himself.
In the 20th century, American psychologist and professor Abraham Maslow introduced the “hierarchy of needs,” with self-actualization at the top, a concept he defined as “the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.” Further, Maslow believed that only an estimated 1 percent of people self-actualize. Over time, as companies grew and reached beyond international borders, it became clear that the weight of responsibility for personal development had shifted from the company to the individual, as management consultant Peter Drucker wrote in a 1999 issue of Harvard Business Journal:
“We live in an age of unprecedented opportunity: if you’ve got ambition and smarts, you can rise to the top of your chosen profession, regardless of where you started out. But with opportunity comes responsibility. Companies today aren’t managing their employees’ careers; knowledge workers must, effectively, be their own chief executive officers. It’s up to you to carve out your place, to know when to change course, and to keep yourself engaged and productive during a work life that may span some 50 years.”
While it’s true that personal development has to be self-directed, smart companies know it makes good business sense to make it as easy as possible for their people to pursue self-transformation. They offer their employees the tools to enhance their knowledge of such topics as diplomacy, holding effective meetings, overcoming rejection, negotiation and the like. Within the direct selling industry, independent business owners are out in the field, and it’s all too easy for them to slip through the cracks without a rallying cry to stretch for a cause larger than themselves. They need a mission-driven pursuit which ideally results in their own personal transformation while they shape the lives of customers and team members in a positive way.
Personal development isn’t intended to be a one-and-done crash course. Instead, it’s a higher calling that should introduce itself early, lead the procession of business training that follows and infiltrate the consciousness at every opportunity, ultimately transcending the confines of work and spilling over into everyday life.
Time to Rewrite the Textbook for Success?
Let’s imagine there was an official “route to success” in the United States. What would it look like? It’s likely that education would be on your itinerary. After all, the traditional path to achievement has been defined by such quantifiable skills as reading, writing, math and science—subjects that can be tested and measured. What about conflict management, confidence, time management, emotional intelligence, goal setting and other soft skills? We can’t quantify those, and yet they’re no less important. Arguably, such skills may be even more vital to our success.
We have many examples of independent sales representatives who took on the charge of personal development and have experienced nothing short of a complete transformation. But what about the employees within direct selling companies who serve those salesforce members?
“Personal development is so key to the field that if you don’t do it yourself, you won’t be able to mentor them,” says Kerry Shea Penland, President and Founder of All’asta. On the corporate side of direct selling, employees’ personal development might take place on the job, or it might not. Years of experience bring key learnings, of course, or one might have the occasional opportunity to attend a conference or seminar. Leaders who most frequently interact with the salesforce may receive more formal personal development opportunities than the middle management ranks. But there’s a gap, and that gap might just present an opportunity for direct selling. Given how people-oriented this industry is—and considering that employees throughout the entire organization interact with your salesforce on a daily basis—it may be time for companies to consider investing in personal development resources for a larger share of their employee base. But the fact of the matter is that the clock’s ticking, there’s work to be done, and personal development is often the first item to be sidelined in the wake of more urgent matters. Companies would be wise to hit the pause button and begin focusing resources on the personal development of their employees, if for no other reason than it makes good business sense, builds loyalty and increases productivity—and that’s good for everybody, employees and salesforce alike.
Those self-motivated individuals who continually work on developing themselves—and who subsequently are able to navigate the murky waters of interpersonal relationships, whether or not they have a college degree—in fact have enormous potential. Years of education and college degrees will only get you so far. When we’re given opportunities to tap into our inner strengths, capitalize on them and use them toward a higher purpose, that’s when the magic happens.
In this sense, direct selling was truly ahead of its time, building the entire concept of personal development into its very foundation. In fact, the direct selling arena is one of the few places, if not the only place outside self-guided study, that a person can receive personal development training at little or no cost, and in fact, as a part of the “package” deal. For a direct selling brand to gain traction, expand into new markets and establish firm roots globally, it’s integral that its independent representatives reach their upmost potential, and inspire their respective team members to do the same. In perhaps no other industry are the futures of so many so intertwined.
Train the Basics, Inspire in Personal Development
Assimilation into this industry will always include training on such topics as compensation structures, salesforce promotions and goals. Learning the complexities of direct selling is challenging in and of itself, but for those who truly want to excel, adding personal development to the mix could move them closer to success—and faster. Companies who regard personal development as imperative to their success will offer the means and the methods for their employees and independent representatives to achieve it—and offer it to others. That means offering up resources in a variety of contexts to accommodate multiple ways of learning, whether through coaching groups, one-on-one mentoring sessions, book clubs, rotational opportunities, webinars and/or online courses. There’s no one way to do it, but the inspiration and the means have to be an omnipresent part of the culture.
Despite an MBA and an impressive resume, Penland was brand-new to the direct selling industry when she founded All’asta in 2012. Knowing she had a lot to learn, she started working with industry mentors right away, and “the No. 1 thing they advised me to do was invest in personal development,” she says. “This is unlike any other industry, so I made a focused effort. I found a coach, I read books, I changed some of my management and life habits, and that put me in a position to be successful in a field-facing role. You have to want to be better, and you have to be honest with yourself. It’s hard, but if you stay focused, you can kick down your barriers and open the space in your mind for more.
“I was a bit skeptical of this industry at first,” she admits, “but several things turned me around. I heard so many success stories due to personal development. These people had transformed their own lives and the lives of others. Their testimonials were a key factor that made me fall in love with this industry.”
Mark Pentecost, CEO and Founder of It Works!, says, “There isn’t a training guide or manual to build and run a multimillion dollar business, so I learned lessons from history and taught myself through the success of others. I made it a point to always be carrying a book. Whenever I had a spare moment, I would be reading.
“Throughout my life I’ve been drawn to watching people that are self-made,” he continues. “It’s always been in my nature to be better. From an early age, I saw my parents trying to better themselves. They taught me a lot about personal development and inspired me to include it in my daily life. In the United States, you aren’t born with a title—you can grow into it. That entrepreneurial spirit and desire to stretch myself to take things to an entirely new level—those have had the most significant impact on my business and my role as CEO.”
Soft Skills, Hard Dollars
Traci Lynn Burton, Founder and CEO of Traci Lynn Jewelry, shares an example of how focusing on personal development can make a profound difference on a company’s bottom-line results. Three years ago, she moved her offices from Delaware to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and in the process, experienced a serious issue with her new fulfillment center. For three months—and during a peak holiday season, no less—the company was unable to fulfill orders. Keeping her motto of “motivate, inspire, change lives” in mind, Burton made the bold move to shift gears. She turned her monthly conference calls with the field into weekly calls. “During those calls, we began spending 90 percent of our time on motivation and 10 percent on other announcements,” she says. When the company resumed operations three months later, salesforce retention increased from 35 percent to a remarkable 75 percent. Traci Lynn Jewelry quickly recouped the season’s losses, and then some. For Burton, what at first seemed catastrophic turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to her company.
On her desk are emails from salesforce members who attest to the impact their businesses have had on their self-confidence and outlook in life; they’re filled with comments like “walking taller,” “smiling bigger” and “stepping out of my comfort zone.”
“In this industry, the sky’s the limit,” Burton says. “If we want our people to reach the moon, we’ve got to give them the tools to do it.
“You don’t know how far your reach is. You’re showing people you genuinely care about them,” she continues. “The field wants to see your vision, your power and your tenacity.” And, needless to say, those weekly calls have continued. She reinforces that connection with the field through such modern methods as the Periscope app, which enables her to share live video broadcasts via mobile devices. Her unrehearsed, “behind the scenes” videos offer a friendly dash of encouragement and have a bit of reality TV flavor, something representatives appreciate. To keep her own bucket full, Burton is committed to attending two spiritual conferences and four business conferences every year, commiserating with industry peers, comparing notes and returning home with the renewed confidence to lead and inspire.
Asma Ishaq, President of Jusuru International, reiterates this necessity as a leader to improve one’s self in order to help in the improvement of others. “Our goal is and should be to help people do more than they would have done on their own,” she says. Ishaq recalls one of her favorite quotes from leadership expert, speaker and author John Maxwell, in which he said that the two most important questions for leadership are: 1. What’s your game plan for personal growth? 2. What’s your game plan to develop others?
Business Skills = Life Skills
Over the last several decades, the most successful direct selling companies have proven to be the ones that include a wellspring of personal development with the ongoing product education, business training and general support and motivation they serve up to independent representatives at every stage of their respective career paths.
It’s no surprise, really, that companies savvy enough to encourage personal development have a leg up in the industry. Growing into a leader requires a shift in mindset; the student becomes the teacher, learning to coach others to success. It would stand to reason that the more emerging leaders you’re actively developing, the better, right? And, better still, as those leaders continue to grow and develop, they should have the appropriate resources to draw from the proverbial well on a continual basis. More confident leaders, in turn, have fewer reservations about sharing ideas, challenging the status quo, influencing others and rallying them behind a common mission.
These soft skills help representatives develop resilience to shrug off a “no” and move on to the next opportunity; steer a struggling team member back on track; or establish daily, weekly and monthly goals and a game plan to reach them. Once these skills become habit, they spill over into all areas of life; it’s impossible to contain them only within the confines of a direct selling business. The business becomes part of life, then larger than life itself.
“I’ve always had a passion for personal growth and improvement, but I think it really crystalized for me when I had the opportunity for a private lunch with Zig Ziglar and his daughter, Julie, near his home in the Dallas area,” Ishaq says. “He said to me, ‘All people need is just a little encouragement.’ That’s when it truly hit home for me what this business is all about. The reasons for someone getting involved in our industry vary greatly, but encouragement will always be a motivator.”
Pentecost says the concepts associated with personal development are an integral part of the It Works! culture, both for employees and throughout the field. “We fight for it every single day. We don’t assume our employees are integrating personal development on their own, so we give them opportunities.” For example, the company has hosted four John Maxwell Leadership classes, each lasting between four and six months. The company’s executive team nominates managers and up-and-coming leaders to participate. “If we’re not growing through personal development, then we’re getting rusty—we’re moving backwards,” Pentecost says. “I believe we have to be intentional with personal development and encourage it. Our human resources director wasn’t trained in human resources; he was trained in our culture, in great leadership, and in developing more leaders.”
For the company’s top distributors, Pentecost hosts monthly calls that delve into personal and professional development. “We teach that it’s key to being a leader, being a good spouse, and being a good teammate. When we stretch ourselves, we’ll go further in all aspects of life.”
At Jusuru International, the company has made a concerted effort to apply throughout its employee base the culture of personal growth that flourishes in the field, including maintaining a multimedia personal development library for its support specialists. “By focusing on our ‘frontline,’ meaning those at our home office who answer the phones and interact with our field, we’ve embraced a philosophy that we should leave people better than we found them,” says Ishaq. “Our hope is that the skillsets and mindsets they develop at Jusuru International will benefit them not only within the walls of our offices, but in every facet of their lives.”
Penland adds, “Even if, ultimately, my company isn’t successful—and I know it will be—I’ll consider myself successful because of all of the personal development efforts I’ve made since getting into this industry. Personal development has opened my mind to doing and being more. And our consultants should feel the same way. No matter what happens with their businesses, if they take the time to invest in personal development, they’ll always have these skills, and they’ll be better for it.”
For Britney Vickery, CEO and Founder of Initials Inc., “Personal development means constantly grasping new principles and discovering how they help not only me, but the company as a whole. I’ve begun to see what’s possible for me and for our company. Each day is a fresh challenge. You can literally watch change happen. That’s the power of personal development—you get to see it come to life in every decision and choice you make.”
The Journey Has No End
We represent an industry based on open-ended opportunities, and that’s why the quest to reach one’s fullest potential—so fundamental to our shared principles—has no limit, either. This ever-changing itinerary has no destination, but it’s filled with rich rewards. And the further we travel, the more company we keep, enabling us to draw on each other’s strengths. That’s not only an exciting prospect from a personal standpoint; it’s an exciting prospect for the growth potential of the direct selling industry.
“To get from where you are to where you want to be, there’s only one thing that will fill that gap. Personal development allows you to discover the highest and best version of yourself,” Vickery says. “It’s a deeply personal journey that never ends and always has more room to grow. The idea that it is never-ending is what gets me excited. And, much like our direct sales businesses, everyone starts out the same. In direct sales, everyone joins a company with a small investment, no customers, no parties, no appointments. Personal development is much the same. Everyone starts as a blank slate. Your actions and your choices impact the course of your journey. Everyone’s path is meant to be different—that’s what makes it beautiful. You simply have to choose your route.”
Ishaq says, “From a corporate perspective, what we know is that the studies behind millennials show that the 9-to-5 job may soon be a thing of the past. Sixty percent of millennials are leaving their companies in less than three years.” She continues, “If you want to develop a strong culture and home office team that is career-minded and focused on the overall mission and vision of the company, you must first prioritize the growth of the individual, and foster that growth in your work environment. I think when people understand this reality about our industry we do stand alone. We give hope. We give encouragement. And above all, we give opportunity that if not for direct sales, many would never have had.”