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When I was asked to contribute to this DSN edition, I felt honored, as I certainly don’t have the amazing leadership tenure that many other contributors before me have had for this segment. So I decided to share with you my leadership perspective as the “work-in-progress” that it is, as I certainly believe I am still learning, every day.
Growing up as the daughter of a highly ranked civil servant leader in the pre-revolutionary Iranian government, I first heard about servant leadership from my father, whose mentor and leader, the ex-Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, had led the country to nationalizing its oil in 1951, one of the most important events in the history of Iran, the Middle East and the world. My dad had detected in me at a very early age the possible premise of a future manager and leader and was the one encouraging me to follow in his footsteps—but in the private sector. He had an enormous influence on my perception of what the priority and focus of a true leader should be: to serve others first and make an impact on a larger community.
My dad had an enormous influence on my perception of what the priority and focus of a true leader should be: to serve others first and make an impact on a larger community.
With both the personal influence of this leadership philosophy and its natural relevance in this great industry that is direct selling—which I have had the privilege to be part of and fully embrace for the past 15 years—servant leadership has become an essential foundation of what my “work-in-progress” is. In no other industry can you truly experience servant leadership more than in ours; it is a true people-centric business where relationships shape the essence of our being and all that we do is focused and centered on our independent distributors—and through them, our communities.
Servant leadership is an ancient philosophy, but in its modern form it was coined by Robert Greenleaf in 1970. While there are many books, trainings and seminars about servant leadership, below I have outlined the seven key principles that, for me, can have the highest relevance, importance and impact:
1. Remember who you work for—at all times.
While many of the corporate leaders in our industry, from an organizational perspective, report to boards of directors, shareholders, executive committees and so on, we all—every single one of us from the top CEO to the receptionist—work for our independent distributors and through them for the end-customer. I know this is no revelation for any of you, but integrating this, applying it in every aspect of the business and making sure that everyone in the organization embraces it fully every day is essential.
At Belcorp, every meeting, every conference call and every training is a reminder not only to the sales and marketing people at the forefront of the scene working directly and closely with the field, but to all other behind-the-scenes support functions, such as IT, operations and finance. We want them to work every day knowing that their job will impact the lives of our distributors. The empowerment and the responsibility gained from this are invaluable and very visible to our field. They not only see but feel that we all care about them and work for them.
2. Lead and inspire by example.
Leading by example does not only mean to lead with savvy business strategies, decisions and actions, but, most importantly to lead and inspire others by having an exemplary behavior focused on listening, respecting, showing empathy and relating. I’ve found that, more than impressive résumés, degrees from top world universities and years of experience, what creates a real bond, inspires and empowers is when the leader is able to relate to the team. When leading the U.S. unit of a Latin American company with a predominantly diverse employee and distributor base, what connects me the most to all of them is sharing how I had once been where they are now and how, as a first-generation immigrant with limited English skills and no driving ability, I restarted life at the bottom of the food chain as an adult and worked very hard to build myself up. I share how I never gave up and kept on believing until I made it to where I am today. As leaders, we often forget where we have once been. It is important to remember and, most importantly, to value it in order to create a bond that inspires all for a more loyal and productive team.
3. Embrace and integrate diversity.
We often tend to gather around us and within our leadership teams people who have more similarities than differences from us. What we miss in doing so is the ability to see the perspectives that others could bring, providing a more complete and comprehensive view. Bringing and integrating diversity into our organizations helps us have a wider reach to our field and customers in the areas we cannot or do not know how to relate to.
Diversity is as “diverse” as age, gender, race, socio-economic level, education or religion. Diversity enriches our culture, strengthens our “field play” and enables us to bridge the gaps with a stronger approach. While many companies may see diversity as having different genders, races or ethnicities represented in the images of our collaterals/videos/social media, embracing and integrating diversity is not an afterthought; it becomes a key value of our companies that makes a true difference in our bottom line. Some key direct selling statistics can reveal the importance of diversity in our industry and its relevance in our corporate leadership. By far the largest percent of Belcorp distributors are women (82 percent), and 60 percent are Hispanic, not to mention many may only have a high school diploma. It is important to remember this.
4. Humility is your biggest asset.
Often it becomes challenging to stay humble when you are a jet-setting executive, meeting-hopping and shareholder briefing. You’re a key decision maker, the one who always has the last word with the teams and on whom all eyes and ears are directed to take the right road to success. But it is so critical to remember that we are not always the one who knows it all. That’s why we hire people better than us and why we surround ourselves with the very best—and it is so important for our teams to hear and know this. I personally am learning every day, from every interaction with my employees or our field members. Especially in an industry where recognition is such an important element and often comes with some sort of elitism, it becomes a daily reminder to keep oneself grounded and be reminded that humility—real and heartfelt—is one of the greatest assets of a leader to stay close and connected to our teams.
5. Lead with passion.
Passion is one of the most contagious emotions that a leader can nurture and spread throughout the organization. It is essential during good times to keep up the momentum, and it is vital in not-so-good times to keep the team united, focused and motivated. A clear vision without passion is hard to hold on to. I was so lucky in my early years in this industry to work for someone who personified passion: Mark Hughes, Founder of Herbalife. I am still blessed to work for a man whose unstoppable passion transformed the path of Latin American women: Belcorp CEO and Founder Eduardo Belmont. Genuine, authentic passion is the strongest power a leader has to ignite the world around him or her!
6. Commit to growing and developing others.
Meeting goals and achieving success, for me, means having provided an opportunity and a forum for others to learn, to grow and to become better, more fulfilled and well-rounded individuals. Often, as leaders, we are measured by our financial KPI achievements. If those achievements did not come with the lessons for us and our teams, then we have only accomplished 50 percent of the goal.
7. Build a community while you are impacting the world.
As leaders in this industry, the impact we can have goes beyond the reach of just our employees or our distributors. Being able to leverage that ensures what we do is not seen just as our day-to-day jobs and duties but a real task to shape the future—and a much longer-term and higher-impact mission. This provides everyone in our company with a real-life mission that can shape lives and thus inspire and motivate an entire community, who together can feel they can change the world! We are going to launch in January 2014 a new employee community-based program with two floating holidays as time off for our Belcorp USA employees, so they can take time off from their jobs and do community and volunteer work. This is part of the DNA of the company and a core value of our why in the industry. As leaders, let’s make sure we make it not only a vision, but everyone’s mission.
Mona Ameli is USA General Manager at Belcorp USA.