Click here to order the February 2014 issue in which this article appeared.
We’ve all heard that it’s lonely at the top, or that leadership is the other side of the coin of loneliness. Many have embraced this notion, but I would invite them to closely study—and experience—how direct selling really works. It just might change their minds.
Entrepreneurship in our industry is far from a lonely proposition. In fact, it’s just the opposite. As insiders, we know that. But when a well-respected business professor and author on global entrepreneurship recently asked me about it, I realized we still have a lot of work to do to prove it. She said, “I spend every day with students, both in the U.S. and abroad. If there is one thing they seem to have in common, it is a desire for work that is meaningful above and beyond what it pays them. They want their careers to leave a positive impact on society. How is your industry changing to prepare for them?”
My first thought was: Changing? But we don’t need to.
Direct selling companies are unique in how we create an environment where communities naturally form. If we were a sport, we would be a team, not an individual sport.
But here’s what I think is tough for us to grasp as industry executives: Lasting communities form around causes or values—not products or brands. In fact, some of the most successful organizations at Amway have discovered that what identifies them as a team is not the dietary supplements or anti-aging creams they offer. It’s about a shared value system and the “something bigger—achieved together” the professor was asking about.
In 2013, two legendary Amway leaders passed away. As we mourned, we also reflected on this very concept. We focused on the legacies they left in the world, not as entrepreneurs, but as people. Their legacies were about helping others, whether it was building orphanages together, ensuring no one who needed a wheelchair in one country went without, eradicating hunger in a rural school system, or raising millions of dollars for Easter Seals families.
They are two reflections of the many real and powerful stories that prove what direct selling—communities with a common purpose—can do. These stories have little to do with product or compensation plans.
The opportunity we have as leaders in this industry is to respond to and state our support for the desire that people—especially young people—have to leave a mark on the world. It’s an opportunity to meet their needs as a community without attempting to define and manage them at every turn.
We have the ability to do that. We can talk to prospects about their aspirations to leave a legacy, and about the platform direct selling gives them to do it. We can teach them to find others with similar passions. We can give people an opportunity to dip their toes in the water of entrepreneurship and economic freedom—all while building lasting relationships, developing others, and providing hope and change on a very large scale.
What better foundation than direct selling is there to make a lasting difference like this in the world?
The more I think about it, the more I realize this might make us uncomfortable because, as corporate employees, we exist outside of these naturally formed communities. We help them via our unique products, compensation plans, and support, but they live and breathe for each other, not for us. We’re not shy when it comes to talking to the media, or other influencers, about the unique “product + people + plan” equation that makes direct selling tick, but have we done our job describing our communities—and their passions—as fully as possible?
I believe the answer is “no.” Otherwise, questions like the one I was asked by that professor, and those by other outsiders, wouldn’t come our way.
We can start by reminding ourselves that “people” and “social networks” are not the same thing as “community.” Much like teams in sports, communities have a goal in mind and will not rest until it’s met. People are still individuals. Social networks allow people to communicate, but they don’t always inspire people to act on a common purpose or passion.
Communities share a common belief. Our industry community exists with the shared belief that individuals can control their futures and that raising up entrepreneurs is an important contribution to society. So we are a community, and we provide community. Great, but how do we help our next generation of independent representatives understand and embrace this?
Maybe it starts with less focus on independence. Perhaps our message should be: If you’re looking for a community in which you can make a difference, direct selling is already here! We allow and support you to make your mark on the world.
We need to use our time, treasure and talent to talk about the common-purpose communities that live within our businesses. Yes, it’s a little scary because those are the very communities we don’t always directly control. But it proves to others that direct selling is one very exciting, very doable, very legitimate route to working with others to achieve that “something bigger.”
In 2014, I challenge all of us to find the communities of direct sellers within our businesses making an impact that resonates with the next generation of entrepreneurs—to show prospects that we’re businesses that don’t exist for selfish reasons, but who work to solve the problems of one person, or one community, or one country.
Speak out about how direct selling communities are a unique way to pay it forward, and how direct selling embodies optimism, which is the first thing a person needs to change the world.
Show people that direct selling will help them make a difference in ways they can’t even imagine because of the sheer number of people they would be able to meet and energize around any cause they choose.
In other words, modify the conversation about direct selling. Focus on how we have and how we will serve and better entire communities. Use a new communications formula that every time includes product + people + plan, just as before, but adds “passionate purpose.”
Let’s prove that no one understands people’s desires to start socially conscious businesses better than we do, and let’s remind everyone that with a career in direct selling it’s never lonely at the top—or in any position along the way.
Before we know it, smart people won’t be asking us if we’re doing anything to prepare for a new wave of worker. They’ll be asking how they can follow in direct selling’s footsteps.
John Parker is Chief Sales Officer at Amway.