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October 01, 2016

New Perspectives

Leadership Is Not a Slogan

by John Addison

Click here to order the October 2016 issue in which this article appeared or click here to download it to your mobile device.

A leader’s most important job is to create an environment and landscape where the company can grow. Don’t kid yourself; this is a big job. Creating and maintaining a corporate culture doesn’t mean simply adding the company mission statement to the bottom of your email signature. It isn’t tacking up a slogan in the break room. Instead, it involves creating a system of consistent—and constant—communication that starts at the very top of the organization and flows throughout.

The basic principles here are not unique to direct selling companies, but they are no less important. People need to know that you’re the rudder in the water that’s guiding the ship. When you’re the leader, people need to know that the company is not going to run based on what mood you’re in that day. Don’t be a mystery to your people. If you’re communicating honestly and frequently enough, your team will know how you’re going to react before they sit down with you to discuss an issue.

It’s not enough to be personally consistent with your message. As a leader, you also have to make sure that message is being passed down throughout the organization. I’ve found that the best way to achieve that is to surround yourself with team players who buy into the vision of the organization. You don’t want a bunch of free agents who are out willy-nilly, going in their own direction on things. Having experienced people in key positions is also important. One of the death knells of an organization is having constant turnover of key people. Some turnover is good to get fresh ideas, but I’d rather err on the side of experience because it creates an incredibly strong culture.

Setting the right tone and building an effective culture in a direct selling company brings with it some unique communication challenges for corporate leaders. To start, you’ve got to create a simple message about a great product without overhyping either the product or the opportunity. There’s nothing wrong with making something fun and exciting; this is sales, after all. But you’ve got to be honest. Don’t run from the failures of the people involved in your business, but don’t run from the successes, either. You know you’re getting it right when you have a product that can sell at the price you’ve set, even without the opportunity attached. You should be legitimately developing way more customers than recruits, and you should feel proud of what you do.

Once you have the product and opportunity in place, the next step for leaders is bringing new people into your business. The key to successful communication is having a simple, easy-to-share message and a replicable system of training and tools to bring people on board. This business is about helping people make incremental commitments to the organization, so outline a series of simple activities that you want your newest recruits to do early on in their business venture. Setting realistic expectations with doable activities can help someone new to direct selling get started and enjoy some early success.

You’ll know you’re doing this well when you observe two things happening over and over again. First, the message you hear out in the field is incredibly consistent. This means a meeting in Portland, Oregon, is going to be the same as one in Mobile, Alabama. No one is perfect, but this should be your goal. And second, you are effectively managing expectations so that when people inevitably leave the business they don’t leave on a sour note. Survey people as they depart, and really study the data. If you’re seeing too many responses you don’t like, you know you have a problem that must be addressed.

What can you do as a leader of a direct selling company to increase the length of time people spend working the business? Once again, you have to have a system that allows for consistent, clear messaging. People who join direct selling opportunities are, by nature, frustrated with some part of their lives and looking to make a change. By listening to their frustration and plugging them into a personal development system, you can help people make progress in their life even before they begin earning an income. Effective leadership and consistent communication in this area involves positive reinforcement, positive education and a culture of excitement about personal growth. Your field will report feeling better tomorrow than they did today, whether that’s mentally, spiritually or economically.

The world of direct selling is evolving. New technologies and social media provide more avenues for corporate leaders to communicate with their own teams and with their independent salesforces. But these same factors also can be a distraction or, worse, a dividing force within a company. There are a lot of good companies and a lot of good people in direct selling today. The companies that stand out are those whose corporate leaders are creating an environment of excellence by communicating clearly and consistently.

John AddisonJohn Addison, author of Real Leadership: 9 Simple Practices for Leading and Living with Purpose, Leadership Editor for SUCCESS magazine, and President and CEO of Addison Leadership Group, engages and inspires audiences with his relatable messages. Most recently, he served as Co-CEO of Primerica Inc., a company he joined more than 35 years ago.