5 Leadership Lessons I Learned The Hard Way in my Direct Sales Business
Being a leader in the direct sales industry for several years now, there are many leadership lessons that I have learned. The ones that have left the greatest impact are the ones I learned the hard way. Often times we have to fail, fall down, make mistakes and be humbled to really learn and understand what leadership is really all about. Below are five leadership lessons that I learned the hard way.
1. You do not have to know everything to be a leader. It’s impossible to know everything and we must continually learn and adapt as we go, no matter long we have been in the business. I’m always super quick to answer questions instead of giving my team time to find the answers or giving other team members time to share their ideas, expertise or suggestions first. I don’t mean to be or appear as a know it all, I just struggle with worrying that my team will not think as highly of me if I don’t have all (or at least most) of the answers. If I don’t know the answer to something it doesn’t make me a bad leader or incompetent, it simply means I am still learning and growing as a person and leader too. They need a chance to learn, grow, share and connect too.
“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” —Jack Welch
2. It’s important to invest in your team member’s potential but not in their choices. As a leader and someone who genuinely desires to help others reach their potential, I really struggle when my team members choose to not live up to their potential or take advantage of all that our business offers. I invest a lot of time, energy, passion and resources into helping my team, being there for them, encouraging and motivating them so it can be hard to not take it personal or be personally affected when they choose to either not work or to leave the business. I have to remember that my job is simply to show them the path of success and encourage them to continue on it. What they do with what I show them is their choice and is not a reflection on me or my leadership skills. It does not make me a bad leader if they decide not to work their business or that this business is not for them. There are times you have to just “bless and release” people.
“Leadership is unlocking people’s potential to become better.” —Bill Bradley
3. Leaders need to find a balance between professional and personal relationships with their team. Building relationships, fostering a support network and gaining new friends is one of the best rewards of being a direct sales leader. I am a people pleaser and want everyone to like me and be my friend, but this has caused significant issues in the past on my team. It can be difficult to find a balance though between professionalism and friendship. You need to choose your friends wisely just like in your personal life. Becoming close friends with members of your down line can cause other team members to become jealous or feel like you are playing favorites even if you are not and never would. While I whole-heartedly believe that you should be real, genuine and re-latable with your team sometimes being too real, too honest and too personal can cause your team to no longer look at you as a leader or as someone they want to follow and be like. Your team should not see you act unprofessionally. They should not hear you complain about anything or anyone. If you are struggling, frustrated or aggravated find another leader within your business or another direct sales leader to confide in instead of close team members. You do not have to be fake, standoffish or perky all the time though. You can still be real and genuine and build strong relationships, just remember to keep some professional boundaries and set a good example at all times.
“The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.” —Jim Rohn
4. Leaders need to consistently be working & rebuilding their own personal direct sales business too. I used to say that I would never ask anything out of my team that I wasn’t also willing to do or doing in my own personal business. That was true for a while, but somewhere along the way I started counting more on what my team was doing for my income than on what I was doing in my own personal business. As a leader, a significant part of your time is spent working with, training and helping your team so yes you do deserve that team bonus as compensation for your time and investment, but you cannot let your personal party plan business suffer. You have to learn to balance it and continue to build your own personal business too. Not only does this set a strong example for your team, it ensures that your income does not suffer when the rest of your team has a bad month.
“Become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily; even if you had no title or position.” —Brian Tracy
5. Failing or missing goals doesn’t make you a failure – quitting is what makes you a failure. Not hitting team goals, not earning company promotions or not being in the top of your company’s recognition does not make you a failure. Choosing to stop trying, comparing yourself to others and getting caught up in achievements instead of focusing on helping others is what will make you a failure. I rose to the top in recognition and numbers very quickly in my first few years in the business. I had never been successful in anything else I had done in my life and it was awesome. For several reasons my team started missing goals and I started taking it personally. I missed out on earning my 2nd free trip to Hawaii not once but twice in the final month of the program. I went from being in the top 20 in the US/Canada to barely hanging onto my Director title. I lost a significant amount of the confidence and self- worth I had worked so hard to gain. I began to feel like (and believe) that I was a failure and none of my past successes even mattered. I stopped going to & even holding monthly meetings because I was embarrassed about my “failures” after having been so successful. All of this did not happen in one month, it was over the course of 2 years of constant setbacks and missed goals. I never, ever berated my team or said anything in public about it, but I know my attitude, actions and choices could be seen and felt by all. I went from being a super positive person to depressed, discouraged and just struggling to hang on to my business and meet the minimums. After all my hard work, all those years, I failed. I failed as a leader because I lost sight of what true success & achievement is really about and the real reason I started my business to begin with: helping others succeed.
Lesson #5 has by far been the hardest and most difficult lesson for me to learn. I am still working to rebuild my team, regain their respect, rebuild my own self-confidence and re-establish myself as a leader in my business. I know that if I keep my focus on helping others and being a servant leader that I can once again be an effective, legacy leaving leader. These were hard lessons to learn and I have been very humbled by them.
“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.” —Douglas MacArthur
What about you? What important lessons have you learned as a leader or from other leaders? Can you relate to any of the lessons I have learned? I would love for you to leave a comment and share this post! Thank you!