Archives for posts with tag: leadership

ImageMy Journey with Norwex

2010 was a year charged with change.  My husband had accepted a job working for a school district in Wisconsin and we would be closing the computer business we had owned and operated for the previous 10 years.  This would require a five month transition process of our family living between two households in two states.  While I remained in Minnesota to close our business, my husband would start his new job and rehabilitate our new home in Wisconsin.

I had begun applying for jobs in Wisconsin starting in the fall of 2009.  The recession was in full swing and jobs were scarce.  I was fortunate to land an interview with each company for which I had applied, but could not secure a position.  As our transition time approached I began to feel uncertain about how I was going to financially contribute to this enormous journey our family was about to embark.  This is when I was introduced to a direct sales company that was relatively new to the United States, Norwex.

This was not my first encounter with network marketing.  Shortly after graduating from college, I had worked as an Avon sales representative.  I enjoyed meeting new people and making connections, as well as the freedom that came with being self-employed.  However I didn’t have the same passion for cosmetic sales as I had for my field in the performing arts, and there was no sense of purpose linked with the products I was sharing with my friends and family.  It did not take long for me to move on to where my passion resided – on the stage.  I did not see myself working in network marketing again.

            Perhaps the timing and circumstances were right, but when I was introduced to Norwex at a home party it seemed the perfect fit.  The Norwex mission is to improve the quality of life by radically reducing the use of chemicals in personal care and cleaning (Norwex, 2012, p. 8).  The company’s mission statement resonated with the 2010 Franciscan Living Challenge to clean green, which I had been called to focus on as an affiliate of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.  I was also impressed to learn the company’s core values were integrity, trust, and respect.  With an ideology to “strive to improve quality of life rather than standard of living” (Norwex, 2012, p.5) this multi-level marketing (MLM) company was obviously working from a different paradigm than any other direct sales company I had encountered.

For the last two and a half years I have been a part of the Norwex team as an independent sales consultant and during that time I have shared the Norwex mission with hundreds of people.  I have gathered other like minded people to my sales team, advancing to the team coordinator level, and am poised to advance to the sales leader level should I be able to support my team in achieving consistent sales.  Additionally, as I had hoped, I was able to financially contribute to my family’s move to Wisconsin.

One of the Norwex sales mottos is “Part-time, Full-time, Big-time!” (2012, website).  It was never my goal to go “big-time” with Norwex.  I simply wanted to use it as a career bridge from Minnesota to whatever was in store for me in Wisconsin.  At times it was a full-time endeavor, and as of late it has become very part-time as I work toward my graduate degree.  I had been intending to “phase out” my Norwex business as I move on to the new opportunities lying ahead of me after graduate school; however I am finding it difficult to do so because of the amazing connections I am making in my studies between servant leadership, ethical organizations, and network marketing.  This is particularly so with Norwex because of the unique purpose they have claimed for their company and its consultants.

I believe the next opportunity lying ahead of me is as a business consultant to network marketing companies in building the foundations of ethical leadership within their organizations by emerging servant leaders on multiple levels through structured training and mentor/coaching.  Following is an outline of how this training process would look.  My intent is to provide a basic overview, not a detailed outline, of how I would implement such a program.  I will use specific references to how this training could be applied to my Norwex team for illustrative purposes.

 

Building the Foundations of Ethical Leadership within a Networking Marketing Organization

            C.S. Lewis writes, “every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before.  And taking your life as a whole, with all you innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature … Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other” (as cited in Hunter, 2004, p. 125).

In order to build the foundations of ethical leadership within an organization you must support as many people as possible in turning into “heavenly creatures”.  In terms of servant leadership, this is necessary on multiple levels – not just among ranking leadership – in order to create an ethics-based culture.  Because “the servant-leader is servant first” (Greenleaf, 2008, p. 15) and everyone has the ability to serve, all members within an organization have the capacity to lead.  In order to develop a strong servant led culture within a business, every person needs to accept their responsibility to support one another in achievement and ethical decision making.  The first goal of a quality leadership training program should be to provide each team member with basic servant leadership and ethical decision making concepts.

According to Jim Hunter (2004, p. 174) in his three-step leadership improvement process, the first training session should focus on identifying the standard and setting the bar for quality leadership, as well as provide a general orientation to the training program in its entirety.  In order to provide a good foundation for ongoing training, I would cover an overview of leadership styles, an introduction to servant leadership, the basics of virtue ethics and the Four Way Method to Ethical Decision Making, and a synopsis of the ongoing improvement process.

Everyone has a different idea of what it means to be a leader and, more importantly, what it takes to be an effective leader.  A quick survey of the Internet brought up at least seven commonly identified leadership styles, and an Amazon.com search of “leadership books” brought up a staggering 89,079 results!  I would begin the session with personal introductions and welcoming exercises followed by an exploration into the training group’s current understanding of leadership.  This will enable us to gather a diverse understanding of leadership and focus it towards what I identify as the way to authentic leadership – servant leadership.

Prior to this first training session, I would have the group read Robert K. Greenleaf’s essay, The Servant as Leader.  At this training session, I would introduce the basics of servant leadership as outlined in the essay, and apply Greenleaf’s servant leader test to discover the servant leaders in our lives.  This discussion will lead to the understanding that everyone has the potential to be a leader in their own circles of influence, regardless of their current role or position, including within a network marketing company.  With leadership comes responsibility and if everyone is a leader in their own right, then we are all bound to ethical behavior in an ethics-centered organization.

There was a time when business and ethics were thought to be mutually exclusive.  In recent years, scandals involving Enron and the banking industry have proven the need for business to be inclusive of ethical thinking in decision making.  This would be the focus of the next part of the first training session.  We would take the MLM’s existing mission and vision statements, core values, ideology, and goals and discuss them in terms of the virtues they support.  For instance, the Norwex (2012, p. 6-7) core values are integrity, trust, and respect.  Hunter (2004, p. 90-109) identifies these virtues as essential traits to effective leadership. I would lead a discussion defining these virtues and how they can be lived out in our Norwex businesses.  I would also introduce Dr. Richard Kyte’s (2012) Four-Way Method to Ethical Decision Making and give the group an opportunity to apply it to a real life ethical dilemma or one from the business fiction anthology, Minding the Store (Coles & LaFarge, Eds., 2008).  These practical exercises will help lift away the awe and mystique surrounding ethics and present ethical thinking in a tangible manner.

The final part of the first training session would be preparation for the ongoing leadership improvement process.  I would wrap up by introducing the concepts of authenticity, purpose, and community, and how these are expressed through our work in the network marketing organization.  I would also emphasize the necessity for continuous honing of leadership skills through feedback in a group setting and friction with a mentor/coach to provide for accountability.  This is the process of the emerging servant leader.

 

Emerging Multi-Level Servant Leaders

Once the foundations of ethical leadership are built on the hearts and in the minds of a network marketing team, we can begin the work of emerging servant leaders throughout the organization, at whatever leadership level a consultant is positioned.  Hunter (2004) recommends the second step in the leadership improvement process “require participants to clearly understand their personal deviations from the high standard of servant leadership and their current leadership skills.  Simply put, we must identify the gaps between the set standard and current performance” (p. 174).   The second leadership training session for MLM teams would focus on discovering authentic self, defining purpose, and working within the context of abundant community.

We would begin with an exploration into authentic self, who we truly are as opposed to who we think we are or how others identify us.  The discovery of true self is an ongoing, never-ending process that will not be accomplished during a single training session.  The objective here would be to introduce the notion of authenticity through an exploration of strengths.  Through a variety of reflection exercises we would compare our perceived talents to the strengths others see in us, enabling us to identify the gifts we possess for further development. 

Once our strengths have been identified we can begin to explore how they can be best utilized within the context of the organization through discussion and assessment tools. Using myself to illustrate the objective, my top five strengths according StrengthsFinder 2.0 are connectedness, input, ideation, responsibility, and adaptability.  When I use my strengths together I am at my best, fulfilling my purpose.  Specifically, it is when I help others connect their talents, actions, and mission to enhance achievement.  I do this by researching information and sharing it with others, and I communicate this information best through presentations and written work.  In the context of my direct sales organization, this means that I may not be the best sales consultant or a great recruiter, but I do have the ability to motivate and train others to reach their full potentials as sales consultants and team leaders within my organization.  This is how I would best contribute my talents to the common good of the organization.

The final part of this second training session would focus on abundant community.  An abundant community is characterized by people of like-mind coming together to share their gifts and offer hospitality (McKnight & Block, 2012, p. 119).  This definition could also be used to describe a healthy network marketing organization such as Norwex.  When looking at the Norwex (2012) ideology, I can see people are attracted to the company because they share an “ecological approach that considers all living species and nature are interdependent” (p. 4), those who believe “we must find a way to provide for the needs of the present, without sacrificing future generations” (p.4), and those who care about the health implications of using chemical cleaners in the home (p. 5).  In terms of hospitality, it is a hallmark of the network marketing sales experience.  The bulk of sales are done through home parties where a hostess invites the consultant and her guests to come together around refreshments.  I would use this training time to explore the unique qualities of the MLM community and how each individual resonates with the association, as well as the important place hospitality holds in a servant led culture.  Abundant community is about people fulfilling their purposes together in order to affect positive change in the world.  We would conclude the second training session with the group brainstorming ways our teams could become actively involved in the company mission.

The group training sessions do not end here.  Hunter recommends quarterly training on a variety of foundational and leadership mastery topics as a catalyst for the third step of the leadership improvement process.

 

The Importance of Leadership Coaching on the Direct Sales Team

The final step in Hunter’s leadership improvement process centers on accountability.  He writes:

In order to create friction – a healthy tension, if you prefer – it is important for people to become convinced that the top leadership if fully committed to the process and is expecting to see continuous improvement in the form of growth and behavior change (Hunter, 2012, p. 176)

Hunter goes on to detail a friction process that includes meetings with continuous improvement panels, sharing SMART goals with peers and subordinates, and monthly small group meetings.  While this methodology works well in the context of a traditional business structure, it is not practical for the unique business structure of an MLM.  Each consultant is an independent contractor working out of their own home.  Sales teams may get together on a monthly basis and leaders may make support calls to their downline consultants, but there is no formal accountability structure built into the direct sales business.

            This is where I envision leadership coaching and mentorship playing a vital role in providing the accountability needed to catalyze growth.  It is important for each individual sales consultant and team leader to have a relationship with a mentor/coach with whom they can discuss their gaps and goals for self-improvement.  Hunter (2012, p. 178) recommends an ongoing training session occur immediately prior to accountability sessions for this reason.  Besides being a companion along the journey, a mentor/coach can be a general business resource as well as a challenger to put into practice the concepts being learned through training.

In terms of the leadership improvement training program I would like to develop, I would offer individual coaching sessions in person or over the phone in conjunction with the regular program as a way to support leadership development and growth within the sales team.

 

Conclusion

Where do I go from here?  I have a growing Norwex sales team of my own along with the beginnings of a solid leadership training program, and many connections within the direct sales industry.  My first goal is to develop the foundational training session this fall.  I plan to pilot the program with my Norwex team and another local team in an effort to work out the kinks.  If the pilot program is well received it is my hope the Norwex head office will hire me to offer webinar training sessions so the entire organization can have access to this valuable tool.  Once the program is solid I also hope to offer it to other network marketing companies through webinars, regional meetings, and conferences.

This is my contribution to Norwex and the direct sales industry.  The time is right to shift training focus from the microcosm of booking parties and recruiting to macrocosmic thinking which leads to widespread success.  I have already begun to feel the ripples of servant and ethical leadership positively affect all areas of my life since beginning my studies three months ago.  I want to share the abundance with all my communities, including Norwex.

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It is easy to move through life, living moment to moment, appointment to appointment, deadline to deadline, and never stepping back to look at where you have been and where you are going.  Life becomes a meaningless blur of unrelated events.  Compiling the information for this portfolio has afforded me the opportunity to stop and reflect upon a previous chapter of my life with perspective.  My year as a Minnesota Housing Partnership Americorps VISTA working at West Central Minnesota Communities Action as program coordinator for the Land of Lakes Group Workcamp was a defining moment in my life.  All my random life experiences up to that point in 2004 converged in that position, and the work and training I received that year shaped who I am and what I would accomplish later.

I have always had varied interests; more so than most people it seems.  My undergraduate training and early career was mainly in theatre, however I was one of those odd ducks that worked onstage, backstage, and in the box office.  Onstage I was considered a “triple threat” – someone who could sing, act, and dance – I was comfortable being in front of large groups of people.  Unlike many performers, I was also very organized, and utilized this skill as a stage director.  I could see the big picture and was able to communicate and motivate others in creating that vision.  I also had good business sense, something quite uncommon among the theatre crowd, and this led me to become involved in the administrative aspects of theatre – such as fundraising, volunteer recruitment, contracting, and event coordination.

Regardless of what area of the theatre I was working in at the time, it always involved building community.  It takes a multitude of people to come together and put on a show.  Good old friends and strangers somehow manage to gather together around a common cause and create.  During the month or so a show is in production intense relationships are developed.  You have to trust everyone is going to do their part to make the production a success.  My role consistently involved connecting people together, helping them communicate, and getting the resources needed to get the job done.

That was exactly what I was asked to do by Americorps.  The cause was not entertainment, the goal was not to put on a quality production without killing each other, and the venue was not a theatre space, but the building of community around something was all the same.  I had all the tools and experience necessary to help build a community of people around rehabilitating housing for modest-income, elderly, and disabled people in a five country region.  Even though I had never worked in social services, housing, or with local governments, God had prepared me for the work I was called to do.

I fully believe my involvement in the Land of Lakes Group Workcamp and time as an Americorps VISTA was part of God’s purpose for my life.  Besides all of the community building skills I had developed in the theatre world, God had provided me with other necessary “tools” for my “toolbox” in accomplishing this project.  At the time my husband and I owned an established computer business in the region.  Through that business people knew who I was and already had a level of trust in me – something critical in accomplishing any task in a close knit, rural community.  Had an “outsider” been placed in the position, they would have met with obstacles with which I did not have to contend.  I also was very active in the local faith community, especially in youth ministry and education. Once again, people from this community knew who I was and had a sense of trust in me.  I understood, and was comfortable with, what was important to people of faith and why they would want to be involved in this project.  I knew the “language of faith” and could communicate to this community in a way that someone who is not active in church life would find difficult and uncomfortable.  I was also familiar with local politics.  I had run for city council several years previously and was a frequent attendee of Elbow Lake city council meetings.  I had become involved in local politics out of boredom, but this experience helped me to be comfortable with the language and procedure of politics.  This was another helpful tool for me when coming to local governments for financial and legal support of the work we were doing in their communities.  None of this past experience was at all related, at the time it seemed just random life to me, but it coalesced in this particular work I found myself doing.  The only explanation I have is it was the hand of God at work in my life, shaping me as the potter does the clay into a tool to build His kingdom.

In much the same way that all this past experience formed me for the community building I did with the Land of Lakes Group Workcamp, I can hear echoes of the training I received through Americorps and Community Action in my life after 2005.  Four years later I helped our neighborhood form a community association in response to city infrastructure plans and policies we felt would be detrimental to our neighborhood.  Each project I did with the Westside Association, from organizing the neighborhood meetings, to putting together door campaigns to notifying the community of what was going on, to working with the city government to come to a just solution, I learned through the community organizing training I had received as an Americorps VISTA.  Even something as simple as purchasing our produce through a CSA (community supported agriculture), our staples through a community purchasing group (Fare for All; Angel Food Ministries), and our meat from local farmers, those decisions and relationships grew out of my broadening experience of working for the common good through the context of community cooperation.  God continues to shape me and I continue to try to respond to how He calls me to service.

It has been almost three years since I moved away from West Central Minnesota, where I was first initiated into community-mindedness, and returned to my hometown of La Crosse, Wisconsin.  I have been waiting, often impatiently, to discover the next chapter of my life, to understand God’s purposes for me in this community.  But much like I could not see the road unfolding ahead of me from theatre to Americorps to Westside Association, I cannot see past the horizon here in La Crosse.  I simply must trust that God is forming me right now for the next part of His plan, and be open and ready to respond when He calls my name.

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I had the awesome privilege of working with a true servant leader several years ago during my year of service as an Americorps VISTA.  Steve Nagle is the executive director of West Central Minnesota Communities Action where I coordinated the Land of Lakes Group Workcamp.  At the time, I was not fully aware of what a “servant leader” was; however, hindsight has revealed I was being mentored by an amazing leader who had a profound impact on who I am and how I work within the context of community.  Recently, Steve and I had the opportunity to discuss his role as a leader within the Community Action Partnership.

Steve began his career as an educator, however, he only taught briefly before he began working with the Community Youth Corps, a program for disadvantaged teens.  It was here that he discovered his passion for human services and after working as a community action case manager for several years began his graduate studies in public and human service administration at Moorhead State University.  There he said he learned three things that formed his leadership style today: 1) he learned how to use a computer, 2) he became more sensitive to harassment and discrimination issues, especially those directed towards women, and 3) he became aware of people’s “busy talk”, how annoying it is to listen to, and how he makes an effort to not feed into that mindset.

Admittedly, I was expecting to hear about profound leadership concepts that were conveyed to Steve at Moorhead State.  I was expecting to hear amazing theories that led to the development of an amazing leader.  However, now that I’ve had a chance to think about it more, my expectations were a result of my employment in an academic environment.  Steve is not that type of guy.  He’s your average Joe with a heart of gold that cares deeply for helping people lift themselves out of poverty.  That is what makes Steve a great leader.  He was born to organize individuals into teams and lead teams to organize communities in making change for the common good.  These skills cannot be learned in graduate school, only fostered and nurtured.

Even though you may have a natural gift for organizing people you can still have doubts or concerns about certain projects along the way.  I asked Steve to tell me about a project with a high risk of failure that he trusted would succeed.  It was the Group Work/Cares Camp program that WCMCA has been offering in their five-county region for the past 10 years, a housing program that I had the privilege of coordinating as an Americorps VISTA during its second year.  The program brings together over 450 youth volunteers from across the United States to West Central Minnesota.  They work alongside approximately 100 local adult volunteers to rehabilitate housing for elderly, disabled, and low-income individuals.  Steve was initially nervous about the program because he foresaw all these young people descending upon our communities and going bonkers.  It also seemed like a potential logistical disaster with the needed coordination of people, equipment, funds, and governmental cooperation over such a wide geographical distance.  The project would have an enormous positive impact on our communities if it was successful, so it was worth the risk.  Steve decided to trust his gut intuition that all would be well instead of listening to the fears his mind generated.  Everyone rallied together to make the project a huge success and it continues to be one of WCMCA’s largest volunteer driven programs.

While effective leaders experience the freedom of spirit that happens when things go beautifully right, they also experience those instances of feeling stifled in their leadership.  Steve related a situation that has been a tripping point for him for the last two years.  He asked the local director of a federal program hosted by WCMCA to research practices of a successful volunteer tax preparation program in another part of Minnesota.  Steve thought this would be a good fit with the local director’s duties as the majority of volunteers in the tax prep program are also participants in the federal program.  When the state office became aware that their local director had been asked to manage the tax prep program for WCMCA, Steve was told this was not permissible and found himself in a bit of hot water.  This has caused him two years of distraction – having to travel several times to the Twin Cities to answer to the program office, dealing with a mound of paperwork, and facing the possibility of having this valuable program taken away from their agency.  Steve did not feel his request was asking anything inappropriate of the director or the program, and is unsure why this particular instance became a stumbling point.  Shortly after the issue was raised the local director retired, leaving Steve with lots of questions.  It has caused him stress over the last two years, and has distracted him from supporting his agency team as fully as he would like.

Steve appreciated the support of WCMCA’s board of directors during the difficult process of the last two years, and their commitment to him and the agency over the last 13 years.  The board is comprised of one-third elected officials, one-third private sector representatives, and one-third low-income individuals elected by the people the agency serves.  This board make-up is set at the national level, and was proposed by President Lyndon B. Johnson during the War on Poverty.  Community Action is “dedicated to helping people help themselves and each other” (CAP, 2008), and involving the people they serve in leadership opportunities is an important aspect of the agency’s mission.  Board member selection is based upon what resources a member can provide to further the progress of WCMCA.  Steve attributes a good portion of the agency’s success to having a consistently dedicated board.

WCMCA has developed a dedicated board by making them feel appreciated.  Simple acts like having a light supper prior to board meetings, providing a kitchenette in the break room and monthly potlucks organized by each department help to create an environment in which people feel appreciated.  Outside the break/board room is a patio complete with a grill and picnic table that is well used in the summertime by the staff.  I can remember several instances of impromptu cookouts when Steve would show up with a package of sausage and buns, drawing people outside for a moment to chat and have a “snack”.  I asked Steve where WCMCA’s “food culture” came from.  He said he thought it came with him – food is important to him, it brings people together and most people enjoy it – and it just seems to work in rallying people together.

When I contacted Steve Nagle for this conversation he said he didn’t have a clue what servant leadership was about.  Even though Steve may not know the ins and outs of the theory and practice, he is a true servant leader to his core.  There are many points made by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader from Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power & Greatness (2002) that I see Steve understanding at a gut level.

But the leader needs more than inspiration.  He ventures to say, ‘I will go; come with me!’  He initiates, provides the ideas and the structure, and takes the risk of failure along with the chance of success.  He says, ‘I will go, follow me!’ when he knows that the path is uncertain, even dangerous.  And he trusts those who go with him. (p. 28)  This was my experience of Steve’s leadership style when I worked at WCMCA.  If he knew people needed help, and there was a program to help them, he would rally up support around the agency to join the cause.

Many attempts to communicate are nullified by saying too much. (p. 32)  Actually, this is one thing Steve said he did learn at graduate school.  This quote kept coming back to me as he was talking about the situation where he was feeling stifled in his leadership.  In his efforts to try to justify and explain himself to the state office things became messier.  Steve did not suggest that withholding information would have made the problem go away (lack of transparency) but perhaps just accepting the initial communication and moving on would have brought about a quicker resolution.

An institution starts on a course toward people-building with leadership that has a firmly established context of people first. (p. 54)  Steve’s number one priority is the people that WCMCA serves, not his position or anyone else’s at the agency.  Steve had started our conversation talking about having a difficult day because he needed to lay off a number of people at the agency.  He was distressed because not only did he not want to have to say goodbye to these employees, but it also meant they would not be able to serve as many people because of the staff reduction.  I recall the numerous times I had the chance to hear Steve speak to government officials about the work WCMCA was doing in their communities.  His stories were always about client successes and never a pat on the back for the agency.

The great leader is seen as servant first. (p. 21)  Of all the things that I learned from Steve, this is the most important aspect of being a great leader.  A lot of good work is accomplished by WCMCA not because Steve has his hand in all the projects, but because he trusts everyone on his team to get the job done well.  Steve is there to offer support.  He is there to offer advice or to lend a helping hand if needed.  He may recommend someone else’s assistance if he thinks they have something to contribute.  Otherwise Steve steps back and allows the project coordinators to shine.  He trusts the team he has assembled will be successful in their work.

I owe a deep debt of gratitude to Steve Nagle for mentoring me in leadership.  He modeled a people-centered style of leadership that I have adopted in turn.  Steve showed me how you can simultaneously have fun, get the job done, and build relationships that will serve you for future projects.  I learned the most work is accomplished when the leader is present to support the team in getting their jobs done, and trusting that they will do just that.  What I appreciate most is Steve never judged my abilities because I was a client of WCMCA before working there, in fact he saw my experience as a program client an asset in serving others through the program I coordinated.  My life is richer for knowing Steve Nagle and I hope to share that richness with everyone I serve as a leader.

References

Community Action Partnership. (2008). Community action partnership: The national

association, washington d.c.. Retrieved from http://www.communityactionpartnership.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=12&Itemid=41

Greenleaf, R. K. (2002). Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power &

 greatness. (25th. anniversary ed., pp. 21-61). New York/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

Risnes Media, C. (2011). Community action partnership: West central minnesota communities

 action, inc.. Retrieved from http://www.wcmca.org/

Son of citation machine. (2010). Retrieved from citationmachine.net

 

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