In the world of network marketing, we place great value on the path of leadership. What exactly does that look like?

Is it climbing to the top of the compensation plan, emerging on the national company stage as a public speaker and trainer? Yes... and no.
Networks are about opportunity for success, opportunity for accomplishment and achievement, yes... but at their core, networks are about the opportunity to discover and catalyze a shared humanity. Networks are about caring, about raising up the underdog, about sharing resources to benefit the growth of all.

Such levels of achievement certainly demand exceptional commitment, action and perseverance. They command respect and deserve their applause.

Yet ultimately, they are to true leadership what seasoning is to a well-made meal.

The real stuff of leadership is a flavor that permeates to the core of human experience. It is the essential nutrient that binds together the fabric of community. That flavor of leadership, often called "servant leadership," is occasionally singled out and recognized. Far more often, it is the unheralded, everyday walk and talk of those greatest of heroes: the unsung.

Every community has its unsung heroes. In the wake of tragedy they emerge in numbers too vast to count or know. Months have passed since the catastrophic events of September 11, yet the echoes, implications and ramifications still sink in.

In the days and weeks that followed, every network and community nationwide lit up the phone lines and the Internet, friends calling friends to see if we were okay, to share words of encouragement and solidarity. We watched as local communities of rescue workers and individuals stepped into service and became heroes of the day. On many levels and in many ways, the echo of horror became a clarion call that brought out the best in us.

That "best"--that is the flavor of leadership.

You probably have heard the story of the starfish thrower. (It's a favorite in networking circles.)

A child stands on a beach strewn with starfish, throwing them back into the sea, one at a time. He is asked by a passerby, "Why are you doing this? Can't you see how many thousands of star fish there are? Can't you see how few you will be able to help? Can't you see the insignificance of what you are trying to do?"

And the boy replies, "To the one I just threw back, it has made all the difference."

This story always makes me think of my friend George Leger

George was moved beyond measure one day by a newspaper article he read about a murdered homeless child in Guatemala City. Driven to know what homeless children actually face on a day-to-day basis in a third world country, where the luxury of human service networks do not exist, George eventually visited Guatemala City. Upon his return, he devoted himself to the cause of helping the children he'd seen.

The effort George began a decade ago has grown today, through a network of friends, family and caring individuals, into a project called Only a Child that serves hundreds of homeless children. Among its many benefactors is Marta Kollman, president of a nutritional network marketing company with a strong commitment to helping the children of the world. Hearing of George's story, Marta decided to commit the more formidable resources of a corporation to the cause; distributors by the score joined the effort as well. In the end, all manner of resources have been brought together through one person who was willing to do what he could to throw back starfish, one at a time.

The networks of our businesses are not homeless children in third world countries. The actions we pursue to build them and nurture them are more entrepreneurial than charitable. Yet there is a common essence, a thread of similar values evoked in the call to action. It is what lies deep within the urge to network. The story of George, Marta and Only a Child is a perfect example of the heart and soul of network marketing at its best; you will find such examples threading their way throughout our industry.

Networks are about opportunity for success, opportunity for accomplishment and achievement, yes... but at their core, networks are about the opportunity to discover and catalyze a shared humanity. Networks are about caring, about raising up the underdog, about sharing resources to benefit the growth of all.

In the wake of tragedy--whether singular events on a cataclysmic scale, such as September 11, or the endlessly repeating tragedy of everyday circumstance for those who live in the abject conditions of a Guatemala City--we reach down inside ourselves and discover a source of strength. Taking hold of the courage to grasp that strength and turn it into action pulls us all together in appreciation, not only of what we have, but also of who we are--and of who we can become.

The true heroes of our networks are the mom working the phone with a baby on her hip; the father of a family of five working a job 40 hours a week and networking an additional 15 hours on nights and weekends while still making time to coach Little League; the sponsors who stretch themselves further than they thought they could to devote themselves to teaching, training and supporting their downline. That is leadership in the truest sense of the word: that is leadership that people will gladly and gratefully follow.

In network marketing we have an opportunity--and it's much bigger than the financial reward.

Ana McClellan is a networker, coach, nutritional consultant and mom.
She lives and works from her home in Massachusetts.