Donna Johnson Donna Johnson

Marilyn Stewart with daughter Sarah Stewart Marilyn Stewart with daughter Sarah Stewart Carolyn Wightman Carolyn Wightman

Donna Johnson, Carolyn Wightman, Marilyn Stewart and her daughter Sarah Stewart all share three things in common. They are all women; they are all widely respected networking leaders; and they are all passionate about what they do. One thing that struck me, as I listened to their stories, was what a strong sense they each seemed to have, even from an early age, of who they were and where they were going in the world. Did they start out that way, I wondered, or was it a quality that developed over time and circumstance, with the patient nurturing and guidance of a mentor? The answer, I suspect, is “a little bit of both.” No, strike that: a lot of both. — J.D.M.

“Would you like to start by introducing yourselves and saying a bit about how you got involved in the networking business?”
Donna: I’ve been in the business for thirty-two years. I was a former swimming coach. What drew me to this business was that it was a fun and flexible situation, very entrepreneurial. I don’t do clocks and bosses very well.

Carolyn: I’ve been with the same company my whole career, starting in 1970. Before that I was involved with the Peace Corps, I lived in the South Pacific and learned to speak the Polynesian language of the Kingdom of Tonga. Then I worked in Washington, D.C., first as an intern and then on Capitol Hill and in various businesses there.

I was attracted to my company’s environmentally sensitive products and philosophy because I had lived in a beautiful environment in the South Pacific, and I ended up back in southern California, where we couldn’t breathe or drink the water. The business side of it interested me, too. I don’t mind working; I love to be focused. But I would rather be accountable for what I produce, and not have to show up when someone else tells me to.

Marilyn: I’ve always found myself being a pioneer, stepping out and breaking new ground. I was trained as a teacher, and within my first week of teaching, I was told by the school board that I’d better keep my mouth shut and follow. The school system was not a place where I could be a visionary or plant seeds.

About eight years ago I decided to do network marketing full-time. Two of my three daughters were in post-secondary education, and I had just stepped out of a twenty-five-year marriage. I was doing five different things that were bringing in income, but none was really secure. I looked at my life and thought, “Oh my gosh, what’s going to happen here?”

As Donna and Carolyn both said, I love this business because it gives me options. It’s my platform to play and live my life as I choose. Wonderful, beautiful people and opportunities step into my life each and every day.

Sarah: I’ve been a dancer my whole life: I started training professionally at fourteen. I went to school half-time in seventh grade, and found it really difficult to be in that structured system. I always felt I had to create on my own time, in my own way. I never really saw myself in a job. I had so many dreams and so many desires to create my own life and my own future.

I got a degree in architectural interior design, but when I started developing my own design firm, I realized how difficult it was to get a traditional business off the ground. When my mom joined her current company, I fell in love with the concept and the vision, as well as with the people who were being attracted to this company.

I’m passionate about igniting my generation to step forward and see the possibilities of network marketing, to take charge of their health and finances and be leaders instead of followers.

When I saw the possibilities of networking, it really excited me. I saw a vision of what I could create for my future long-term, and I jumped into it. I’ve been in network marketing now for about four years, and my mentor has been my mom and many of the other leaders within our company. This has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

In building an organization, do you actively seek people like yourselves who know where they’re going and stand up to be counted, or do you simply work with who shows up? Are leaders born or raised?
Donna: I think a little bit of both. I think we are naturally drawn to people who are like us. At the same time, when someone expresses the desire to be successful and actually follows through and shows that they’re coachable, you can mentor them and help them step into leadership.

Marilyn: I believe every person has inner aspirations, but sometimes that flame gets turned down because of situations and experiences people encounter. What I love about this business is that you can touch people and bring that flame up again. There are people who have natural gifts, qualities and abilities that are dormant and just waiting to be tapped.

Carolyn: When I first started out, I wasn’t clear about what qualities I could actually look for in a leader. I just worked with those people who were around me, and would mold and mentor them.

But there are limits to how far you can go with that approach. Over time I’ve become clearer about the leadership skills and qualities it really takes to be successful in this business.

Sarah: It seems to me that we have become a society of followers, believing what we hear on television and doing what we’re told. I think born leaders, people who take charge and truly aspire to greatness in their lives, are a rare breed right now. And that encourages me to be more of a leader myself, and to teach and encourage that quality in others. I think there’s great potential for developing leadership in our business.

Donna: I agree. I’m finding that leadership is really important right now—not only in my business but also in my church, in my community, in the charities I work with—because of exactly what you said, Sarah. People are looking for someone else to fix things for them.

To me, leadership is like being the captain of your own ship. Are you standing at the helm, peering out through the glass, with your spine straight and your shoulders back, or are you huddled on the deck of the boat? People are watching you for your direction. Do you have hope and vision, or do you have fear?

Marilyn: I think we’re at a time in global history when we’re looking for people to stand taller and stronger to withstand some of the storms that have come along. When the storm comes, what do you—do you blame the storm? Or do you figure out how to weather it and pass through it? Leadership is about what you do when times get tough, not when it’s easy.

Carolyn, you spoke about the qualities you look for that it takes to make this business work. What are those qualities?
Carolyn: I look for someone who shares my commitment to excellence, along with a passion for health and wellbeing and the health of the planet. I also look for people who see possibilities, who have perhaps reached a point of being bored or frustrated in their current situation and are saying, “Maybe I could do better.”

And as Donna said, who are coachable and have that openness, so there’s a place to create a shared vision.

That’s interesting: when you talk about leadership, you talk about willingness and readiness, both in timing and temperament, to be molded and to learn.
Carolyn: That’s true: I’m looking first for the openness to be molded. And after that, we’ll look to see what qualities there are: if they can speak well, if they keep their agreements, if they’re organized, if they have a sense of personal integrity, if they have the ability to communicate.

Rather than saying, “I want someone who can speak and teach and train,” I would rather know that they’re open and then say, “Okay, let’s take a look at what your skills, gifts and interests are.”

How do you recognize when someone has that incipient leadership, even if it isn’t jumping out and the person isn’t standing up at the front of the room?
Donna: Consistency and authenticity. Sometimes people are shooting stars, and they flame out. But when someone is consistently learning and growing, through all the trials and setbacks, that’s a sign of leadership.

People today want to see you being authentic. They want to see that you’re real. Over time, who you are as a leader becomes exposed. That doesn’t mean leaders don’t make mistakes, because nobody’s perfect. In fact, people are looking to see how you respond to failure, whether it’s in business, finance, your relationships, your health or whatever. They need to see how you cope with that, because it sets an example for your team.

Marilyn: In this business there is also is a tremendous openness and willingness to develop ourselves as people. Twenty years ago the whole idea of personal development was a new concept, but today people are more willing to look at the qualities and skills we can develop in ourselves.

In this business it often seems that leadership is about promoting and putting others forward, rather than ourselves.
Marilyn: Absolutely. The real joy in this business is the success you see in others as that growth and development happens.

As a leader leading leaders, how do you help people step into their leadership? What are the challenges they face?
Marilyn: As people start to reach success, a form of self-sabotage often enters the picture, and I’ll have them look at old patterns and behaviors they may be stepping into. Sometimes it’s a question of their self-worth, a sense that they don’t really feel worthy of this new success. Sometimes it’s a trust issue, and they need to learn to believe in themselves.

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t meet some of these challenges. This business allows each of us to meet those dragons along the way, to conquer them and step into our success.

Sarah: I think Carolyn hit it spot-on, about being open and committed to the journey of where you are going, so you’re always moving forward through the hills and valleys without any back doors.

So many people have those back doors—the excuses for why they can’t succeed. But we all have good days and bad days. For leaders, your actions never change, because they match your commitments and your desires, and your vision is larger than the little incidentals that come up day-to-day. You’re accountable.

A big thing for me was learning how to move out of my safety zone. When challenges arise, do you always fall back in there, or do you step up and face the discomfort?

When you examine real leaders, it’s not about the claims, credentials or titles they put forward, it’s about the influence they have with the people who are following them. We describe it as being surround sound: you’re not necessarily heard, but you’re felt. People remember maybe 10 percent of what you say, but they remember 100 percent of that heart connection you have with them.

Carolyn: There are so many emotions we deal with as we grow our leadership. We have to learn to handle success and pride, and leave our egos at the door.

The word servant comes to mind, because leadership is really about serving others. People want to pole-vault over the whole process and jump right to the top. But it doesn’t work that way. It’s doing the same thing over and over. You’ve got to fall in love with the monotony this business sometimes requires of you. No matter what company you’re with, you have to practice and master the basics of the business, and some people just don’t want to do that.

Another crucial word I thought of is edification: part of leadership is to recognize and congratulate your team and put a spotlight on what’s working. But sometimes people don’t realize they also need to edify upline and sideline.

People step into this trap where they want so badly to be a leader that they disparage the people around them in order to elevate themselves. What they’re really doing is sabotaging themselves—because people will follow what you do.

If you’re disparaging, that’s what they’ll do, too. And if you always find something to edify, no matter what is happening around you, then that’s what you’re going to duplicate. Always think about your team—because they’re watching you.

Sarah: That’s so true. We all lead by example, and we are all led by example. When people inspire you, it may not be because of their exact skills or techniques, but because of who they are.

Marilyn: Your way of being says it all. I can’t think of a better way to be a leader than to be of service, whether it’s within our business, or reaching out to the community, or within our families. It all spills over into the business.

You’ve all touched on the need for leadership in the world at large. What does our model of leadership have most to offer the world?
Carolyn: The power of example.

Sometimes people see the recognition leaders get, and they want that so badly—but they focus on getting the recognition and miss seeing what it takes to get there.

So recognition is not something you get, it’s something you give.
Donna: My oldest son is such an inspiration to me: he’s on a mission right now, teaching permaculture in India. My children all grew up seeing their mom working from home and interacting with people. They had no concept of graduating from college and then going to work for someone else—they had a vision of doing something they were passionate about.

I think that’s what we’re doing with this business: we’re setting an example, modeling business ownership in a way that’s similar to the way our country started.

Sarah: I think we’re all looking to make a difference in one way or another, to be of service to the planet as a whole. And that is so achievable in network marketing.

Carolyn: I’m struck by something: would this conversation be any different if we were not all women?

What do you think, Josephine?
Josephine Gross: I’m tempted to say that yes, women have an ability to go to the core of the matter, and we feel an unspoken connection in our vision and mission for the profession. I think that search for wholeness and authenticity has a feminine nature.

But I would not say that this belongs to the female gender. Culturally, perhaps it has been that way, because women have had the role of nurturing and healing, but I believe there are men who really integrate these qualities as well. We may not see them much on the front pages of our newspapers. But let’s hope that we have some new leaders of the male gender coming up and stepping forward who exemplify those qualities, too.

It seems to me there was a time when a more male-oriented, center-dominant leadership model held more sway in networking. But the business has shifted in the past fifteen years. If we’d had this conversation with the male leaders I know, I think it would have been almost the same conversation.
Donna: You know what, John? I agree! In the early days, a lot of the events we attended felt very male-dominated, and even some of the women who were featured seemed to have that more assertive, male quality.

Marilyn: I do believe times are different. We are all looking for the leadership qualities of being authentic and trustworthy, of being conscious and accountable for our actions and behaviors.

Not to stretch it too far, but the economic debacle that’s happened here boils down to economic inauthenticity. That’s what sub-prime mortgages are: faking it. And it’s been the same theme at the root of all the financial scandals of the decade, from Enron to Bernie Madoff. We’re discovering that authenticity matters.
Carolyn: Maybe a way to truly make this conversation relevant is to say that the basic qualities that have been revered, like strength and assertiveness, or being unwavering and organized, those qualities that may have come more from the male side are still necessary and fundamental to everything that we do as leaders.

But in true, effective leadership there is a balance of those qualities with that authenticity, integrity and inspiration. Those are not the hard, tough words we normally think of when talking about hard-driving leadership. Yet they are the qualities we’re looking for.

And as you said, Donna, along with that strength of commitment, of standing firm at the helm when the storms come up—which strikes me as neither male nor female, but purely a matter of character.
Carolyn: There’s no gender to that one. That’s just leadership, plain and simple.