By any measure, Dawn Billings is one of the most prolific women leaders of our time. She is founder of several business networking organizations dedicated to helping small business professionals showcase their products and services, including the Heart Link Women's Network, The Heart Alliance, and TROVA Business Network; she manages a range of active websites, including the TROVA Women Business Directory and TROVA Business Directory; and is author of more than twenty books, including Entitled to Fail, Endowed to Succeed and What Went Wrong with Our Relationship? It Started Out So Good. She is creator of the acclaimed patent-pending CAPABLES™ Parent Tool and Child Development System, a parenting system built around a plush toddler toy. With a Masters in clinical psychology and doctoral studies in organizational philosophy, Dawn is also creator of the Primary Colors Personality Test™, which she uses in her work in training and coaching top executives and organizations to focus on teamwork, communication skills, improving productivity, and retaining top talent. In 2008 Dawn was selected as one of the nation's eighty emerging women leaders by O, The Oprah Magazine and The White House Project, and one of fifteen Women of Achievement in Cobb County, Georgia. But her proudest accomplishment, as you'll read in what follows, is as personal as it is professional. — J.D.M.
How did you arrive at the amazing career you have?
I always wanted to find ways to help people live great, extraordinary lives. In school, I pursued a degree in psychology so I could help people who had lost their way or had been hurt and needed a way to find themselves again.
In doing individual therapy and group therapy, I realized that people would often go back into their family system and revert. What's more, while one person might be showing a particular behavior, typically I would find that the rest of the family was collaborating in the creation of that behavior.
I started working with entire family systems. We would have six to eight people in the room, all of whom hated each other and wanted to convince me that the other person was crazy ... it was quite challenging. I quickly realized how completely confused the communication was, and that led me to develop my own personality inventory.
Wasn't there already a good personality test commonly in use?
There were a number of them, such as Myers-Briggs, DISC, True Colors, and Florence Littauer's Personality Plus, but they were either very complicated or based on a four-quadrant model, which I believed didn't tease out some crucial information I was looking for.
For example, I needed to know the difference between a leader and a bully. You can say, "Okay, you're a D," or "You're a dominant personality"—but that doesn't tell me if that person is a leader or is controlling, dominating, and hurting his wife or family.
I also wanted a system that measured the person's level of emotional intelligence, because that is the intelligence from which you communicate. It doesn't matter how high your IQ is; your IQ and vocabulary do not impact your communication skills. It's a question of how emotionally mature you are.
So you developed your own test?
Yes, I developed an inventory called the Primary Colors Personality Test, which consists of six quadrants—red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple—that gave me the range and subtlety of information I was looking for.
I would give people the test, then give them each a pair of colored sunglasses and have them look at a white wall. The person looking through the orange glasses would see an orange wall; the person looking through green glasses would see a green wall.
I would ask, "What color is the wall?" and of course they would reply with the color of their glasses. Then I'd say, "If you believe that wall is orange, and you believe that wall is green, what do you each think about the other person's point of view? Either you think they're complete idiots, or you get in a fight with them because they're just being obnoxious."
It was an extraordinarily effective way to start a session, because often they would say, "Huh, maybe we're looking at the same situation, but just seeing it through different lenses."
Soon it would become almost a game. "Oh, my gosh, that's so you, Dad—you're so red!" Or, "Mom, oh my gosh, you are so yellow." It really helped people start understanding each other instead of judging each other.
Next thing I knew, my new inventory was being adopted by several organizations, notably PREP, an approach based on thirty years of research in relationship health, with much of that research conducted at the University of Denver and sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health. They loved my inventory and adopted it over all the other models. Today it's being given to anywhere from 80,000 to 100,000 couples a year and impacting families around the world.
Can you give us a sense of what that test is like?
Actually, your readers can go onto my web site DawnBillings.com and take if for free.
Take it yourself, and then have your spouse and children take it, too.
Here's another interesting thing to do with the test: have your wife or husband take it as if they were you, and do the same in reverse. How close are those results to what you say when you take it for yourselves? You'll both find out a great deal about how the other sees you.
When did the topic of entitlement come into the picture?
It really started out as something personal. In my work, I had become enamored with Maslow's "Water them and they will grow" idea. I applied this to my son, Tony from a very early age. I watered and watered him: praised him every day, never missed a game, told him he was perfect, magnificent, awesome, could do no wrong. By the time he was twelve he had become really obnoxious. I had waterlogged him!
I thought that by this age he would fall on his knees in a very reverent, prayerful manner, and say, "Thank you, Mother—I'm going into the Peace Corps to make a difference in the world." Instead, he was like, "Hey, I need eighty dollars to play paintball and I need it right now—and if you don't give it to me you're a piece of garbage."
I mean, this child was hideous.
Oops, indeed. I thought, "Oh, my gosh. I'm an intelligent person. I'm a good person. I'm a person who really cares—what have I done to my child?!"
This put me on a journey to understand what entitlement was, because I kept hearing myself saying, "Why is he so entitled? How did he get so entitled?"
The more I delved into this subject, the more I recognized how toxic entitlement is. Whether it is in a personal relationship, a family, an organization, or a country, everything it touches, it destroys. It is like a disease.
I'm not typically a black-and-white person. With my psychology background, I have always prided myself on being able to compromise and find the middle ground. But when it came to entitlement, there was not one way I could find that entitlement impacted anything positively. The more I studied it, the more I found it to be a completely destructive force.
How do you define "entitlement"?
Entitlement means the right to demand. When human beings think they have the right to demand something, this alters them in profound ways.
As I was doing research for one my first books, Entitled to Fail, Endowed to Succeed, a friend said, "Dawn, you can't come out against entitlement. I mean we live in the United States, where we all have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!"
I had never really paid much attention to the Declaration of Independence, but I couldn't imagine how the founding fathers could have built an entire society on something so toxic. So I went carefully through the Declaration of Independence and the entire Constitution—and I found that the word entitlement is not used once. Not one single time. And these men fought and labored over every single word of those documents.
What it says in the Declaration of Independence is, "We are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights."
What did that mean, endowed? I looked it up and found that endowment means gift or benefit.
What a difference: having the right to demand versus being given a gift. When someone gives you a gift, you say, "Oh my, thank you." It's a completely different feeling from saying, "Hey, it's my birthday—so where's my gift?"
I started looking at people in this light, and I soon realized that everyone I saw who was angry, frustrated, or miserable was acting from an entitled state of mind.
On the other hand, every time I interviewed someone who was happy or at peace, I discovered that they were living from an endowed state of mind, that is, they were people who saw everything as a gift.
These people are so inspiring. They're the people you'll follow to the ends of the earth, into battle, anywhere. They feel so good to be around. Whereas people who say, "I want it and I want it right now, because I deserve it!" tend to be hateful, judgmental, angry, and unhappy—and they make everyone around them unhappy, too.
The mindset that says, "What have you done for me lately?"
Exactly. I started to write voraciously on this topic, and before I knew it I'd become known as one of the top entitlement experts in the United States and was speaking all over the world about this topic.
What was your principal message about entitlement versus endowment?
That this entitlement mindset is the source of so much destructive behavior. For example, here in the United States, instead of saying, "We have an extraordinary country that offers us extraordinary opportunities, let's get together and find solutions," so many people argue about what they're entitled to. But none of us deserves any of these things. Everything we have is a gift, and we need to see it that way.
Appreciation is the source of all true joy. Think about the times you've been genuinely happy, and you'll find they were times you were deeply appreciative of something. Perhaps you had fallen in love, or you'd gotten a new promotion. You narrowly avoid accident and say, "Thank God!" People are deeply happy when they understand the value of appreciation.
This is something I love about multilevel and direct sales organizations: they tend to teach people to invest in their own greatness and excellence and to earn the income they generate, as opposed to simply expecting it because they "deserve" it.
Multilevel organizations typically pose challenging questions like, Are you willing to be extraordinary? Are you willing to learn how to do what you do in a different way?
What are you willing to do to make yourself extraordinary?
The thing I love about getting involved in a multilevel or direct sales organization is that nobody gives you anything. They encourage you and inspire you—but they expect you to stand up and get something done.
And what's wonderful is that you are paid on what you produce. There is a clear connection.
Going back to children for a moment, what insights did you get about your own situation with your son?
Well, the self-esteem movement has just destroyed our children. Our suicide rate is up 100 times over what it used to be. Kids are miserable. They have more than they have ever had before, yet they're failing and dropping out of school more and having lower success rates in so many areas of life. It's terrible.
Why is this happening? Because we're raising our kids to be entitled.
We don't teach them to be great; we teach them to manipulate the system. How can you do the least amount of work to get the most amount of benefit? No wonder these kids have grown up to become the people on Wall Street who have done so much harm.
We have this idea today of "creating a win-win." I always thought this was ridiculous, because you can create a win-win, where you and I both win—but the people down the street lose, because they get poisoned or end up broke.
I believe there are four wins you have to meet in order to know you're going in the right direction. You need to win; I need to win; the community or the world at large needs to win; and God needs to be able to look down, smile, and say, "Good job."
If you can meet those four criteria, then that's a great and extraordinary way to win. But we've gotten sidetracked into this win-win, you-scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours idea. So we've got Democrats and Republicans saying, "Okay, I'll give you this and then you give me that, and we'll both win"—and meanwhile the American people are losing!
We need to be an integrity-filled society that says, "No, we're not going to do something that's going to work for a year but poison the earth for 100 years. We're smart enough to find bigger answers. It may take a little more work and commitment, but we're good enough and strong enough to do that."
How do we get to a more endowed place from where we are?
This is something I'm really excited about, because I have an answer to that—and again, it comes from my personal experience.
My second son, Corbin, who is ten years younger than my first, was just two years old when I started doing all this research. And I made a commitment to raise him completely differently, because I had obviously goofed the first time around.
Instead of telling him, "You're precious and wonderful and magnificent, and all you have to do is wake up, poop and pee and you're just wonderful," I began telling him, "You are here to make a difference. You are extraordinary in that God has given you something extraordinary to give back."
Six years later, when Corbin was eight, he was diagnosed with restrictive air disease. He had tumors in his sinus cavities that were so large they were pushing his eyes out of their sockets. He had a quite scary, life-threatening surgery to remove the tumors, and as soon as they were gone they immediately grew back with a vengeance, necessitating a second life-threatening surgery.
We eventually discovered that he was deathly allergic to two kinds of mold in our furnace. We had everything ripped out and replaced, put him in a sterile environment, and did all sorts of things.
The point of the story is, how did he respond to all this? An entitled attitude would have said, "I don't deserve all this suffering, and I'm mad about it!" Instead, he responded with an endowed attitude. He said, "God doesn't make mistakes. So why would He give me restrictive air disease?"
Did he come up with an answer?
He did. He said, "Well, because it's such a struggle for me to breathe, I really know how important breath is."
He got on the Internet and learned that trees were the lungs of the planet. He had $1,000 in his savings account that relatives had given him for his education. "Please," he said, I promise I'll get a scholarship for school, but you have to let me spend this money to make a difference in the world."
In my book, Greatness and Children: Learn the Rules, I had written, "There's no dream too big for a child." But when it's your own sick child, it's a challenge! I so wanted to say, "No, honey—let's just focus on getting you really strong and healthy."
Instead, I said, "Okay, what do you want to do with your $1,000?"
He wanted to print bumper stickers. He made up a sticker that said, "Corbin says, 'Do your share to get clean air'" and included his bad fourth-grade picture. On the back it talked about his disease and his desire to clean up the air for future generations.
By the time Corbin was ten, he'd gotten 169,000 trees planted. He became the youngest professional inspirational speaker in the history of the National Speakers Association, and by the time he was thirteen, he had written four books: The ABC's of Becoming Great, The ABC's of Great Leadership, The ABC's of Great Communication, and What Have You Got to Give? about the gifts that count—the gifts of honesty, laughter, integrity, and friendship.
We sold mountains of these books, primarily through multilevel organizations and Charlie "Tremendous" Jones's Executive Books, and we gave every penny we made to church programs for children or to planting trees.
So here's what I learned: when you raise a child to believe that they have something extraordinary inside to give the world, and to put out real effort in that direction, then you end up with an extraordinary kid.
Corbin just graduated, valedictorian of his class, and was accepted into the top three film schools—USC, NYU, and UCLA. Right now he is making a documentary to help end childhood obesity.
And what happened with your older son?
He had gotten involved in drugs and alcohol at an early age. He would say, "Oh, my God, this contribution thing makes me gag. All you guys talk about is contribution!" We really struggled with him, but I was committed to turning him around. I used to tell him, "You know, Tony, I made a mistake, and I'm happy to own up to it. I watered you and watered you—but I forgot to put a watering can in your hand, too."
Yes, we need to love our children—but more important, we need to put watering cans in their little hands as soon as they can hold them and say, "Okay, now who are you going to water today?" Because if we're not teaching them to water others, then we're wasting what is extraordinary about them.
I told him, "Tony, there's a V on your chest and it stands for Valor. No matter what decisions you make, I will never ever see you as anything but what you are: a man of valor." Now, that was the antithesis of how he was behaving, and he knew it. But I said, "I know who you are. You may not know who you are yet, but I do."
Two years ago, he turned around one day and said, "Hey, I've been wasting my life. I'm almost thirty years old and I've done nothing with my life."
He hadn't done literally nothing, of course. He had a dual degree from USC in computer science and electrical engineering, but he wasn't doing anything with it.
"Okay," I said, "if you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?" I asked him to write the three words that captured the essence of him. "And I'll go write down the three words I think describe you best," I added, "and then we'll see if the two are anywhere close to each other."
The first two words he came up with were funny and inspiring.
I showed him the first two words I'd written. The first was entertaining. The second was inspiring.
Tony looked at me said, "Okay, this is blowing my mind. What's your third word?"
"Well," I said, "what's your third word?"
He said, "I think I'm a great problem-solver, because I'm really good with mathematics."
I showed him the rest of the paper I'd written on: it had the words, You are an unbelievable problem-solver.
"Tony," I said, "you were put on this earth to help solve problems. Now you have to go spend some time and think of something you can do that lets you express those three things, every single day. Because if you can be the essence of who you are, you will find tremendous joy.
"As your mother, I want you to have fun and joy. But that's not as important as you finding your purpose, finding what you were put here to do and the difference you were put here to make."
It took him about a week. He came back and said, "I want to teach junior high kids who think they know everything, who are obnoxious and entitled—like I was. I want to teach them math. I'm funny, I can inspire them, and I think I get them."
He went back to school at Arizona State University and graduated with honors. Today, as I'm talking to you, he just finished his first month of teaching, and was awarded the first "Teacher of the Month" award for this school year. He's working in the lowest-income part of the Phoenix area, teaching seventh and eighth-graders math and science.
That is inspiring!
You're only as extraordinary as you're willing to choose to be.
That's how we take back our children: expect more from them. I've heard so many people say, "Oh, our children don't have enough time to play"—no, our children don't have enough time to work.
I once had a couple come in for counseling; they were struggling because the wife was always exhausted, and the last thing she was interested in when she'd finally fall into bed at night was getting romantic.
I asked, "How many children do you have?" and she said, "Five—" and then she started describing everything she had to do all day.
"Wait, wait," I said. "Five?! You should be sitting back in your coziest chair with a beautifully brewed cup of tea, saying, 'Is the laundry done? Are the floors done?' Not because you're a slave driver—but because when you teach your children to contribute in those ways, you're making them into better human beings!"
The studies have all shown this: children who have responsibilities and chores at home do better in school, make better grades, are more internally fortified, and have a better sense of self—because they have a place of importance in the family.
That's something else I love about people who are in multilevel and direct sales businesses: they often get their children involved in the business. At an early age, the children take on a part of the responsibility of helping this family thrive. And that's exactly what we need to be giving to our children.
One thing I love about your story is that Tony ended up discovering his own gifts, which goes back to being endowed. That's also what I love most about network marketing: seeing people flourish and step into who they truly are, finding the ways they are gifted.
Absolutely—and this circles back to the personality test.
If you have everyone in your organization take the test, you'll find you have extremely successful people from each color. Take the most successful yellow, the most successful orange, the most successful blue, and so forth. Then, when you have new people, find out what color they are so you can have them taught and trained by the champion in your organization who is the same color as they are.
A red cannot teach a yellow; they'll just eat them up! And a yellow can't teach a red, because again, the red will eat them up. But a yellow can teach a yellow, and a red can teach a red, an orange can teach an orange and a purple can teach a purple in such powerful ways.
Using the inventory, you can have your people being taught, trained, and coached by people who look at the world through the same lenses as they do.
It's a savvy observation, because the glue that holds this business model together comes down to the one-on-one relatedness of two people communicating with each other. And if you can't relate to the person who's showing the ropes, then where's the glue?
Right. And imagine if, in every company, they tested their top people and had them work with the field that way. These top people are traveling around and training anyway, and they're typically benefiting from the productivity of the whole field anyway. So no one loses.
If we could allow for that range of individuality, I think we could totally transform the profession, and also keep people longer and improve our retention rates. Because one of the business's biggest challenges is retention, and I think part of that is that we have people trying to train different personalities and the training doesn't fit. If we took that into consideration, we could help hugely with retention.
You sound pretty enthusiastic about the value of network marketing in general.
I am. As the economy gets worse and worse, these multilevel organizations and direct sales organizations are one of the best ways we have of saving our families. It's so important.