One of the best kept secrets of network marketing is its ability to create a culture of community, trust, and reciprocity.

During the Progressive Era, L. J. Hanifan, a practical reformer and visionary, defined a new conceptual invention, terming it social capital:

"Those tangible substances that count for most in the daily lives of people: namely good will, fellowship, sympathy, and social intercourse among the individuals and families who make up a social unit.

"The individual is helpless socially, if left to himself. If he comes into contact with his neighbor, and they with other neighbors, there will be an accumulation of social capital, which may immediately satisfy his social needs and which may bear a social potentiality sufficient to the substantial improvement of living conditions in the whole community.

"The community as a whole will benefit by the cooperation of all its parts, while the individual will find in his associations the advantages of the help, the sympathy, and the fellowship of his neighbors."

Trust and Reciprocity

In networking, Hanifan's social capital is built through "tribes of trust." Leaders build trust within the tribe and trust builds a culture of reciprocity (the Golden Rule) within the community. Reciprocity creates speed within the tribe, because people learn that deposits made into the community will be reciprocated, even without a ledger account.

The tribe, in other words, through building trust, creates a culture of reciprocity, which, like a tide raising all ships, lifts everyone within the tribe.

Yogi Berra explained reciprocity by saying, "Always go to other people's funerals; otherwise they won't go to yours." In Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam puts it this way:

"A society characterized by generalized reciprocity is more efficient than a distrustful society, for the same reason that money is more efficient than barter. If we don't have to balance every exchange instantly, we can get a lot more accomplished. Trustworthiness lubricates life. Frequent interaction among a diverse set of people tends to produce a norm of generalized reciprocity."

The best network marketing communities build tribes of trust where reciprocity flows throughout the organization. Trust produces reciprocity, which builds speed and growth.

Servant Leadership

The fastest growing tribes have leaders who serve their communities, trusting that this service will be reciprocated. In fact, the leaders must initiate the service model to others. When the tribe sees the leader's example, it reciprocates service throughout the organization. Those who serve, in other words, deserve.

Leaders without the tribe's trust will not maintain their following. As Abraham Lincoln so aptly said, "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time." When the tribe discovers the leader isn't authentic, the culture reverts to the all-too-familiar selfish motives.

Unfortunately, network marketing is filled with examples of fast-growing communities that eventually crash and burn. When leaders forget that tribes are not sheep to be sheared but rather people to be served, the crash is imminent. Great leaders are servants, period.

Servant leaders achieve results when their groups reciprocate the love invested unconditionally into them. The tribe serves others not by compulsion but through compassion. People respond in kind when they experience those time deposits from their leaders. Not surprisingly, the level of reciprocation is equivalent to that person's level of leadership. For example, a true leader isn't going to remain passive when multiple deposits are made into his life and business by upline leaders.

Attributes of Healthy Tribes

Network marketing tribes provide a sense of belonging and safety for thousands of previously isolated people. Networking is not only a way to make money, it's also a force for good in a world declining from lack of community. Most people feel something is missing in their lives, and for many, whether or not they are aware of it, this angst traces back to lack of community roots.

A healthy tribe in network marketing has three attributes:

Tribes have fun; tribes make money; tribes make a difference.

Having fun and making money are different sides of the same coin. In truth, the tribes making the most money seem to have the most fun. People join the tribe for many reasons, and becoming wealthy is not the primary reason (or a reason at all) for most. Instead, they join because of the fun and fellowship offered within the community.

Strikingly, more people quit communities due to hurt feelings than from lack of profit. Tribal leaders would do well to keep this point always in mind. People are typically not looking for another job, but would love to find a fun-loving community of people who are accomplishing something with their lives.

The ultimate goal of networking is to make a difference. Having fun and making money are great, but unless people grow personally, the tribal experience will seem shallow.

One of a leader's greatest joys is when a teammate has a personal breakthrough. Perhaps they were struggling with their marriage, even blaming their spouse for their situation. However, through reading, listening, and association, they realize it wasn't the spouse, but their own attitude that created the problem.

Typically, we discover truths by comparing our lives to examples in the community, not by a leader hitting us over the head.

Network marketing, done properly, provides a community of fun-loving, purpose-driven encouragers who help others experience acceptance and belonging. Over time, the new community's models of servant leadership give its members the permission and the courage to confront and change themselves.

Network marketing is a platform for people to have fun, make money, and make a difference. What a noble profession! 

ORRIN WOODWARD is the author of
Resolved: 13 Resolutions for Life and
L.I.F.E.: Living Intentionally For Excellence.
Together with Chris Brady, he leads a
network marketing organization of
several tens of thousands of people.