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What Creates Leadership?

A Conversation with Donna Johnson, Marilyn and Sarah Stewart and Carolyn Wightman

By John David Mann

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...

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