Who are the Real Leaders?

“I have to check with my leaders.” That’s a typical response I get when I discuss changing a comp plan or policies with a client. What they generally mean is that they have to get the buy-in from their top earners before making a significant change. I certainly understand the need to get buy-in from the field before making changes but calling people “leaders” simply because they are top income earners puzzles me. Oftentimes “leaders” occupy positions of influence because they’ve worked hard to build an organization and can train others to do the same, but that is not universally true.  Consequently, we must ask whether the top income earners are truly the best “leaders,” or would stakeholders be better served if they were more critical when identifying “leaders?” It’s an interesting question and there are pros and cons to each approach.

On the positive side, classifying top earners as “leaders” creates a simple and clear goal for the field. Everyone wants something black & white they can shoot for. If the message is “the money is what really matters,” then classifying top earners as leaders makes sense. It sounds superficial, but since many people are attracted to the income possibilities offered by peer-to-peer marketing, it’s logical to provide them examples of those they should emulate to achieve their goals.

On the negative side, if we critically discern whether top income earners are indeed “leaders,” we sometimes find that these individuals lack many of the qualities that inspire others to follow them. I began providing legal services to peer-to-peer marketers in 1992. Since then I have conducted countless compliance investigations and disciplinary actions. I’ve found that if the mission of a company (and/or its field) is simply to maximize income, there is a greater likelihood that ethics will be compromised in pursuit of a buck. [1] Frankly, most people will be offended by those whom they perceive as having compromised ethics and will not follow them regardless of how much money they make.  Thus, it’s foolish for a company to designate such people as “leaders.”

I will not endeavor to list the qualities that leaders display (there are some excellent books on the subject for those who are interested in studying leadership). In assessing “leadership” in peer-to-peer marketing context, it’s my opinion that while there are certain universal leadership qualities, every individual must ultimately ask whether a person who is designated as a leader is someone whom they would follow or whom they would ask others to follow. The answers will vary widely and depend in part on the objectives of the individual and the culture of the company.  What I am suggesting is that field sales persons and corporate executives must critically evaluate the individuals corporate designates as leaders before committing to follow them and that corporate executives should engage in the same critical assessment before asking the field to follow those whom it designates as leaders.

[1] Clearly earning a profit is an objective of every for-profit business. To be clear, I am NOT saying that there’s anything wrong with a profit motive.

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