To lead people, you must develop yourself to be their example. Your team will more likely follow you if you show them what you want to see from them. Today, Denise Stephens, the Founder and CEO of ZOI Global, delves into leading people in your business by helping them develop and providing value. She also touches on what makes a leader and the metamorphosis of her tremendous business. Ride with Denise Stephens towards success in leading your people by tuning in to this episode.
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How To Lead People By Example Versus Position With Denise Stephens
I am pleased to introduce to you a good friend of mine, Denise Stephens down in Houston. Denise, how are you?
John, it’s another day in Houston. I am doing fantastic.
Denise, we got a lot of stuff to talk about. Let’s start at the top. What did you do before MLM?
I was a software engineer. I spent eighteen years at a major aircraft subcontractor working in the IT department. I started in the mailroom and I wanted the opportunity to program. I was given the opportunity. I went and took a programmer aptitude test. You’ve got to go back with me into the ’80s. I passed it with flying colors, which said nothing but I thought logically. That’s where I started. I was a software engineer for eighteen and a half years and I continue to use those skills now.
You are very unusual. You are the first software engineer that I’ve interviewed who has gotten into network marketing in a big way. It’s ironic. I will say this. I did interview a friend of mine who’s not in network marketing but is an electrical engineer. He is a fascinating guy. You’re the second engineer but the first one who is in the network marketing industry.
Let’s talk about this crazy economy like the $4 gas. I paid $2.49 for two cantaloupes at Whole Foods. We don’t need to tell anybody reading that the economy is not in great shape, wherever they’re living. It shows international. Unfortunately, it seems like the entire world is in the same mess that we are here in the US.
Why should people now look at that plan B or that side gig, side hustle, or whatever people want to call it, or whatever the contemporary term is? I still call it a plan B. You probably do, too, but some of the younger people call it these other things. It’s the same thing. It’s that extra way to bring some money into the household on a monthly basis. Why should they look now?
I learned years ago, and this is well before what we’re enduring now. When I wanted something, I had the ability in the industry to make the money that day to pay for what I wanted to buy that day. When I finally figured that out, I thought, “I’m engineering by day and I’m making money by night.” Let’s say I wanted a $200 dress. I knew I had something I could make the $200 that would offset it. My job was creating more money for me because I wasn’t spending what I was making on what I wanted. This opportunity created an avenue for me to create the money for everything I was spending.
I thought, “This is incredible. If I can make $50 or $100 a day and I put some mindset behind it, what can I turn this thing into?” I learned that very early on. If nothing more, it’s no different than someone in this world running an Amazon run, a DoorDash run, or a quick cash thing. The difference here is that in our industry, you’re able to duplicate that and help others do the same. As a result of being a great coach or a great mentor, the sky’s the limit. I can’t do that in DoorDash. That’s based on my effort alone. That’s what I learned very early on, John.
It’s interesting because you were coming from a traditional industry, in aircraft. You came from a professional background in software engineering. You were not the “normal person” getting into network marketing. Your kids were still fairly young then when you started and said, “They need baseball or piano lessons, or orthodontist. We need to pay for it,” and these bills pop up. You were able to figure out a way to do that on a consistent basis, which eventually led to building a very sizable income and organization.
John, you’re exactly right. The one thing about that approach or my need was even though we had a great job and great incomes, I had great debt. I was not unlike most people. One of the things for me was the day that I realized that we were flying in from Hawaii on a red-eye flight in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. We came in at the South entrance to DFW, and it was about 6:55. I’ll never forget it.
I was in the middle seat. Lloyd was next to the window. I looked out the window and all I could see was a sea of red tail lights. I looked at Lloyd and I said, “You cannot tell me that all of these people are that excited to get up at 4:00 or 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning and wait in this traffic.” They didn’t know better. I was still working at that point in time, but I thought, “I can do this. I need to be a messenger of hope to help these people realize there may be a better way.” There’s nothing harder than getting up at an alarm clock at 4:00, 5:00, or 6:00 in the morning and waiting in traffic for an hour to get to work in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
I went to the airport to pick my daughter up on Labor Day Friday. She was on an early flight from LA. She is living out there. I thought the same thing. I’m thinking, “The people who are sitting this every single day don’t know any better.” They don’t believe us, which is great because it gives me my next question. Let me give you this hypothetical. Pre-pandemic, you have a family down the street. There is a young lady who’s now about 25. She went to college as you and I did. She had all kinds of hopes, dreams, and expectations. She did her schoolwork. She worked hard. She probably had school loans she’s paying back.
Her mom who she lives with is about 60, and mom was getting to the finish line work-wise. Pre-pandemic, she started to think about, “What am I going to do when I don’t have to show up at work or sit with those traffic lights all day to get to and from? I was looking forward to spending time with the grandkids, playing golf or Mahjong,” or whatever she was going to do in her retirement years.
All of a sudden, we know what happened in about February 2020. Prior to that, you would talk to them about the MLM industry, the network marketing and direct selling industry, or whatever you want to call it. It’s the same thing. You talk to them and they were like, “Denise, that’s not the best thing.” For whatever reason, they may have looked down on it. They didn’t understand it, etc.
All of a sudden, they start to look down the street and they say, “Denise and Lloyd work from home. It’s 2:00 in the afternoon and they’re out in the front yard having lunch. They’re around the house. They figured something out that we didn’t.” Here we are in the latter part of 2023. They get the gumption up to come down the street, knock on the door, and say, “Denise, we’re open now. Why now versus then should I look at the direct selling industry?”
For one thing, the first question, it’s extra money. It is money that is in your control. If you do the work, you get paid. That’s something I saw. Similarly in my former life, we were always subjected to possible cancellation by government contracts. Our destiny was in the hands of the government. Instead, just like the situation you’re talking about with the mother and the daughter, their destiny was in the hands of a company.
They will tell you when you need to be back at the office. We never miss a beat in this industry. We were well-accustomed to Zooms. We were well accustomed to getting up in the morning if I had a meeting. We would get ready. We did our meeting right there over Zoom. We didn’t have to learn anything new. If we didn’t learn anything from COVID, this is an as-you-go business or as-you-are business.
When you can find a company that offers a good or a service that you believe can help other people, you have a moral obligation to share that. The jobs during the COVID ordeal didn’t care about one thing, which is meeting the requirement to shut it down and get everybody at home. Whether or not you continue to get paid is not up to them. Hopefully, most people did. In this business, we were able to keep going and keep building.
In fact, our business was fueled during that time because people were looking for alternative methods of making money. During good times in our industry, it’s great financially, and during bad times, it’s good financially. We’re in a no-lose situation if a person is willing to work. For the mom and the daughter, there will never be the opportunity to blame a job or a company because something didn’t work. The blame comes back on us. We didn’t work or we did work.
You referenced a few minutes ago flying back into DFW from Hawaii. Maybe that was it, but maybe there was something else. What would you say your best experience in the direct selling industry has been?
One of the greatest experiences I ever had was so many people think that in our industry, we’re looking for everyone. We’re begging for people. I had a young man and his wife. One of the gentlemen that I worked with in my organization called me and said, “Denise, I’ve got a guy who’s on the verge of buying a major bread company distributorship where he would get a truck. He would get a route. He would be selling bread to grocery stores on a specific route, but he wants to take a look at what and how we do business.” I said, “Sure, let’s have a conversation.”
We all got together. We sat down, and I will never forget this. In about ten minutes, this is a gentleman who is on the verge of buying a franchise for this major bread company, he reaches into his back pocket and wants to pull out his credit card. I said, “No. That’s a little fast. You’re excited. I’m not. One thing I want you to understand is I have to make sure before I take that credit card that you understand what your job is and that I understand what my job is. My job as your sponsor is to help you sell your product. Your job is to bring the people to me to help me sell your product.”
There’s a major misconception sometimes, and that solidified in my mind. Here was a young man so excited could see something so powerful, but at the end of the day, we were in a position to say, “Wait a minute. Let’s make sure we’re going to be a great partnership here.” That is something that is somewhat missing and misunderstood about our industry because we always say it’s a simple business, but it’s not easy.
I always wanted to be honest with people. That young man ended up joining our company. It was amazing to see what happened because, on the front end, we were able to take him. I remember that. It was so vivid to me, and it’s one of my greatest memories was that I was in a position to say no. It was up to me. I had to do what was right for this human being. Giving him all that on the front end, I loved that example. It may be hard for people to understand why it was so significant to me, but we all own our own business in this industry. What we do with it is up to us.
I wanted to always do business ethically, and that’s very misunderstood in our industry because people want to belittle the industry when it’s not the industry. It comes back to us the business owners in the industry. I know this is a strange thing that was exciting to me, but to take that young man from that bread route, where he was going to drop significant money and be given a route to where a little bit of money was going to be exchanged in comparison, but he wasn’t going to be given a route. He had to build this route.
Let’s talk a little bit about self-development. How big has the self-development role been in your career and your life since you got to network marketing? You probably had some prior to that I would think. In our industry, we live on it. We talk about it all the time. I know you and I talk about it all the time off-camera, but how big a role has that played in your life?
It’s invaluable. In my case, it was freedom that I was looking for. I had to realize that some things had to end for things to get better to begin. I had to let go of some of the old ways and the old ways of being constantly focused on work. I had to develop those skills like talking to people. Self-development is priceless. At the end of the day, you’re selling yourself. You have to become a product that someone wants to be part of.
I can’t put enough emphasis on the fact that if you don’t invest in yourself, no one else is going to. None of the corporate resources that I use or the corporate things that I had to develop during my work at my job developed me as a person. In this business, a team rises and falls on leadership. There is no question. You’ve got to value people, not things. That is something that is so key. It is the most important element.If you don't invest in yourself, no one else will. Click To Tweet
Every day, I have a routine that I listen to for myself. I call it my morning routine. It gets me in the mood and in the mode of how to help people because, every one of us, you, myself, and whatever company, business, job, or anything, at the end of the day, if we don’t make someone’s life better or if we don’t solve a problem in their life, there’s no business. You don’t have a business unless you solve a problem. That is business.
I love our industry for that very reason because, like yourself, John, a stellar leader and mentor, you finally get to find the element. As a matter of fact, when I left my corporate job, I told the company, “The day that you value people to the degree that you value a schedule is the day the company will soar.” That’s where our industry is very powerful. Those personal skills and development are priceless when it comes to that arena. It is learning to love people first and respect them wherever they are. At the end of the day, you cannot put in what God left out. Remember that.
Let’s talk a little bit about leadership because you’ve been around it, coming from the industry that you were in. You were exposed to some leaders in that industry. I know who you worked for. I’m sure you were exposed to some good leaders in terms of former military people, network marketing, etc., In ministry, I know you’ve been very involved in your church over the years. Let’s talk about leadership because it’s such a misused axiom, not only in our industry but in so many others.
“So and so is a great leader or so and so is not a great leader.” Let’s talk about it. What makes a leader in your opinion? If you want to talk about some of the ones and if you want to use names, great. If not, you certainly don’t have to. It is whatever you want to talk about. Leadership is very important. You referenced that everything rises and falls on leadership. John Maxwell said that a million times. I’ve been in some of John’s seminars as you have, and he says that and he is right on with that. Let’s talk about leadership.
Leadership sometimes is misused in our industry. Leadership in our industry traditionally had been based on an achievement level like money, but there’s far more to leadership than money. With leadership, you can’t look back because you’re not going that way. You’ve got to lead. The seed of a leader determines the rate of a pack. If you’re leading a pack down a dead-end road, that’s leadership or are you leading a pack or a team to a road that’s going to benefit them?The seed of a leader determines the rate of a pack. Click To Tweet
The money will come in time. Two people changed my life in the industry, Les Brown and Charlie Regis. Les Brown says, “God will make a way out of no way.” The day I realized that, a no became no issue to me. It didn’t matter. When someone said no to me, it just meant that maybe they didn’t understand or maybe I didn’t communicate better. That took me back to self-development, which is where I still stay now many years later, it doesn’t mean I didn’t make mistakes, but my mistakes did not make a life sentence for me to stay in that mistake.
You have to be able and willing to realize that if something didn’t make me, something can’t break me. Move on. Rise above. If it’s a mistake, learn from it and grow from it. Being a leader starts off with being a friend first. It is getting to know, “How can I help you?” Maybe I can’t. There are some situations you and I both know that we can’t help that person. It may not have anything to do with something I’m building toward, but if I know it can help them, I can point them in that direction.
I always looked at myself like a bird feeder. If you’ve ever seen a bird feeder how it sits out there and has a bunch of seeds in it, I would always teach people to fly in, get what they need, and fly away. To me, the biggest form of leadership that I could give was just to let them take bite-sized pieces of what they needed to grow them that day. I don’t think leadership is linear, John. It’s as we go. You find this out, and then you find something else out.
In the end, you begin to be the champion that you were because, believe me, if I look back many years ago, I wasn’t even close to this. The anxiety in my gut of, “Maybe I’m not doing enough,” and all of those feelings that you feel, it becomes a relaxed intensity. When leadership resonates with you, you realize, “If I work where I am now, I’m making a living, but if I can work on myself, I can make a fortune.”
Let’s go back because I have another question. You started out as a customer in your first company. Did you not?
Yes, I did. We were a customer. I can’t sell something that I don’t truly believe is helping the person on the other end get the benefit of what they’re looking for. I did. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t even listen to my husband for close to a month. I didn’t want to hear what he had to say. I came from a professional background. I had fallen victim to the misunderstanding of what this industry was about. I told him. I said, “No, you go sell that product. I’m not doing this. I’ve worked way too hard to get to the level I’ve gotten to and I am not doing that.”
I come from a position where it makes it a little bit easier for me to understand someone and their mindset. It’s not until I’m able to get that person to realize, it’s very selfish. Once you know of something that can help someone and not share it with them, shame on you. What that person does with it, it’s up to them. I have a very keen ability, and this is not boasting, John, but I can feel where people are because I was there. Starting off as a customer is the greatest place to start.
Let me point this out to everyone reading. We all want to build big organizations. That’s why we got into network marketing when we look at the business structure. At the end of the day, go back to the very basic concept of retail to recruit. Somebody got Denise on the product. Did you know the person well or is this a stranger who got you on the product commission?
I didn’t know the person at all. He spoke with my husband.
Lloyd gets told about a product. He says, “We ought to use this product.” You initially rejected it and said, “Why not?” You get on the product. How much weight did you lose?
I lost 126 pounds in 8 months and 4 days.
Somewhere in that 126 pounds and eight months, Denise started to have people recognize that she was losing weight and probably started to ask her for the product and say, “What are you doing? I want to do what you’re doing.” However, you also made a decision, “This stuff’s working for me and I need to share it with the world.” Talk about that a little bit, Denise because this is where network marketing is.
The FTC has made its position clear, “If you don’t have retail customers, we’re going to put you out of business plan.” That’s where we live now at the end of 2023. Will that change again? Who knows, but end of the day, that’s where it is. So be it. Render unto Caesar, as we both know. Let’s talk about your experience a little bit because it’s valuable to people. Here was a lady professional having a great career and making great money working for a huge company, but you were open enough to use a product. You got a result, and eventually, built a tremendous business. Talk about that metamorphosis of how all that happened.
I’ve always wanted to do something bigger than myself. When I started losing weight, I can remember it as if it were yesterday. I still have the journal and I still have a strip of the product in a baggie. You can hardly open the baggie. It smells so horrible, but it’s one of those things that means something to me. As I was going through the process, I remember sitting in my bathtub getting ready for work, and I thought, “Who am I to keep this from someone? So what that I’m 260-something pounds now? Who cares? Who am I? I’m losing weight. There are a lot of other people out there that don’t want to be where they are, and maybe, just maybe, my story might reach them.”
I started telling people. I didn’t care whether they listened to me. They watched the physical transition. I will never forget two things. Number one, a gentleman walked up to my front door. We had a home meeting every Monday, Tuesday, or Thursday evening and he walked up to my door. He said, “Denise, is that you?” I said, “It is me. Come on in here.” That was one situation. I always felt that if I know something that can help you, I feel I have a responsibility to tell you. What you choose to do with that is up to you.
When the FTC came down and has been so hard on customer-oriented businesses, it’s the best thing that could happen because, at the end of the day, if they’re not going to be a Denise, or they’re not going to be a John, then just be a customer for goodness sakes if it can help you. Don’t worry about my business. I have that well under control. The day I made that switch, it’s like, “No. I’m not inviting you into my business. I’m inviting you to look at a product.”
It was very rare in my early days that people would even have that conversation. If I’m going to spend my time and my effort, I want to make sure I have a partner who’s going to value my time and my effort. This path is beautiful because of the way I always built my business. John, I will tell you this. Our company had to make a product change very early in my career. I want you to know that I watched people lose businesses that had built businesses on the financial opportunity alone. To this day, I’m still paid for my customer business, and that is from 2020 to 2023. That’s what I am talking about.
It’s funny because that’s when I started, all I understood was retail. I didn’t understand downline, overrides, and all that other stuff, but I understood I could take this product out. I can share it with people. It was working for me. I had some product results with the product I was selling, and here I am, a young kid. I started to retail it, and before I knew it, I’d got $800 in my pocket, which in 1983, I don’t know what that is in this day’s dollars, Denise. $800 for me was a lot of money, let’s put it that way.
To that point, the great distributorships in our industry were built where people said, “Let me get the product out to the people that I care about. Let me share with them. The business thing, I’ll figure it out or I won’t figure it out along the way. They’ll figure it out or not figure that out along the way.” I love your story because it’s phenomenal. You’ve kept the weight off. All these years, you’re in great shape, and you’re tenacious about your diet, your fitness level, and all of that. If you think about it, that stranger changed your life.
John, it’s immeasurable. It’s funny because our son played college ball. This goes to the power of being an introducer of a product to someone. I was introduced to the product in 1998 at a Triple Crown tournament in another state, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but I wasn’t told that I could lose weight because they didn’t focus on what my need was. It was focused on athletes at that time. One of the US Olympic coaches always told me, “Denise, if I had told you about the product in 1998, I would not be working anymore.”
Again, you do not ever know who you’re going to be talking to and the life that has changed. I was nobody special. I’m still not. I’m just special in God’s eyes, but I’m telling you this now. If you don’t talk to them, someone else will. If all they want to be is a customer, God bless them. That’s what I love. I hope this helps somebody along the way. I love customers. They’re our greatest asset.
It’s a phenomenal story, and it’s a testament to doing it the right way, too, because you mentioned Charlie Regis. We started in the same place in the industry where the company we started with was built on retail. That’s why they’re still in business many years later. That’s why that particular company that we started, even though the people who started it are either dead or no longer with it, that philosophy of retail to eventually, “The people who like the product and want to tell people about it, terrific, but if you don’t, just take this stuff. Be healthier.”
Denise, we are closing here. We’ve talked about a whole lot of stuff and we can go on and on with a lot of different subjects, but what’s on your heart now? What’s your message for these people? There are people who set the table for you. We’ve got readers from all walks of life. We’ve got readers that are young. We’ve got readers who were old. We’ve got readers who are in places as far away from America as Malaysia who read the blog.
We’ve got a European audience. We have a very big audience in Spain and the United Kingdom. For example, in Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic, they call it now. We’ve got a big audience over there and we got a big audience here in North America, and even in Mexico. A lot of those people are hurting. The economy is kicking everybody’s butt, needless to say, and we talked about that a little bit. What’s your suggestion for them? Somebody has been around this a long time and got a great education prior in another profession that looks at it and says, “What can they do to paradigm shift going forward in their business for the balance of 2023 and into 2024 and beyond?”
I would say this. 1) Love God. 2) Love yourself. 3) Never accept mediocrity. If you have not made it up to this point to the degree that you want to, just remember, “Have no regrets. Just do better the next time.” No matter how hard the past has been, you can always begin again. That’s the beauty. The industry is prime for finding customers. Customers are the lifeline of every single business. If you’ve spent your past as the old model was to recruit, your best recruiters will come from your customers. I changed so many lives in my business. I was on level seven or something like that when I started.God will always put the right people in your path. Click To Tweet
I don’t even know where I was in that lineage, but I can tell you one thing. There were so many people who reaped the rewards from one former fat lady who went little. I changed a lot of lives physically and a lot of lives financially. If your product is not weight loss-oriented or if your product makes a difference, have great confidence because there is one thing that I’ve always known. God will always put the right people in your path.
Thank you, Denise. As always, I appreciate you, my friend.
Thank you for the opportunity. I love your logo, Leaving Nothing to Chance, and you have played that. You leave nothing to chance.
I wrote a book called Leave Nothing to Chance.
I love your book.
Thank you. I have another book called Moving Up.
That book as well, John.
You can get them on Amazon and digitally. You can get them in Spanish. Somebody rewrote my book for me in Italian. I don’t even know how to get it myself, but if you’re looking for an Italian, search the internet. You might find it. Denise, it’s such a pleasure. You light up a room when you walk into it. You’re such a blessing to people. We love you and Lloyd to death. All the best and continued success in everything that you do, my friend.
Thank you, John, for the opportunity. Many blessings.