{Strategy} | The Mary Kay Way of Business Leadership

Mary Kay Ash started a business in the 60s after she retired from a career in sales. She had been a working woman supporting three children. Although she didn’t necessarily know at first that she wanted to sell skin care and makeup products, she did know that there were many ways to improve on the business models she had worked in before. Now that she could manage her own business, she wanted to try out the Principles of Leadership, functioning under the overarching principle of the Golden Rule, that is,

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

With this basic premise, Mary Kay invested her life’s savings of $5,000 into the formation and launching of the new company. Her son, Richard, co-founded the company and worked alongside her to bring her dreams to fruition.

To date, Mary Kay Cosmetics has a sales force of over 300,000 Independent Beauty Consultants, paid solely by direct commission on the volume of their sales. She has been touted by both Baylor University and the Wharton School of Business as one of the greatest women entrepreneurs in American history.

Here is a summary of her Principles of Leadership:

  1. A company is only as good as its people.
  2. The Invisible Sign – People desire validation and praise. When you talk to people, always visualize the person in front of you with a sign around their neck that says, “Make me feel important.”
  3. Praise people to success. The surest way to retain people and their motivation to work for you and your business is to give them praise frequently for doing things right – even the things that fall into their job description! Far too often we overlook the things that happen as “business as usual,” because it is not exceptional. Yet, people need to have confirmation that they are doing well and that they are valuable in their role at the company.
  4. Listen attentively and reflectively.
  5. Sandwich every bit of criticism between two thick layers of praise.
  6. Follow through on your commitments to others. Your word is your bond.
  7. Enthusiasm moves mountains.
  8. Engage people to create something that you all value (people support that which they help to create).
  9. You can’t rest on previous success and expect to continue growing in the direction you want to go. You must continue striving to be better.
  10. Remember the linchpin of your organization – whose move is the primary trigger upon which the success of the company stands? (For instance, in the case of the Mary Kay Cosmetics company, the Independent Beauty Consultants were the ones who ordered the volumes of makeup to sell. Without orders from the Independent Beauty Consultants, there would be no need for the rest of the company to exist! Thus their opinions are extremely important to the success of the company and should be valued as such.)
  11. Be willing to take risks for the benefit of the company. Try new things so as not to stagnate.
  12. Create an environment that allows room for mistakes, personal growth, and investment in the well-being of others.

While many of these ideas may seem common-sense, they have made Mary Kay Cosmetics into one of the most successful cosmetics companies in the world. It seems her advice is worth listening to and applying!

Hannah Stringfellow is a freelance blogger and world traveler. She holds an M.S., Chemistry, from the University of California, Berkeley. Her interests include women’s empowerment, health and wellness, and cross-cultural competency.

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