SMBs Can Learn a Lot from the Mary Kay Vision of Teamwork

people putting hands in center

“Your potential is limited if you try to accomplish everything by yourself.”

- Mary Kay Ash

“We are all a part of each other’s success.” “Collectively, we accomplish more than we do individually.” These are maxims most of us hold true, but few business leaders exemplify these ideals as well as the late Mary Kay Ash and the people who have worked for her organization.

Empower the individual and the team will follow

One of the leadership ideas I find most profoundly meaningful is that teamwork, mentoring, and people constitute the core of any business’ success. I watched a short biography on Mary Kay and I was intrigued by her efforts to persuade people of the merits of this simple concept during the founding stages of her wildly successful company. A passage in her book, The Mary Kay Way: Timeless Principles from America's Greatest Woman Entrepreneur reads:

“… an Independent Sales Director who lives in Chicago can be vacationing in Florida or visiting a friend in Pittsburgh and gain a new team member while there… An Independent Sales Director in Pittsburgh will take the visiting Sales Director's new Beauty Consultant under her wing and educate her... Although the Pittsburgh Sales Director will devote a lot of time and effort to the new Beauty Consultant, the Chicago Sales Director will be paid the commissions. We call this our ‘adoptee’ program.”

Why should anybody work to develop an adoptee and never receive a commission on her sales?

Many sales directors at the company have as many as 100 adoptees. They recognize the long-term benefits of the program to their own team and to the organization. Helping members in another city leads to a sort of “pay it forward” chain reaction that results in each employee receiving the help he or she needs. What’s in it for each sales representative is an organization built to enable individual, and therefore, team success.

Mary Kay instilled this mindset and was particularly effective in securing buy-in at every level of the organization. Mentoring was paramount above all else, whereas in most organizations, sales creates a competitive environment to reward sales “stars,” often at the expense of others who need attention and resources to develop.

Individualism has its limits

At Mary Kay, when the team succeeds, the product and the company succeed. Individualism can only grow patches of success, along with contrasting patches of failure, but shared progress ultimately results in everyone’s success throughout the organization.

Employee development, motivation, and morale are also essential components of the Mary Kay philosophy. “Making people feel important is precisely what a leader is paid for – Because making people feel important motivates them to do better work,” Kay said. “High morale is a significant factor in increased productivity, which means that a good leader should continually strive to boost the self-esteem of every individual in his or her organization.”

Employees feel invested when they have “skin in the game”

Instead of cascading percentages of product sales down the sales ladder, Mary Kay managed the company as a wholesale cosmetics business, in which marketing her people was paramount. Her consultants believe in the company’s values and have always been empowered with ownership of their own businesses. They buy their own products wholesale from the organization and sell them. They have “skin in the game” of skin care. They are proud to be part of the culture and not simply individual salespeople for a company.

Understand what comprises the mentality of teamwork—and foster it

The Mary Kay philosophy is one that we often employ with friends. Think of that time when you called your best friends over to your new house to help paint. Very few people enjoy painting walls, but if you extended gratitude, created a feeling of camaraderie, and made the day enjoyable, you could count on your friends again in the future. Treat your employees like you treat your friends and you’ll be putting the Mary Kay philosophy to work in your organization.

Brian Maddonni

About the Author

Brian Maddonni grew up around his father’s civil engineering business where the employees were all family friends. Working within that company in his early years, he quickly learned this business culture from the inside and has strived to foster team building and mentoring as success-driving organizational values.