Nona was a matronly Jewish woman with cotton candy hair and a personality the size of all of Bronx, New York, where she led one of the most successful divisions for a direct sales company. As a newbie division director, I was assigned to work under her tutelage where I learned essential lessons in leadership, time management and self care.
“Show them the love, bubbulah,” she repeated, displaying the stern yet nurturing tone she would use for her grandchildren. “Show them you care about every part of their lives, not just hitting the sales goals,” she would say when referring to the 20 hard-working women district managers tasked with the productity of thousands of independent reps.
Nona’s folksy approach to leading the number-one sales team in the country defied management success tropes, and I bristled when she asked me to plan group trips to Atlantic City and steak dinners instead of scheduling strategy sessions.
Slowly I embraced her tactics and began to see productivity improvement in my own sales numbers. But it came at the cost of exposing my authentic self, my personality, my own humanity–antithetical to the uptight corporate world I had known before.
“Let them see you laugh loud and hard,” she loved to say as she bellowed her own infectious laughter with abandon.
Nona was a a force of nature at a time before digital technology revolutionized the way we live and work. Always perfectly groomed and coiffed, she cautioned against prioritizing work over my personal needs. The phrase, “work comes first,” had no place in her lexicon. She believed that making time for yourself was the best sales strategy of all.
“Love yourself and the rest will follow,” she preached. Thirty years later, I finally understand what she meant.