Zig Ziglar’s Lessons From The Top

UPDATED: August 26, 2008
PUBLISHED: August 26, 2008

From Zig Ziglar’s perspective, success is only real when it encompasses every area of life. Physical, mental, spiritual, relationships and, oh yes, career and finances. True success requires balance, an ingredient missing in many people’s busy lives. And while we may acquire the trappings of success—a nice car, a beautiful home, designer clothes— the truth is they may only be traps if the pursuit of obtaining them leads to greater imbalance and skewed priorities.

Although Ziglar is committed to encouraging people to become their best, gentle words of support were not what sparked his legendary career. Following high school, Ziglar served in the Navy during World War II and later attended the University of South Carolina. His life took a turn when he left school to pursue a sales career, hoping to earn a better living for his family. For two years, Ziglar struggled for financial survival until one day he received a verbal slap in the face that awakened him to his potential.

P.C. Merrell, president of at the company for which Ziglar sold cookware, pulled him aside following a sales meeting. “Mr. Merrell told me he’d never seen such a waste of time and effort,” Ziglar remembers. “Well, that was kind of a shock. But I asked, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘I believe you can be a great one in this business if you would just believe in yourself, work on learning more, doing better and helping other people.’ ” Merrell’s words of advice were a turning point in Ziglar’s career. And by putting those words and the training he’d received into action, within a year, Ziglar went from scraping by to becoming No. 2 in a company of more than 7,000 salespeople. He later reached the No. 1 position in another company of more than 3,000.

As his success grew, so did his opportunities for training others. He was repeatedly asked to share his expertise with other sales groups, and in the years that followed he established himself as a sought-after speaker and trainer. In 1970, Ziglar launched a full-time speaking career. Today, Ziglar has authored more than 25 books, many of them translated into more than three dozen languages. His Dallas-based multimillion-dollar Ziglar Corp. offers a variety of personal-development and corporate training materials, and has expanded its capabilities with certified instructors—Ziglar-trained experts who are students and teachers of his principles. Through all this success, Ziglar’s career continues to echo the tenets he learned from Merrell: Believe in yourself, dedicate yourself to continual learning and help others. And out of that belief system come Ziglar’s most cherished philosophies: “You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want."

Believe in Yourself
Merrell didn’t wave a magic wand over Ziglar that fateful day, but until that point, Ziglar viewed himself as a little guy from a little town. Merrell saw him as a potential champion. Merrell’s words were the key that allowed Ziglar to unlock the potential within. The key was belief.

From that point on, Ziglar became a student of self-improvement. Many times, “good books and good people” were the key to unlocking new levels of potential. Early in his career, The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale was one of those keys. In his famous book, See You at the Top, Ziglar cites the difference Peale’s book made in his career:

“There was a time when I became a ‘wandering generality’ with more than my share of ups and downs. During one of my ‘downs,’ I picked up Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking, and my career, which was in trouble again, surged forward. Dr. Peale helped me identify the real source of my problems. Needless to say, it was me.”

Ziglar learned that he was the only thing standing between himself and his success. The way he saw himself, the way he saw others and what he believed about himself and others could either propel his success or inhibit it.

Ziglar has witnessed countless lives changed as the result of the discovery of self-worth. He knows from firsthand experience that when your self-image improves, your performance also improves. He’s spent a lifetime encouraging others to believe that they have—or can acquire—what it takes to achieve their goals.

Encourage Others
Ziglar is known by millions as an encourager. No doubt the cadence and Southern lilt to his speech and his genuine smile put people at ease, but it’s his words that inspire people to make significant changes in their lives. Through his teaching, business leaders and parents alike have learned the truth behind the cliché that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. In fact they experience that law in their own lives when they take and apply any one of Ziglar’s gems of wisdom.

But encouragement isn’t about fl owery words. It’s about helping others imagine what they can become and then equipping them with the confidence, education or resources to achieve their goals. Encouragement also challenges people to see themselves or their circumstances from someone else’s perspective. “After all these years, I can’t talk to someone, especially if they ask a question, that I don’t put some encouragement in it,” he says. “So many times people have responded so well. When you encourage others, you in the process are encouraged because you’re making a commitment and difference in that person’s life. Encouragement really does make a difference.”

Ziglar believes that’s the essence of his mantra: You can have everything you want in life if you will just help enough other people get what they want. “It emphasizes what you can do for others, not what they can do for you. I’m convinced that’s always a wise approach to life,” he says. “Help other people do the right thing, tutor them if it’s possible and practical, but always encourage them. Encouragement is the fuel on which hope thrives.”

Be a Learner
The saying is that in preparation for a class the teacher learns as much—or more—than the students. That certainly seems to be the case in Ziglar’s career. When Merrell admonished him to learn more, to do better and to help others, Ziglar went back to the basics of his sales career. The instruction he’d received in the fi rst two years served as a foundation for the new, more successful skills and habits he worked to develop. Along the way, he discovered great personal satisfaction in sharing what he’d learned and in encouraging others to become better, too.

Though he’s built a wildly successful career, for Ziglar, class is still in session. “I’m a constant student,” he says. “I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve been able to survive in this world successfully.” While the word survive is an understatement, his admonition to constantly be sharpening the mind is a consistent theme in his personal-development materials. Knowledge, experience and wisdom yield powerful results.

“You need to be a constant student because things change and you have to change and grow. And I emphasize the word grow,” he says. “If you keep learning new things, the new information—so many times—strengthens what you already know. When you’ve got that strength and conviction because of what you’re learning and doing, you have a better chance for success in all areas of life.”

At 81, Ziglar continues to be a learner and an avid reader. “I read the paper every day and the Bible every day; that way I know what both sides are up to,” he says. Though he’s always reading a book—or two—he’s selective in his choice of material. “I don’t read junk,” he says. More often than not, he chooses material pertaining to personal development, leadership or business and sales success—not because he’s trying to figure out his own path to success, but because being a learner has helped him become a more effective trainer and encourager. “When I read I’m looking for material that can impact my life and impact others’ lives,” he says. “I want information that I can not only learn from, but also teach.”

A Living Legacy
Ziglar will forever be a teacher, but in 2007, he made the choice to entrust his company to his son Tom Ziglar and son-in-law Richard K. Oats. The Dallas Business Journal reported that Ziglar would retain the title of chairman, and Tom Ziglar and Oats would officially take on the role of leading day-to-day operations.

From Ziglar’s perspective, the transition places the company in good hands. Tom and Richard “love what we do and believe very strongly in it,” Ziglar says in the article. “They know the purpose of the company and what the mission statement is: To make a profound difference in people’s professional and personal lives…. I get to focus on what I do best.”

For more Zig Ziglar, visit SUCCESS.com.