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Meeting Zig Ziglar

By: Michael Levin

The next-to-last time I saw Zig Ziglar, I was one of 17,000 in attendance at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California, where he was speaking as part of a program of superstars, including Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and Joe Montana.  He was onstage accompanied by his daughter, Julie Ziglar Norman, because Zig had suffered a fall a couple of years before that and nobody wanted him to fall again, especially onstage, and especially in front of 17,000 people.

On April 15, 2011, I saw Zig again, this time for lunch, with his daughter Julie and his son Tom.  From 17,000 down to four.  If you love Zig Ziglar as I do, you can readily understand it was one of the greatest thrills of my life.

Zig Ziglar is one of the greatest motivators, authors, sales trainers, and inspiring figures the world has known.  Millions have read his books and listened to his recordings, and they became, as a result, better salespeople, better spouses, better parents, better people.  His mellifluous baritone echoes through the mind of anyone who has listened to him speak.  His values harken back to a better world, where integrity was the watchword, where faith mattered, and where sales was a profession in search of a champion.

Zig was their champion.  He grew up one of twelve children during the Depression, on a farm in Yazoo City, Mississippi, and his father passed away when he was five years old.  By age six, Zig was earning his own money, and selling, mowing lawns.  He used that money to buy his first suit, which he wore to church.  By the time I met Zig face to face, he had been selling—lawn mowing services, pots and pans, sales training, personal development, and the ideas of his Holy Bible, for 79 years.  “You must be married,” Zig said, as we were introduced.  “I can tell by how nicely you’re dressed.  Only a married man could dress that nicely.”

At lunch, Zig leaned over to me and said, quite seriously, “Never say anything negative about yourself.”  It sounds so obvious, but we all do it all the time.  If we don’t see ourselves as wondrously made, as Zig likes to quote from the Bible, who will?

I asked Zig what caused him to make the transition from sales training to motivational speaking.  His son Tom explained that Zig studied the success of his students, and he realized that only 20 percent of it was due to technique.  The other 80 percent was due to reputation and character.  So that’s when Zig began to focus on those issues and not just talk about selling.

But don’t estimate old Zig on sales.  He’s forgotten more about sales than most of us will ever know.  One of his most enduring stories involves his son Tom, who at the time was contemplating a career as a professional golfer.  Zig and Tom were playing a competitive round of golf and Tom needed a long putt to drop in order to win the hole.  He made the putt, and then he asked his father, “Dad, were you rooting for me?”

As only Zig can say, in that honeyed Southern drawl, “Son, I’m always rooting for you.”

As massive as Zig’s audience was, the publishing industry didn’t think him worth a shot when he wrote the book I found many years later in that furniture store, See You At The Top.  By then, Zig had been providing sales training to the Mary Kay Company.  Mary Kay Ash was such a devotee of his, Tom told me at lunch, that she told Zig that if he were to self-publish the book, she would buy the first 10,000 copies.  Those initial 10,000 sales mushroomed into millions upon millions of books, since Zig has now authored 26 books in all.

I had the extraordinary privilege of editing Zig’s last book Born To Win.  I’ve edited or coached hundreds of writers, and it was an uncanny, almost out-of-body experience instead of quoting Zig to people, talking directly to Zig, and making suggestions—how dare I?—to improve his manuscript.

It means the world to me that I was able to meet him face to face at lunch with just him, his two grown children who work with him, and me, and tell him that he made me a better salesperson, a better husband, a better father, a better believer, and a better man.

As I headed out to drive to the airport, Zig took me by the hand and cautioned me to drive carefully.

“After all, most people are caused by accidents,” he warned, with mock solemnity.

New York Times best selling author and Shark Tank survivor Michael Levin runs www.BusinessGhost.com, and is a nationally acknowledged thought leader on the future of book publishing.

 

 

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Do the Next Right Thing, No Matter How Much It Hurts, and You Will Feel Amazing!

Back when I was working with CityTeam, a local non-profit, we had lots of interaction with professional athletes as donors.  It was the heyday of the 1980’s 49ers and lots of hall of fame players were very active in philanthropy.  There was Ronnie Lott, Dwight Hicks, Merton Hanks, Jerry Rice, and Joe Montana.  In our group the “old man” who had been around the longest and known most of these guys was Don Pitts.

I had heard that he made several t-shirts for a benefit, and had Merton Hanks sign them.  I had just attended a signing with Jerry Rice and had him sign a football and a Wheaties box with his photo on it.  Over the years my friends had given me a signed Jerry Rice 49er game helmet, his SF Jersey, a couple of game balls, etc. so the Wheaties box was no big thing to me at the time…. Or so I thought.

At the prospect of giving up anything “Jerry” my kids whined a little, but to be honest it was my decision, and me having the second thoughts.  After all, a Jerry anything was worth far more than a Merton anything, and Don had a stack of the T-shirts.  I informed him that the box was not available.

Being the gentleman Don is, he said nothing and gave me a couple of the T-shirts anyhow.  The years went by, my wife and I were divorced, the man-cave was disbanded, all of my 49er trivia somehow dissipated and moved into my much smaller (because it has to double as a sound studio) garage.  Every time I went into the studio to play music, which was quite often, I would see the Wheatie box and think of Don.  There was always an accompanying pang of guilt, and a firm commitment to try to get hold of him and give him his box.

The guilt got a little worse every time I thought of him, his kindness, and my own selfishness.  The phone call to the people he had worked with to see if he could be located was never made.  The times that the guilt pricked away at me are too numerous to count.  It wasn’t until one of my friends actually LinkedIn with Don that the “update” came over my computer stating that Don was now friends with  Mike, and that the God of my understanding was putting him in front of me for a decision.

Don was contacted and graciously said that yes, indeed he would still very much appreciate my sending him the Wheatie box, settling my 11 year old debt.  He had never said a word to me about it, which probably added to my torture. Why is it that sometimes it takes an act of God to get us to do the right thing?

The simple act of going down to get a box to mail this thing to Don has made me feel as though the weight of the world has been lifted from my shoulders.  If such a simple thing can have such an effect on my view of myself, how many other things can we think of that are things we can “set right?”  Have we shorted someone on a bonus due, refused to pay a commission or a referral, carried a grudge, backstabbed someone, or took home an extra ream of paper from work without asking the boss?

These things affect our karma, and how we regard ourselves.  Together they can form an unpardonable weight.  Each acts like a tiny stone in the backpack we carry around with us every day.   Empty that pack and you will walk much taller.

 

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