By: Jason Karpf
Motivational speaking--and related activities such as life coaching and performance training--is a vibrant industry as organizations and individuals seek new paths to productivity, prosperity and fulfillment. One man stands out as a giant in the field: Zig Ziglar, renowned speaker, trainer and author for half a century.
Born Hilary Hinton Ziglar in 1926, Ziglar grew up in Yazoo City, Miss., the tenth of 12 children to Lila and John Silas Ziglar, a hardworking, devout couple. After the loss of his father and baby sister in 1932, young Zig learned his most important life lessons from his mother who provided tirelessly for the remaining children while instilling biblical principles in them. He honed his work ethic, selling peanuts for a penny-a-bag profit during grade school before becoming a grocery clerk in his adolescent years. Ziglar went straight from high school to the U.S. Navy, entering college under a navy training program in 1945. He married the former Jean Abernathy upon war's end.
In the late 1940s, a commission-based position for a cookware company introduced Zig Ziglar to the world of sales and the importance of positive thinking. After a slow start and some blunt advice on improving his time management, Ziglar became a top producing salesman and moved up to field manager and division supervisor. As he continued his career in training management, he built his reputation as a motivational speaker. In 1970, he went into the motivational speaking business full time, eventually founding his own performance enhancement company. As of 2009, Ziglar has written 27 books and hundreds of articles. He has addressed audiences around the globe as a solo speaker and jointly with presidents, generals and other noted leaders. The Ziglar organization has counseled Fortune 500 corporations, U.S. Government agencies, small- and mid-sized businesses, schools and nonprofit agencies.
A review of Ziglar's personal and professional credentials attests to his character and the pillars of his success: child of the Depression South, World War II veteran, famous speaker and author, husband for 62 years, father of four, grandfather of seven, great-grandfather of nine. One ultimate word sums up Ziglar: Christian.
Everyday Christian: You committed to Jesus Christ on July 4, 1972, at age 45. What led to your commitment?
Ziglar: "My mother used the Bible and biblical principles in bringing up her 11 children (my father and my baby sister died within five days of one another--I was almost six then), and she saw to it that all of us were in church Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday evening. Despite her efforts and her ongoing prayers, although I knew about Christ I didn't invite Him to be Lord of my life until I was 45 years old, broke and in debt. Sister Jessie, a friend of a friend, spent the Fourth of July weekend in our home. She walked in talking about Jesus and walked out talking about Jesus, and she talked about Jesus the whole time in between. God used Sister Jessie, an elderly black lady, to lead me to committing my life to Christ."
You declare your faith in your writing and speaking and relate your training and motivational methods to the Bible and belief in God. What kind of reactions do you receive?
"Almost unanimously, my audiences respond with much enthusiasm. Even people who don't share my specific faith (denomination, beliefs, etc.) are typically enthusiastic about my profession of faith in God and my commitment to living to God-given standards."
Salespeople are sometimes stereotypically portrayed as money-hungry and untrustworthy. How can someone be a good salesperson and a good Christian?
"By living by the Golden Rule-treating clients and customers as he or she would like to be treated. When our clients, prospects and customers see, understand and believe that we as salespeople have their best interests at heart, it just isn't difficult. Selling is something we do for our clients--not to our clients. We are offering our prospects an opportunity to improve their lives or the lives of their families. If someone we have sold to goes out of their way to avoid us, we need to re-examine our selling motives."
You teach people to eliminate "stinkin' thinkin'" in your book See You at the Top. Are most people prone to negativity? Can only a select few learn to stay "up"?
"Absolutely not. I am convinced after more than 50 years in the field of motivation that anyone who wants to learn to look at life and/or their circumstances in a positive light can do so. We make available our tri-fold self-talk cards on our website specifically for that purpose. And, no, I wouldn't say 'most' people are prone to negativity. I think it's probably that most people allow negativity to color their thinking, depending on circumstances, but I also believe most people make the necessary efforts to return to positive thinking as quickly as possible. Studies and research have now shown for years that positive thinking will let you do everything better than negative thinking will!"
In Confessions of a Grieving Christian, you tell the story of losing your eldest child Suzan to lung disease. As a well-known motivator, did you have to "switch gears" to discuss death and grief? How important has this testimony been to your family and the public?
"I never felt I was "switching gears" at all, only that I was experiencing something I'd not experienced before, the incredible grief that comes from losing a child. Discussing her death and my resulting grief, whether in writing or in live appearances, felt like a truly natural progression of events in my life. I am so thankful I had the strength and promises of a loving God to guide my choices and decisions, and to uphold me through the unbelievably dark days and times of overwhelming sorrow. I am reluctant to even think how I might have handled such an experience before I had committed my life to Christ, and trusted Him with my days and hours. I believe my testimony through the mourning time and to this very day was something I shared with others in my family, and something I hope and pray pointed them as well as the public to faith in Christ."
You frequently cite your formative boyhood experiences during the Depression and the perseverance of your widowed mother who raised 11 surviving children. Does America have the same strengths and values to get through today's economic crisis?
"Absolutely, America does have the same strengths and values to get through today's economic crisis. It's very possible and even highly likely that some of those strengths and values need to be dusted off and brought back into the light of day, but I have no doubt but that they remain with us. Hard times always uncover the basic goodness and evil of the day; it's our responsibility to see to it that the good outweighs the evil and I am convinced beyond a doubt that today's Americans will do exactly that!"
Who have been your mentors and teachers? How can other people find their own mentors and teachers?
"On my 'wall of gratitude' in our Dallas offices are photographs of 27 people who, from birth until today, God has placed in my life to teach me, lead me, mentor me, support and encourage me. Obviously, my mother was the first, with her fifth-grade education and inestimable biblical wisdom. My first-grade teacher went out of her way to instruct me despite the several childhood diseases I experienced during that year; other teachers and professors aided in my education. Surrogate fathers and other male figures stepped in to give guidance after my dad died. Businessmen taught me to honor my commitments; others gave me opportunities beyond my wildest imaginations. Authors and speakers set good, solid examples of high standards and lofty goals for me; mature, committed Christians nurtured and instructed me.
"All one needs to do is read--books, magazines, research the Internet--and pay attention to the influencers in their lives to discover the myriad people of strong moral character who have and still are making positive, meaningful contributions and differences in our world. Oftentimes we must be mentored by the lessons they've already learned and reported on, but many times these people are willing and able to give of their time, energy and talents to take the younger under their wings and help them develop the principles and character that will enable them to live lives of worth and value. It does, however, require effort and desire on the part of the student."
What are the unique challenges and advantages that Christians face in the business world?
"I suggest the greatest challenge to Christians in the business world is within--making the heart determination (simply put, the choice) to live by God's principles and sticking with it; making the commitment to serving Christ and mankind with our efforts, our gifts and our knowledge.
I believe the greatest advantages are in the obvious watch care and protection our Heavenly Father promises His own if we will live our lives committed and consecrated to Him."
Editor's Note: Ziglar went to be with His Lord at the age of eighty-six in November of 2012.