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Zig Ziglar was to success what Chuck Taylor was to basketball sneakers and what Chubby Checker was to The Twist.
The motivational speaker and author, who died on Nov. 28 at age 86 in a suburb of Dallas, didn't invent confidence-building aphorisms or the positive-thinking worldview that success comes more from will, determination and systematic effort than from privilege, genius or sheer luck. But Ziglar, the author of books such as Secrets of Closing the Sale, did more than build on the work of earlier self-improvement gurus such as Dale Carnegie and Napoleon Hill. Ziglar made his name synonymous with success, by selling himself to audiences as a humble, self-deprecating example of self-reinvention.
It worked, at least in part because it was a true story. According to his autobiography, Ziglar - the son of a farm manager, and a World War II veteran who worked his way up through sales and corporate management jobs - started a career as a motivational speaker and consultant out of desperation, after the company he was working for went bankrupt. His first big break was a series of instructional tapes that he did for the sales staff at Mary Kay Cosmetics. From there, "He almost created an industry by himself," said Howard Putnam, the former CEO of Southwest and Braniff airlines, and a Ziglar acolyte. "You know he was a salesman, selling pots and pans, down in Yazoo, Mississippi, or somewhere and got into speaking. So he was the first."
But enough with the biography. Here are five of Ziglar's choice bits of advice, gleaned from his books, interviews and other sources.
- Sell yourself, not a product. "Many times the prospect will buy not because of their belief in the product, goods or service, but because of the belief of the salesperson," Ziglar once wrote.
- Build yourself up by encouraging others. "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," Ziglar said in a magazine interview. "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."
- Stick to your principles. "The foundation stones of honesty, character, faith, integrity, love and loyalty are necessary for a balanced success," Ziglar wrote in See You at the Top. "If you compromise any of those principles, you will end up with only a beggar's portion of what life has to offer."
- Don't be a curmudgeon. "Some people do really find fault like there's a reward for it," Ziglar once joked.
- There's no easy way to make it. In See You at the Top, Ziglar asked readers to imagine that next to their metaphorical stairway to success, there was an elevator with an "out of order" sign on it. He advised: "You'll have to take the stairs, and you'll have to take them one at a time."