Why Character Still Counts

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Last week Zig Ziglar passed away at 86 years old. He was an incredible leader who walked his talk until the very end. Last week in this blog we talked about the seven traits of a serving leader. The foundational and final quality of a serving leader was cultivates character. When I think of Zig Ziglar what stands out in my mind was how he taught sales professionals to cultivate character in their leadership and selling careers. He felt that honesty was the best quality but for a person who influences others, it’s the only policy.

I met Zig many years ago when I was selling vacuum sweepers door to door. My mother’s best friend Ollie had been a big fan of Zig’s and she bought me a copy of Zig’s classic book on closing sales. Ollie was an entrepreneur going way back, having founded a cleaning service with her husband many years earlier. My mother told her about my new job selling Kirby cleaning systems for $1000 each back in 1984. That’s a great, but expensive vacuum sweeper. My mom was concerned that her shy son would struggle selling them during a recession. Ollie told my mom about Zig and my mom bought me a ticket to a sales training event with Zig and a person I had never heard of at the time named Peter Lowe.

What struck me about Zig was his energy and the way he presented his ideas to the crowd. I had never had sales training and Zig started his presentation talking about honesty and integrity. During this part of his presentation he shared many of his classic lines about selling. But the one that stood out with me was his belief that honesty is critical in a professional sales career. He also said he would share the secret to a better life at the end of the event. He then told the crowd you could attend a bonus session after the program that would pay benefits beyond your selling career. He had me hooked.

As I grew in stature and became more successful as a sales professional, I continued learning about selling from Zig. As I began gaining confidence, I started learning more about setting goals from Zig or, more accurately, his many tape sets that I bought at the conference. I couldn’t get enough of his great stories and the closes he taught me worked almost every time. He reminded me of many of the ministers I grew up listening to as a pre-seminary student at Baldwin Wallace College. One of my favorite Zig quotes back then was, “The most important persuasion tool you have in your entire arsenal is integrity.” Wow. Many of the sales people I worked with were less than ethical, I’m being kind. But I stuck with it and I ended up succeeding.

Later in my career I saw Zig at a Success Summit. At this conference, Zig introduced me to two of his friends that would help continue my success in sales and leadership. Their names were Jim Rohn and Brian Tracy. These three men would shape my thinking forever.

The key concept I got out of this conference was what Zig summed up as his philosophy on life, “You were born to win, but to be a winner, you must plan to win, prepare to win, and expect to win.” As a former athlete, this fired me up. This strategy is what I used to compete in everything I did, and back then I was doing a lot.

I had a new job with new leadership responsibilities. I was in charge of leading sales teams. So I looked to these three new mentors to help me learn how to motivate and lead my teams.

Zig again came through with a philosophy that made sales management easy. He taught me a philosophy that I’ve used for the past 30 years. It was, “You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want.” Wow. That was so simple. Once I embraced this philosophy my life took off and I never looked back.
I can’t imagine how my life would have turned out without Zig, Brian, and Jim. Everywhere I went, I had their tapes turned on in my car. I even bought my first Buick because it had both a CD player and tape deck. My wife thought I was crazy. The car was a great ride but it allowed me to maximize my time on the road with my rolling university.

Now what was the final thing Zig taught me about character? I went to his bonus program after the event. In this program Zig shared his beliefs about Jesus Christ. He got up for over 25 minutes talking about the role Jesus had played in his life. He told all in attendance about why he thought Jesus was the reason he was successful. He also refined his definition of what success meant and what it meant to one’s eternal life.

For several people in the audience, they felt that this was not the time or place for a discussion of eternal life. When people were incredulous about taking our time after the meeting Zig turned that objection into a question about what would happen if you got into a car that night and were killed at a railroad crossing. Did you know where you would spend eternity? Then he used the silent close and waited for an answer. The person walked off and complained to Peter. Zig never changed this part of his routine. He never shied away from sharing this precious secret with everyone he came in contact with. Now that takes character. I’m sure this cost him money and additional speeches over his career. He didn’t care; he knew there was something more important than just money.

When Zig passed away last week I dug out a copy of his autobiography looking for some comfort in the book. He had been both a sales mentor to me for much of my professional career. I looked in the book and opened up to the page where he had signed my book. It brought me inner peace. It said Zig Ziglar Romans 10-9 and I felt true joy for my friend knowing that we would again meet on the other side. I guess that what he meant when he said I’ll “See you over the top.”

About the Author

Tripp Braden partners with entrepreneurs and senior executives on their high engagement C-Suite communication and content marketing strategies.

He believes client education is the best way of building trust and long term sustainable growth.

His consulting practice focuses on second stage entrepreneurs, technology organizations, and senior level business executives. Tripp partners with clients to develop high impact C-Suite communication and account based marketing strategies.

If you’re interested in learning more, contact Tripp at tbraden@marketleadership.net or send him an invite on LinkedIn. You can find Tripp’s business growth blog at Market Leadership Journal.

Tripp Braden – who has written posts on Empowering Serving Leaders.


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