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The Zig Ziglar Guide to Better Leadership

by | Oct 16, 2017

Good advice from a beloved management guru.

When Zig Ziglar wasn’t writing one of his 25 books on management and sales, he was traveling the country, speaking about these topics to professionals.

His keynote fee was $50K.

One day, before going on stage, a woman approached him.

“I have a problem,” she said. “I hate my job. I hate everything about it!” She was irate. Ziglar looked at her.

“Yes, and you know, ma’am,” he said, “I’m afraid your problem is about to get worse.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well,” he said, “I believe they’re gonna fire you.”

“But why would they fire me?” She was stunned. Ziglar looked at her.

“Ma’am, I don’t believe there’s any company big enough to contain this much poison in one small spot.”

“Well,” she said, “what can I do?”

Ziglar told her what to do. In fact, you can watch him recite the story. But his advice came with a caveat …

“Ma’am, let me tell you what my experience in life has been,” he said. “I’ve discovered that in 100% of cases, no exceptions, people who won’t take step number one, never take step number two.”

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The Zig Ziglar Guide to Better Leadership

Want to be a better leader? Follow the steps:

  • Step number one is internalizing the right attitude and approach, the right belief system.
  • Step number two is applying that knowledge, consistently, until your retirement party.

Great leaders can be molded, shaped by the right outside perspective. Throughout his career, Zig Ziglar generously shared his point of view with millions of people. His writing and public speaking also left behind countless quotes, axioms that leaders everywhere can lean on.

I’ve transcribed a few of these quotes below, along with some context:

1. “You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.”

In his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini introduces the Rule of Reciprocation, which states that it’s human nature to feel compelled to “try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us.”

In other words, we can’t help but feel indebted to those who’ve helped us. We feel obligated to return the favor, somehow. According to research by Alvin Gouldner, a renowned sociologist, this need is present in every society and culture in the world.

The takeaway for managers: Do everything you can to enable your employees’ success, and you, too, will be successful.

2. “If you’re sincere, praise is effective. If you’re insincere, it’s manipulative.”

Being recognized for your work is a compelling experience, satisfying and motivating.

“But praise has a dark side, too,” writes psychologist Leon Seltzer, Ph.D. “Much more than we typically realize, it can constitute a kind of verbal bribery, offered primarily to serve the interest of the person offering it.”

Receiving insincere acclaim is manipulative, and easy to spot, especially if it isn’t immediate and specific. What’s more is that it can have the opposite effect on recipients, demotivating them.

The takeaway for managers: Giving false praise is a lose-lose.

3. “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.”

Goals are important, obviously. They put progress into context. That said, if setting goals is step number one, then owning goals is step number two.

Consider this study by economist Richard Thaler: he gifted Group “A” coffee mugs. Then he offered to trade them back those coffee mugs for something else, chocolate bars. Almost nobody accepted. Then the experiment was reversed: Group “B” was gifted the bars, which they were then asked to trade in for mugs. Again, nearly everyone refused. This happened in group after group after group.

They called it the endowment effect, a psychological bias that makes people value something more because they own it. It applies to things, relationships, ideas, and of course, goals.

The takeaway for managers: How do you own a goal? It helps to have earned it.

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4. “Statistics suggest that when customers complain, business owners and managers ought to get excited about it. The complaining customer represents a huge opportunity for more business.”

I don’t know which “statistics” Zig is talking about, but I believe his logic …

Handle a customer complaint with tact and empathy, and you’ll likely strengthen the relationship. You’ll probably learn something, too, identifying a hole in your product or service or process.

Though it’s uncomfortable, criticism can be a potent catalyst for progress. This also applies to employee feedback, which should be eagerly welcomed, so long as it’s delivered with poise and respect.

The takeaway for managers: A steady stream of thoughtful, honest employee feedback is invaluable. Give your people the opportunity to voice their opinions, concerns, and observations without fear of retribution.

You’re good.

But you can always get better. We all can.

“Success isn’t a destination,” said Ziglar. “It’s a journey.”