These past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about mentors. I explained the impact of Jim Rohn in this post, Og Mandino in this post and for today’s Thoughts on Leadership discussion, I want to focus on Zig Ziglar and his mentor, PC Merrell.
In 1985, I went with Mike Ray, superstar agent at Fox & Carskadon and my mentor, to a seminar with Jim Rohn, Og Mandino and Zig Ziglar. While I was influenced by all those great leaders (Mike, Jim and Og), Zig Ziglar taught me a great deal about leadership throughout the years. I had listened to so many Zig Ziglar tapes back then I could practically tawk lakh Zig. (If you’ve ever listened to his seminars, he’s got a very particular accent.)
I listened to Zig so much, Mike Ray used to call me Zig Ziglar and I’d call him PC Merrell.
If you don’t know Zig’s story, it’s a powerful one. Zig got his professional start in sales selling cookware door to door for the WearEver Aluminum Company. In the beginning, he wasn’t an overnight success. In fact, he was actually a bit of a failure; he did not even rank in the top half out of 7,000 sales associates. (As Zig jokingly said, “That didn’t mean I didn’t sell a lot because I did; I sold my furniture, sold my car.”)
One morning, about 2.5 years into his sales career, his alarm clock went off at 5:30 a.m. just as it always did. (Before it was an alarm clock but he now calls it the “opportunity clock.”) Zig cracked his venetian blinds in his three-room apartment above a grocery store. It was a cold morning, and his car didn’t have a heater, so he decided to go back to bed. Laying there, he heard his mother’s words: “Your word is your bond and if your word is no good, eventually, you’re no good.”
When he first got his job, the management team made him promise he would attend all sales meetings and training sessions. In 2.5 years, he not only didn’t miss a single meeting, but also was never late to one. With his mother’s words reverberating in his head, he reluctantly rolled out of bed and got ready for the sales meeting, which happened to be led by PC Merrell, who Zig described as his “hero.”
Mr. Merrell had set all the sales records and even wrote the training program. “He was a man of absolute integrity,” as Zig once described him.
There were 21 sales associates present at the meeting and when it was over, for whatever reason, Mr. Merrell pulled Zig aside and said, “I want to talk with you personally.”
Zig was flattered. This was a person he loved, trusted and respected. He was also a little confused. Why did he pick Zig out of everyone? His career in sales so far was less than stellar.
Mr. Merrell said to him, “Zig, I’ve been watching you for the last two and a half years and I’ve never seen such a waste.”
What? Zig asked him what he meant.
Mr. Merrell continued: “I believe you can be a great one. I believe you can be a national champion. I believe you can go all the way to the top. I believe that someday if you believe in yourself and went to work on a regular schedule, you could be No. 1.”
Mr. Merrell’s belief in Zig was shocking. He was born 1926 in Coffee County, Alabama. At birth, he was premature and according to the doctor, died nine days after his birth but was revived in his grandmother’s arms. At the age of five, his family moved to Yazoo City, Mississippi, where he was raised by his single mother because his father had just passed away.
Zig was the 10th of 12 children. (He said, “I asked my mom why so many, and she said, ‘Well, son where do you think I should’ve stopped?’”)
As a youngster, his family survived on their five milk cows and a large garden. He was a small but tenacious child and one daydreamed of finding enough success to own his own butcher shop and live on an acre of land on the outskirts of Yazoo City with a big garden. “That was my dream,” he said. “The dream of a little guy from a little town.”
But Mr. Merrell said he could be “a great one,” and Zig respected him enormously. “I believed him,” Zig said. “When I left that meeting that day, an entirely different person was driving home.”
He finished the year as the No. 2 salesperson in America, out of all 7,000 people in the company. He received the best promotion the company had to offer and the following year, he was the highest paid field manager in the United States.
He already had the sales skills, he has leaned them the first 2.5 years of his career. He could prospect, handle appointments and close—that wasn’t the issue. Technically he was ready but until his person was ready, nothing would ever happen.
“The picture you have of yourself is so important,” he said. He thought about the words his mother spoke, the words of Mr. PC Merrell, and all of it played such an important role in his self-belief and self-esteem. It was only when he believed he could that he did.
When the picture of who you are changes, everything else in your life changes. When you’re the best kind of person you can be, then you do the right things and reap all the rewards life has to offer.
As I write this, I can still hear Zig’s distinct voice saying, “Mah story is your story,” and it is. Maybe we didn’t all grow up in Yazoo City, Mississippi, the 10th in a line of 12 children, or grow vegetables in our backyard and milk cows, but we all have our own origins story and it helped shape who we are today.
Cassette tape No. 4 was the one I’d listen to day in and day out. It was Zig’s story and I had the thing practically memorized. At first, I remember being annoyed by Zig’s accent, but then when I heard his story, when I heard how he took his humble beginnings and turned them into such success, I was inspired. I remember him saying, “It all boils down to your self image.”
So, what’s the message? You perform how you see yourself and Mr. Merrell believed in Zig and made him see himself. Mr. Merrell had nothing to gain by believing in Zig. He wasn’t his manager trying to get him excited so if he sold more cookware, he would look good. He was just a person with integrity and said, “Zig, you can be a great one.”
I have had many PC Merrells (mentors) in my life. In the beginning it was Tommy Hopkins, Mike Ferry, Jim Rohn, Og Mandino, Zig, Brian Tracy, Mike Ray, Chuck Cwieka, Allan Dalton, Bob Moles and Alain Pinel.
Zig’s life changed when Mr. Merrell told him he could be a great one, and to anyone reading this post, if you’re in need of a boost of extra motivation today, know that I believe you can be a great one. Now it’s up to you to believe it, too.
This article is adapted from Blefari’s weekly, company-wide “Thoughts on Leadership” column from HomeServices of America.