Overcoming Adversity and Becoming a Successful Leader – The Zig Ziglar Story

This is Zig Ziglar’s story which was part of groundbreaking leadership research by has received extensive endorsements and enthusiastic reviews from well-known prominent business, political, and academic leaders who either participated in the study or reviewed the research findings. You will discover the proven success habits and secrets of people who, in spite of difficult or life threatening challenges shaped their own destiny to become successful, effective leaders.

Ziglar’s story was gathered as one of the initial nine prominent leaders, that I interviewed, who overcame adversity included: Dr. Tony Bonanzino, U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch, Monzer Hourani, U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye, Dr. John Malone, Larry Pino, U.S. Army Major General Sid Shachnow, Dr. Blenda Wilson, and Zig Ziglar.

Additionally, five internationally known and respected leadership scholars offered their reviews of the leadership research findings including: Dr. Ken Blanchard, Jim Kouzes, Dr. John Kotter, Dr. Paul Stoltz, and Dr. Meg Wheatley.

This is a short biography Zig Zigalr, as one of the principal participants who generously contributed their time and insight for this important Doctoral dissertation research into the phenomenon of how prominent successful leaders overcome adversity and obstacles.

This Zig Ziglar’s story of overcoming adversity, personal success and hope:

Zig Ziglar was born in 1926, in what he termed “very modest circumstances” to a family that was “financially challenged in many ways.” He was “the tenth of twelve children born to a family living in rural Mississippi.” He lost his father at the age of five. Zig worked from an early age to support his family. He shared that he “had what was known as an inferiority complex.” Until “Judge” Ziglar’s untimely death, he worked hard in a very depressed economy to provide for his large family. Zig said his Papa “was a thoughtful man possessed of great confidence. Everyone respected his intelligence, fairness, and judgment.”

Two days after his father’s funeral, Zig’s 14-month-old baby sister also died. Zig’s mother decided to move the family to the “big city” of Yazoo City on the Mississippi River delta. His mother was well-versed in the Bible and regularly quoted from it. “My mother was famous for her ‘one minute sermons.'”

Zig worked his way through school, beginning with elementary school and continuing through his college years. In 1943, Zig joined the Naval Air Corps. Zig said, “I never would have had a chance to get into college were it not for the V5 Program.” He continued, “Despite being a poor student, I did well enough on my [Navy] Air Corps entrance exams to be accepted into the Navy’s pre-flight training program.” He entered Millsap College in July of 1944, as part of the Navy’s V5 program for Navy pilots. It was while he was attending Millsap that he met and started dating Jean Abernathy.

Zig was transferred to the University of South Carolina by the Navy. When World War II ended Zig continued to attend the University of South Carolina, selling sandwiches to other students to pay his expenses, and continued to court Jean Abernathy by mail. Zig and Jean were married on Thanksgiving Day in 1946.

The summer after they were married, Zig’s sandwich business died off. The couple began to struggle financially. Zig got a job selling expensive cookware through dinner parties, but he still had his “inferiority complex.” That was the case until an important talk and words of encouragement from a respected mentor became the pivotal event that changed Zig’s entire life. Ziglar proved his mentor right, moving from failure to success. But Zig also faced many obstacles as a field manager, obstacles that were to test him in the extreme.

After his sales and sales management experiences, Ziglar made a career change, focusing his attention on becoming an accomplished public speaker. He had not been attending church regularly, but he returned to it, becoming a devoted Christian.

Zig Ziglar described in great detail the importance of his embracing Christianity:
“My greatest help came in the form of my faith when I became a Christian on July 4, 1972. As I came to realize how much God loved me, as a result I loved myself more and respected myself more. Again, here was a factor in my life that made a major difference.”

Zig Ziglar talked about having “twenty-seven mentors who helped shape my life.” One of Zig’s “key mentor was Mr. P. C. Merrell.” Merrell gave Zig a “major dose of encouragement after a training session.” Zig said “he pulled me aside and assured me that I could be the national champion; I could be a great one.” “I had been near the bottom of the sales force of 7,000; I finished at number two by the end of the year.” Zig was able to “dramatically change [his] picture” of himself “because of [his] mentor’s words.”

Zig commented that he could “now, for the first time, capitalize on his sales training, experience, frustration, and failures [he] had experienced during the last two and a half years in the field failing at selling.” Zig pointed out that he “now had been tested and became more committed,” and he “had more discipline,” which enabled him “to be strong and succeed.”

Cavett Roberts, founder of the National Speakers Association (NSA), who was one of Zig’s many mentors, personally persuaded Zig Ziglar to put his meaningful messages in writing and share them with the world. He did so. In fact, Zig has now authored twenty-three books on leadership, personal growth, sales, faith, family, and success. Cavett Roberts was one of Zig’s biggest fans and strongly encouraged Ziglar to not only write his books, but to personally share his messages by speaking his unique perspective of hope and motivation at every opportunity/

I have known Zig Ziglar for many years and attended several of his sales training and motivational sessions. One of Zig’s trademark lines sums up his attitude perfectly: “You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” For as Paul Harvey is fond of saying “and now for the rest of the story” read Zig’s wonderful and uplifting book “Zig: The Autobiography of Zig Ziglar” (2002).

Copyright 2006, 2009 © Howard Edward Haller, Ph.D.