Lessons From A Woodsman

Keep everything prepared for the toughest 'logs'


One of my favorite inspirational figures is Zig Ziglar. For those of you "young puppies" who may not recognize the name, Zig is a motivational/inspirational/spiritual/selling-machine speaker who is still highly active in his 80s and much sought after. He's known for a fire-and-brimstone style of convincing you that you can do anything good if you put your mind, heart and soul behind it. He has published hundreds of books and papers and spoken in front of millions of sales, service, management and executive people all over the world.

I was first introduced to Ziglar's teachings when I was in my late 20s and a traveling salesman. At the time, I covered five Midwestern States by car, selling the world's greatest line of engine gaskets to shops, parts distributors and wholesalers. I may have been selling the world's greatest product line, but I didn't make enough money to actually buy any of Ziglar's books or tapes.

I checked out a pile of his cassette tapes and a few books at the library every time I would head out to do the North Dakota trip, which sometimes continued for two weeks at a time. My plan always included a Sunday departure and a direct trip across ND, all the way to Williston on the west end of the state.

I would listen to Zig and Earl Nightingale (another charmer) tapes all the way during this 12- to 14-hour drive. Heaven help the poor customer that I called upon first thing Monday morning. Plain and simple, he was going to buy something, and the same for the next 10 or 12 calls that I made during the next few days.

I learned many valuable lessons, including how to keep my empathy-ego balance in check and how we tend to treat people the way that we see them. Many lessons stuck. Some didn't work so well for me and faded. The most indelible and valuable lesson, however, was a parable that Ziglar told about the two woodsmen.

There were two woodsmen working together on a firewood chopping project and both had a quota. (As all salespeople know, quotas are always nearly impossible to reach, dreamed up by a fiendish department somewhere.) Both woodsmen had the same size pile of logs to split and both had the same basics: level of intellect, job knowledge, work area and tools.

The two started at the same time and began splitting logs. One woodsman would frantically chop a small pile, gather it up, run over and dump it in the hopper and run back and start chopping again. For him - a real competitor, he didn't see the quota as his opponent, but the other woodsman. After an hour of chopping, he was working up a real sweat and slowed down for a minute. He saw the other woodsman sitting on a bench, sharpening his axe, taping his hands, changing gloves and having a cool drink.

Looking to gain an edge, the first woodsman now began splitting wood like crazy, which increased the difficulty of his task. As he made another trip to the hopper with split logs, he saw that the other woodsman had filled his quota and was preparing to go home.

He asked the other woodsman how he had managed to finish so fast. The reply: "I figured out a long time ago that all logs were different and that I needed to keep everything prepared for the toughest logs. I stop every 50 splits and sharpen my axe, change gloves and tape my hands. Everything goes easier with the right tools that are properly prepared.

"I found that I work much more effectively when I take a few minutes out to take care of my tools and myself. I also continue to learn better ways to accomplish my work.

"I tried to tell you that, but you were always running back to your pile, sweating and whacking away. I would stay to help you, but I need to get home."

This woodsman had the right idea. Lessons like this help me remember the value of training and the use of the proper tools.

Our industry is in a transformational period. Technology is moving at light speed and new systems, practices, product categories and regulations are creating a challenge for anyone in this business.

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