Greatness. It’s a word and aspirational state that has intrigued me for years. But, what does it mean to be great? I started thinking about it when I penned my book, The Savage Leader: 13 Principles to Become a Better Leader from the Inside Out. In sports, there have been clear examples to me of Greatness. Steph Curry, Tom Brady, Derek Jeter, and Wayne Gretzky. Athletes who won (and keep winning) multiple championships. Yes, they won, but it was also the way they won as well as the impact on their teammates, franchises, fans, and their communities that felt different.

I have also felt the presence of Greatness in community and non-profit leaders. People like Mariama Shaheed, founder and CEO of Global Preparatory Academy, the first bi-lingual charter school in Indiana. Global Prep provides kids in Indianapolis with a view of what’s possible in the world and then uses education as a tool to help them achieve it.

I have also seen it in business leaders like Chase Fisher and Steve Gatena.

Chase Fisher is the founder and CEO of Blenders Eyewear, an uncompromising sunglasses (and increasingly a lifestyle) company rooted in San Diego’s beach culture that lives up to its motto – “Life in Forward Motion.”

Steve Gatena created Pray.com as a way to grow faith, grow community, and to “create a world where everyone leaves a legacy of helping others.” Beyond the impact that Pray.com has on its millions of customers, its culture is one that nurtures the long-term growth and development of its employees.

Why Greatness?

I’ve spent years running down success while more recently trying to define and live out my own sense of purpose. Success feels like chasing the mirage that appears on the horizon and just as you arrive at that oasis, it disappears. It can also be wholly unfulfilling—like wolfing down a box of Red Vines—and can lack long-term motivation (to me) to put in the late nights and endure the long slog required to reach the next horizon. There are countless books and seminars designed to help you chase success only to leave you with a metaphorical belly ache and sugar crash once you achieve (temporarily) an externally created definition of success.

Purpose on the other hand can lead to a life of fulfillment. It can also feel nebulous and unattainable to many people. Books like Start with Why have been helpful in bringing the concept of purpose to the mainstream, but many people struggle with its practical long-term application. It’s also more difficult to measure and track progress toward living a life of purpose.

But, what if you could put it all together? A life of success and one rooted in purpose? Living a life fueled with motivation, long-term orientation, and fulfillment. To me that’s Greatness!

Deconstructing Greatness: What Does It Mean to Be Great?

But what is Greatness? How do you define it and start down the path to achieve it? “Knowing it when you see it” is not helpful as a roadmap to help us define Greatness in our lives and careers. So what does Greatness actually mean? Let’s start with the following definition.

“Greatness lives at the intersection of purpose and success. Greatness combines our yearning for external achievement while balancing an internal focus on creating fulfillment, meaning, and impact.”

I recently asked several groups of executives to define Greatness and their responses varied dramatically. To some, Greatness is reserved for a select few. Entrepreneurs and business luminaries like Elon, Jobs, and Bezos. Others referenced transcendent sports figures like Kobe, Jeter, and LeBron. All of them are people who are commonly referenced by a single name.

To others, Greatness was a successful entrepreneur taking a “triple bottom line” approach to life and not making personal sacrifices in service of business goals. Others referenced people like the janitor at a local school who took pride in hard work and strong family life.

It confirmed what I have long suspected. When people think about Greatness, their responses vary based on where they lie on the Success-Purpose Continuum. Some of us are 99% focused on success and 1% on purpose, while others are 99% purpose and 1% success. Most of us are somewhere in between.

Achieving Greatness. Are You In?

What about you? If you’ve read this far, I suspect you seek Greatness in your life. Take the next step in identifying and achieving your personal sense of Greatness. Consider the following:

  • What does Greatness mean to you? What would it mean to be great in life and in your career?

  • What are your most important values? What words resonate with your core? (e.g., faith, family, growth, security, environment, justice, transparency)

  • Where do you land on the Success-Purpose Continuum? Do you aspire to a life primarily aimed at purpose? Or are you hell-bent on being the most successful person in your family or graduating class? Or somewhere in between?

  • How can you bring purpose and success together to create your own personal definition of Greatness?

Warning Label: Once you take this first step, you’ll never look back. You’ll also wonder why you never lived a life and led a career focused on your Greatness.

Source: thesavageleader.com ~ Image: Canva Pro

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