The 7 Signs of Greatness

Everyone talks about people who are “great”. You hear people say, “Oh, well, Abe Lincoln was a great man,” or “Steve Jobs is a great CEO,” and so on down the line until you’re convinced that there’s something great about anyone in any leadership position. But most of us – 99.9% of us – will never achieve any significant leadership position, like being the head of a government agency, a bank, or a multi-billion dollar corporation. And, almost always, when you hear people referred to as “great”, those people are almost always household names. You know, historical figures, inventors – people who’ve changed the course of human history in a significant way. Those are the people referred to as “great”. I think it’s wrong, though, to think that you, too, cannot be great. You can be every bit as great of a human being as they. The only difference is the scale of your achievements, which doesn’t really matter if we’re evaluating you as a person.

The 7 Signs of Greatness

  1. Skills: Every great person is “great” because they are great at something. However, just because you’re great at something doesn’t mean you’re a great person. The truly great are “great”, first and foremost, because of their skills and talents, though — if you’re trying to be great without being great at something, you’ll fail. Start here. Hone your skills.
  2. Integrity: Every truly great individual has integrity. This means they act as they choose, and think freely. They do what they say, and they stick to their convictions. Integrity means that you are willing to stand up for what you believe in, even against strong opposition.
  3. Ambition: Being ambitious means that you have high goals and standards to meet – and you take the action necessary to meet them. The only caveat here is, if you want to be great, you have to make sure you meet your goals fairly and don’t let your ambition get the best of you, a la Macbeth. Being ambitious is good; being Machiavellian and power-hungry is not.
  4. Persistence: Great people don’t let their failures discourage them. Instead, failure is only an incentive to push harder. There’s the oft-cited example of Edison, who failed over 100 times to produce a working lightbulb and kept going – he eventually changed the world as we know it because he kept going. Don’t let a rough patch of work get you down; keep working and make it to the other side. Speaking of Edison…
  5. Do-er-ness: I don’t really know what to call it, but great people are people of action. They didn’t sit around reading newspapers or blogs or whining about the weather. They acted. They honed their skills through constant practice. They were always doing things and didn’t spend a whole lot of time planning (even though planning is good) or worrying or wasting time. Going back to Edison: he thought of more than 100 designs for the lightbulb. In theory, they all should’ve worked. But because he acted and tested all the bulbs, he found out that only one worked. That’s why action and testing things out in the real world is so much better than languishing in theory.
  6. Introspectiveness: In every great man’s life, there was a man who, at one point, was better than he was. This better-than-great man made the great man look inferior, whether because of their superior skill, intellect, passion, ambition, planning, whatever. However, the great man eventually improved and surpassed the better-than-great man, and, because of it, the great man is known to history, while the better-than-great man ceased to be better-than-great (more like “good” or “mediocre”) and isn’t known to anyone. Why did this happen? After getting defeated, the great man surveyed why he lost and asked himself what he could do to make himself better. He then proceeded to make himself better, accentuating his strengths and improving his weaknesses. When he met the better-than-great man again, he won. This is because the great man was introspective and was capable of good self-criticism. To become great, you’ll need to know yourself and be able to make yourself improve.
  7. A “Why” or Driving Force: Every great person has a reason why they’re doing the things they’re doing. It’s what wakes them up in the morning, it’s what makes them take relentless action, it’s what makes them want to improve, it’s what makes them practice for hours and hours to improve their skills, it’s what makes them want to be great in the first place. Their “why” creates a burning desire within them to make their dream of greatness come true.
Too many people are trying to become great without knowing why. Is it the money that you think you’ll get for being great? Is it the legacy you’ll leave? Is it the boost in self-esteem you’ll get for being able to think of yourself as great? Figure out your why, then leverage it. Use it to become great – and not just great at your skills. Great at life.

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