I found the following article by Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D. , very useful.
As a society, we seem to be obsessed with “greatness.” We call a person “great” if he or she has performed a single skillful act (e.g. Captain “Sully” safely landing his airplane in the Hudson River). We call a person “great” if he or she survives a life-threatening situation (e.g. Captain Phillips surviving his ordeal at the hands of “pirates”). Now, I’m not diminishing the greatness of an unusual or highly skillful action. I am saying there is another way of defining “greatness” that is more useful. It is what Stephen R. Covey calls, “Everyday Greatness.” We often associate greatness with notoriety, fame, prestige, wealth or position. We often fail to associate greatness with the character or personality of a given individual. Covey writes, “Everyday Greatness is a way of living, not a one-time event. It says more about who a person is than what a person has [or done]. [It] is portrayed more by the goodness that radiates from a face than the title on a business card. It speaks more about people’s motives than about their talents; more about small and simple deeds than about grandiose accomplishments.”
Covey goes on to say, “Occasionally the world witnesses a heroic feat or discovers a person with rare talent… Such singular events and accomplishments often appear in sizzling media headlines under the banner of “greatness.” But most people know there is another type of greatness that tends to be more quiet by nature, one that generally escapes the headlines. Yet it is a greatness that in my opinion is deserving of higher honor, even more respect.”
You don’t have to be the next Martin Luther King Jr., or the next Abraham Lincoln or Mother Teresa in order to demonstrate everyday greatness. You do have to have certain timeless character qualities within your personality to be described as “great.”
In an earlier book (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People), Covey distinguishes between what he calls the “personality ethic” and the “character ethic.” The personality ethic includes the skills and techniques one may learn and display as their public image, their “personality,” or attitudes one may have that result in temporary success.
The character ethic assumes that there are some absolute principles that exist in all humans, upon which all true and lasting greatness is built. According to the character ethic, it is more important to focus on integrating those timeless principles of effective living into one’s personal character. It is the nature of your character that makes you great!…or not. What are some of those “timeless principles?” They include qualities such as: Truthfulness; Compassion; Integrity; Perseverance; Dependability; Generosity; Gratefulness; Humility; Responsibility; Justice and yes, Love.
We all have the potential to become great in character. The question of “greatness” then becomes, “Are you living your life in harmony with these timeless principles?” If you have incorporated them into your personal character, and your actions are rooted in them, certainly you can be truly considered “great.” ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Dr. Thomas is a licensed psychologist, author, speaker, and life coach. He serves on the faculty of the International University of Professional Studies. He recently co-authored (with Patrick Williams) the book: “Total Life Coaching: 50+ Life Lessons, Skills and Techniques for Enhancing Your Practice…and Your Life!” (W.W. Norton 2005) It is available at your local bookstore or on Amazon.com.