Friday, October 16, 2009

understanding greatness

Have you ever noticed the number of books that claim to talk about "the greatest___________ of all time?" It could be the greatest leaders, the greatest homerun hitters, the greatest chefs...whatever noun one wants to put behind the adjective, there seems to be no shortage of "the greatest" in any category. My question is - how does one decide who is the greatest...and what makes them so?

I suppose that all of us would in some shape or fashion want to be known as "the greatest" in some area of our lives. We may not be the greatest of all times and places (Hank Aaron is still the greatest home run hitter of all time in my book), but we could be known in our little corners of the world as "the greatest" - could I ever be known as "the greatest Dean of Business at Concordia University in the first decade of the 2000s?" I suppose that when you are the only one within any given category, you can declare yourself to be anything you want - but what does it REALLY mean to be the greatest?

Christians often offer up the passage from the Bible where Jesus says to his disciples, "if you want to be the greatest, then you must be a servant (Matthew 23:11). So may people misunderstand this idea of greatness, and consequently put themselves at a disadvantage to ever accomplish great things. They see the role of servant as soft and quiet...they consistently never take the lead...they struggle to stand up and make their ideas known...they have little influence because their world is too small. They will never be known as "the greatest" at anything becasue they refuse to truly serve others and the Kingdom.

So how can we, especially those of us who are Christian, understand greatness? A few thoughts to contemplate:
  • greatness begins with WHO ONE IS - do you know yourself well enough and comfortable with who you are to do that which you are called and wired to do?
  • greatness is about ACTION - no one can be called "the greatest" if they don't do anything. Sitting around contemplating great ideas - and not putting them into action - cannot be considered greatness
  • greatness is about WINNING - no matter how many times Thomas Edison failed, if he had never gotten around to actually inventing a light bulb that worked, no one would know of him today. 1000 failures and 1 win can lead to greatness...1001 failures with NO wins leaves you in the dust
  • greatness is about OTHERS - it's difficult to be great all by yourself. Locked in a room for my entire life, I can be the greatest at anything in my own domain. However, to truly be great, one has to engage with others and include others and learn from others and mentor others and share with others and help others and...
  • greatness is about INFLUENCE - Muhammed Ali is the greatest because he changed a generation of sports fans...Hank Aaaron is the greatest becasue he will always have more influence than Barry Bonds...Abraham Lincoln was the greatest because his words and ideas continue to influence people's leadership (does anyone remember a speech Calvin Coolidge ever gave?)
  • greatness is about SERVING - looking at all the above aspects of greatness, it really is about being a servant - but a servant who lifts others up...a servant who builds capacity in others...a servant who undertands the big picture...a servant who works hard and long hours...a servant who makes others healthier, wiser, more free, and more autonomous (see Robert Greenleaf, Servant Leadership, 1977).

So how about you - are you the greatest? You might just don't shirk the mantle. Be great! Lead! Influence! Make a difference! Change the world! Be the person God has intended for you to be!

1 comment:

Matt Grahn said...

This is a fantastic lesson to teach young men and women. Greatness is not about pub, press, fame, and fortune necessarily. Those things can come and go, and ulitmately fade into obscurity (love the Calvin Coolidge reference). Those things can also be taken away very easily.

On the other hand, like an education, an impact or connection made with another person lasts a lifetime. No one can remove that from the record. Don't allow yourself to be a one-hit-wonder.