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For over 40 years I have had a poster from the New York School for Visual Arts as a central theme of everything I do:clown dream small

“Being Good is not enough when you Dream of Being Great”

What does it mean to be Great?

In looking at the definitions of the word great and greatness, there are three ways to apply the definition – as a Noun, Adverb, and Adjective:

As a Noun = great or distinguished person like The Beatles and Bob Dylan- all the greats

As an Adverb= excellently, very well liked -They played Great

As an Adjective = Very large and imposing–Of quality or Eminence, considerably above the normal or average—Denoting the element of something that is most important or most worthy of consideration—or finally, names in a family relationship, i.e. Great Aunt

As you can tell from these definitions, understanding Being Great has lots of ways to be described, which makes the concept of Being Great very difficult to define as a goal or aspiration. Depending on your generational age, great has other implications; as a Baby Boomer, Great has the sidebar of competition – as Being Great often was defined as a result of competition with others – Being great was that you won!!

In the last few years, Great has become more related to self-judgement; Being Great is an inner understanding of self-judgment. No matter how you look at the definitions of the word, when I ask people to define what Being Great is, there is usually a long silence as the word has too many implications. When I think of Being Great, I have used this context:

Define someone that you think is a great person, and tell me why you think they are great – ” The challenge is to define what personal greatness is. There is a level of great as compared to someone else or some specific standard which is supported by human history. But I have come to use this definition of Being Great:

Personal Greatness is the time and place in your life where you have defined your highest level of Proficiency and become relentless at discovering a pathway to achieving a level of personal satisfaction – you have reached your highest standard of achievement for that Proficiency.

In other words, you have defined your mountain and you made it to its summit.

There are phrases that have this context:

  • Be all that you can be
  • Life long learner
  • Height of human accomplishment
  • Life well lived

So the question is:

Why is Understanding Greatness Important?; Can Greatness be Crafted, or is Greatness Natural?

No Matter what organization you are in, No Matter how competitive or non-competitive the environments, No Matter how critical the outcomes of the mission you are striving to accomplish, being in the room/organization with Great people is truly one of the most rewarding experiences you can have. Once you have had this experience you will spend the rest of your life trying to repeat the feelings and well-being you had in this environment. Once you experience Greatness, you will want to have those feelings again.

In asking people to describe someone they think is a “Great Person” it usually starts with a discussion about the person’s values: Trustworthy, Kind,Thoughtful, Treats others in a respectful manner, Looks out for others first, Is a great friend. All of these traits serve as the impersonal description of being great.

If someone is talking about a great person by what they have accomplished, the conversation drifts toward viewing someone by what they have accomplished: The Great Athlete, The Great Business Person, A Great Presenter or Performer.

So which would you rather be a “Great Person” or a “Great Achiever”?

There is a chance that you could be both at the same time. The point to this discussion is that the pathway to greatness has at least two distinct options, and in the context of being in an “All-IN Highly Productive Culture” what you want is to have individuals who are Both…The take away from this discussion is that striving at being a great person requires the interpersonal skill set that Builds Positive Trust and Respect. Striving to be a great performer requires specific behaviors that are capable of being comparable to others who have performed before.

So when you think about the idea that:

                 “Being Good is Not Enough when You Dream of Being Great”

You have two pathways to being Great – developing your interpersonal relationship skills while at the same time perfecting your performance skills.

“Greatness is Earned, Not Given”


  1. tom says:

    I like the distinction John. Creates additional connections is my head.

    TRUST – ties to interpersonal greatness – chemistry part of the relationship

    RESPECT – ties to accomplishing great things – it is the regard for the skills you have to accomplish task…..sets up EI, separating facts and feelings, transparency so ownership is not the big issue.

    Keep after it. Am always glad to provide initial response based on who knows what 🙂

  2. robert lind says:

    Regarding “To Be Good…”
    I’ve had this same poster on my many walls for these same 40 years. It is loved by my (grown) children & it’s been treasured by me through multiple career choices and glancing blows with the G-word. To all my Quixotic fellow Boomers who were dreaming in the 80s after living through the 60s & finding your feet in the 70s… good people, keep the faith. Our world needs work before we hand it off. Let’s end the wars & clean up our exhaust. God love the little surfers seining bottles from the ocean & the Viking great-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-granddaughter calling us to task. Come on, gang. We’ve lived remarkable lives. About whomever else can it be said that they had the chances we’ve had & done so many things?!
    We have been great! Now let’s leave this world looking like we wiped our shoes on the way in & took out the trash while we were here.
    Love to all my fellow aspirants.
    You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…

  3. Leslie Brock says:

    I competed for a scholarship at the School of Visual Arts and I remember seeing that poster there. Never before that had something ever inspired me . I would love to have a copy of that poster.