When you hear the word “greatness,” certain people probably spring to mind: Michael Jordan, Albert Einstein, Mother Teresa. Think a bit harder and you’ll realize you know a few real-life “greats” as well. Perhaps your neighbor is a computer whiz, or a teacher at your child’s school is a genius at inspiring kids. Heck, maybe you have some hidden talent, too.
If only you’d been born with that elusive “greatness gene,” or raised by super achieving parents, or accepted to an Ivy League college, your life would be so much better… right?
Wrong. Greatness has far less to do with that one special quality a person possesses than with his or her day-in-and-day-out habits and character as a whole.
Most people think that there is some silver bullet to being great. And while it’s true that certain circumstances may give you a leg up in life, they don’t determine greatness. Your own actions do. Greatness is really about doing the ordinary, everyday things consistently well.
Here’s a set of practical guidelines for greatness you can implement right away:
1. Walk your talk. Is there an overlap or a gap between what you say matters to you and how you actually spend your time? If you say nothing is more important than family, but you miss every ball game or dance recital, your actions are speaking louder than your words. Or if you make a grand pronouncement about “living green” but have two gas-guzzling SUV’s in your driveway, no one will take your comments seriously.
2. Keep your promises. Sounds obvious, yes? Actually, it’s rarer than you think. We all know someone who makes big promises and announces lofty goals to their colleagues and friends, only to let them fall by the wayside. The secret is to make only commitments that are manageable and realistic, and keep them—consistently.
3. Align yourself with the other “greats” in your life. Once you understand how ordinary greatness works, and how to recognize it in yourself, you’ll begin to notice glimmers of greatness in others around you. Team up with these people. You’ll find that you are much happier partnering with people who continuously build you up and keep you energized.
4. Always act as if someone is watching you. It may sound like a warning you give your kids, but it applies to grown-ups, too. Work every day—in your personal as well as your professional life—as though your mentor or coach were standing beside you taking notes for your evaluation. In other words, use your time wisely, meet deadlines, and don’t cut corners.
5. Surround yourself with people who don’t think like you. Make friends with people who are going to challenge you. Great people are able to look at the world from perspectives other than their own. That doesn’t mean they lose their own convictions; it just means they expand their field of vision. There are many rich life lessons to be learned from people who are completely different from you.
6. Be known for your integrity. Your mother was right: Honesty is the best policy. Integrity may mean owning up to a mistake or admitting a failure, but it also means the people around you can depend on you for transparency. And that goes a long way in the business world. People are willing to overlook mistakes in order to work with someone they know will be honest and do the right thing.
7. Know when to ask for help. Being great doesn’t mean that you have all the answers. A big part of greatness is recognizing it in others, and knowing when their expertise is more efficient than your own. Asking for help is a sign of intelligence. It’s also a powerful confidence booster because it guarantees you can always get the job done—no matter what your own personal level of expertise may be.
8. Read at least six books a year. Sound like homework? It doesn’t have to be! Start each year by making a list of books you want to read. Books are a great way to open yourself up to new experiences from the comfort of your own home. They also help you remove the blinders you may not even know you are wearing and serve as conversation starters for meeting new people.
9. Shape your life around your passions. The reason is simple: When you’re passionate about something, your devotion can lead to a lifetime of dedication and practice that makes you the expert in a given field. Without that deep well of emotion to draw from, you’re unlikely to get very far. It’s pretty tough to build a great career in a profession that you feel ho-hum about.
10. Talk to strangers. The next time you are in line at the grocery store, sitting in the airport terminal or out walking the dog at the park, take the time to talk to someone you don’t know. You never know when you may meet someone extraordinary, and by not taking the chance to meet new people, you are passing up greatness every day.
11. Be a risk taker. Imagine all the things we would be living without if it weren’t for risk takers: electricity, airplanes, even the Internet. Taking the easy route is safe, sure, but it rarely leads to greatness. So get out there—go against the grain—you could be behind the next great discovery of something we can’t live without.
12. Be an insatiable student of life. As children, we were curious about everything in the world around us: How do things work? Why do people act a certain way? Where do things come from and how are they made? Observers ask questions that grow into knowledge. Keep your curious spirit. The minute you think you know it all is the minute you close the door on your pursuit of greatness.
PAMELA BILBREY is coauthor of Ordinary Greatness: It’s Where
You Least Expect It…Everywhere. As a coach, consultant and speaker,
she helps organizations maximize their current strengths and
bring out their ordinary greatness to achieve extraordinary results.