Is greatness an attribute reserved for only a few special people? Abraham Lincoln didn’t think so. He believed we are each capable of greatness.

Most of the good of the world builds on the accumulated efforts of everyday people doing small things in a great way.

A story is told about Abraham Lincoln’s response to a sermon by his friend Reverend Phineas Gurley of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church.

Lincoln's Secret to Greatness

It is said that the president often slipped out of the White House on Wednesday evenings to listen to the sermons of Dr. Gurley.  As he desired to come and go unobserved, he would enter through a side door in the church, take a seat in the minister’s study, and prop the door open wide enough to hear Dr. Gurley.

One evening on the walk home, the aide asked Mr. Lincoln his appraisal of that night’s sermon.

The president thoughtfully replied, “The content was excellent; he delivered with elegance; he obviously put work into the message.”

“Then you thought it was an excellent sermon?” questioned the aide.

“No,” Lincoln answered.

“But you said that the content was excellent. It was delivered with eloquence, and it showed how hard he worked,” the aide pressed.

“That’s true,” Lincoln said,

“But Dr. Gurley forgot the most important ingredient. He forgot to ask us to do something great.”

Greatness lies in the small everyday actions we take. If someone needs your attention, it is an act of greatness when you put what you are doing aside and listen with your full, undivided attention. The small things you do with care and attention are your platform for greatness.

A life should strive for greatness, as Mr. Lincoln seemed to know.

Greatness Does Not Mean Perfection

You don’t have to do something perfectly for it to be great. Focus on what is most important about your action and ensure you do that well; the other trappings are not as important.

Conversely, the pieces can be excellent, like the content and the delivery of Dr. Gurley’s sermon, but the effect can still fall short if what is essential is missing.

Six Secrets to Greatness

1. Be clear about what is essential: Connect with the higher purpose your action serves.

2. Know what greatness looks like: Have a clear sense of what an excellent job looks like. Start with the end in mind.

3. Bring a serving heart: Ensure your action provides value, and is not simply self-serving.

4. Give it your all: Make a full effort, with your full attention.

5. Learn as you go: Be willing to make mistakes; treat them as learning opportunities.

6. Persevere: Don’t settle for less than you are capable of. Stay focused on your vision. Lincoln lost 8 elections before being elected President of the United States.

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