It is said that Abraham Lincoln often slipped out of the White House on Wednesday evening to listen to the sermons of Dr. Phineas Gurley at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. He generally preferred to come and go unnoticed. So when Dr. Gurley knew the president was coming, he left his study door open.
On one of those occasions, the president slipped through a side door in the church and took a seat in the minister’s study, located just to the side of the sanctuary. There he propped the door open, just wide enough to hear Dr. Gurley.
During the walk home, an aide asked Mr. Lincoln his appraisal of the 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.”
Don’t strive to be great. Strive to do great.
Abraham Lincoln didn’t expect people to BE great. He expected them to DO something great – to take great action.
Although we won’t all be recognized by history as being great, we are all capable of striving for greatness in our actions. Greatness can lie in the small everyday actions we take. If a friend of colleague needs our attention, it is an act of greatness when we put what we are doing aside and listen with our full, undivided attention. The small, specific things we do can become a platform for greatness.
Most of the good of the world builds on the accumulated efforts of everyday people doing small things in a great way. A life should strive for greatness, as Mr. Lincoln seemed to know.
Great and Perfect Are Not the Same
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, and it can still fall short if what is essential is missing.
Five Keys to Taking Action Great
1. Be clear about what is essential: Understand what 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.
What does striving for greatness mean to you? What do you do to make your actions great?