Primary Greatness


I recently finished reading a book titled Primary Greatness, The 12 Levers of Success by Stephen R. Covey. I am a pretty avid reader and I read all types of books that I would consider “good reads” but I must say that this is one of the best books I have ever read!

The entire time I was reading the book I was thinking that this concept of primary greatness should be taught in every school! What a difference this book would have made on my perspective of adult life and the definition of success, if I had been immersed in this concept at a young age!

Lesson: So what does it mean to be great?

Stephen Covey indicates that, “Primary greatness is achieved by those who have a mission, a purpose to serve that is higher than themselves, a lasting contribution to make.” I would venture to say that’s probably not the definition that most young people would give for greatness. In general terms, the world teaches that greatness and success are centered on external manifestations: the size of your house, the best grades, social status, titles, positions, your zip code,  luxury materials, image, the best athleticism, the best talent, popularity, etc. According to Stephen Covey’s concept, these outward indicators are actually defined as secondary greatness. Primary greatness flows from the inside out, not the other way around.  Primary greatness is internal: moral and ethical character, life of duty and service to others, self-sacrifice, honor, integrity, principle, loyalty, self-renewal, continuous learning, contribution and teaching others are just a few that Stephen Covey defines.

Typically most schools don’t spend a lot of time on character development. If you think about it, most awards given in schools are not about primary greatness they are centered on secondary greatness attributes. Thus, sending the message to our children and students that external success indicators are more important. Most valedictorians are chosen on the initial basis of having the highest grade point average (GPA). What message does that send to our children? Does getting the highest GPA mean that you are the best? Are we unknowingly programming children to define personal success externally and to spend more time trying to accomplish external achievement over internal growth and development of character?  Just think about it, some schools give awards for perfect attendance, honor roll, spelling bee champ, best athlete, best personality, and most likely to succeed-all secondary greatness. Most of those awards don’t focus on the quality of the inner person, their character or their service to others. Actually most of those awards encourage a focus on self and self-achievement for self-gain. There are very few awards like citizenship or sportsmanship anymore and honestly when those awards are given they are considered less than important compared to the others. Most recently, I came across a little girl who won an award for being a “Little Miss Fashionista” from her teacher’s classroom awards for the semester. That’s when it hit me, although the award seemed harmless and cute, what deeper message did that award send to those students?

There is a reason that 7 out of 10 children indicate that they want to be a professional athlete, singer, millionaire, rapper, TV/movie star or the like when we ask them what they aspire to be one day. The reason is because the “world” sends the messages that they are great. After all those people get the fame, attention and esteem from all of us. Just recently 111 million people tuned in to watch the Super Bowl, not to mention the millions of dollars that were spent surrounding that weekend! So what do we do to shift the atmosphere, to change such a heavy laden paradigm within our culture?  We start with the children right in front of us!

As an educator and a parent, this concept of primary greatness hit me like a ton of bricks! I had to share it on this blog and I hope that everyone reading this will share it with every teacher, every parent and anyone who works with young people. In my opinion every student in every upper elementary, middle school, high school and college needs to be taught the concept of primary greatness! We have to reprogram the next generation on what success and greatness truly mean. Our world cannot afford for the next generation to be focused on secondary greatness indicators or we are doomed for a very shallow existence moving forward.

I hope that everyone reading this article considers buying this book! Read it, take notes in the margins, apply it to your life and slowly but surely start teaching, your children and every child you have influence or impact with, the importance of spending time developing one’s inner self.

“Each of us is a composite of three selves: the public self (our public image and persona), the private self (what we do in our own private world of family and close associates when we let our hair down), and our deep, secret self (our inner self where we can examine the scripts of our lives-our motivations, tendencies, and habits rooted in our genetic coding, our environment, and our social conditioning). Integrity arises-OR fails to-from that deep, secret self.”-Stephen Covey 

Application: Let’s invest in helping the next generation prioritize developing the secret self over the public-image self! Let’s invest in the next generation by being the example!





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