Good Before Great

I was having a conversation this week with one of my supervisors about the long term goals of our organization, and it came to a point in the chat when he said to me, ‘Those are great ideas, but we need to be good before we can get to great.’

To use an NFL metaphor, it’s like saying ‘We want to win 4 championships and dominate our division and be the model franchise for the league.’ But you’re a gutter-league franchise at the moment, and what you really need to focus on in the immediate future is finding better players, teaching fundamentals like tackling and blocking and running crisp routes, and eliminating costly turnovers (Jaguars fans are already feeling depressed).

In other words, before you can get to “great,” you have to learn how to be “good.” Not that good is your end goal, but it’s a little road you’ve got to drive down on the way to great. And like Chuck Noll, the great Pittsburgh Steelers coach once said,

Champions are champions not because they do anything extraordinary, but because they do ordinary things better than anyone else.

I think it’s a wise virtue—and one I have always valued personally—to strive for greatness, by which I mean “excellence in whatever one does.” I don’t mean that the acclaim of the watching world will be great. More importantly, I mean that my effort, drive, and perseverance in a task will be great.

But that drive has to be tempered with patience, the realization that point A comes before B and C, that before we can become a really great organization (or individual) we need to work on being really good. Great is the destination, but really good is the road you have to take to get there, and it’s not a two hour drive. Patience as a virtue of character enables you to live with this reality: We’re not great right now, but we’re getting better. We’re working hard every day to get better. And cultivating personal greatness isn’t going to come overnight. We just have to get better today.

Lots of people have read Jim Collin’s book, Good to Great, which is itself a good thing. And I think we should all strive for our effort and character to be excellent everyday, no matter what we do. At the same time, our passion must be tempered with patience. What about you? What would greatness look like in your life? How do you work on getting better today?

Is the pursuit of greatness a Christian virtue? Is Christianity the death of personal ambition? For a great read, check out Dave Harvey’s book, Rescuing Ambition.


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