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The headline insisted that we’d lost a great leader, though the story beneath the fold reported bi-polar opinions of her greatness. This story got me thinking about the great leaders I’ve known. What made them so great?

Here, I feel obliged to start listing attributes: behaviors, habits, and actions intended to describe their greatness. Maybe I could throw in a model that cleverly summarizes the universal attributes of greatness, leader-wise. I could even subscribe to one or another theory of greatness and pontificate. My bookshelves groan under the weight of competing theories of greatness.

Or, I could take a back-handed approach and recount the many shortcomings of the greatest leaders I’ve known, if only to emphasize their innate humanness. I could remember their failures, for even the greatest leaders seem to have stumbled, sometimes. I could tally up the collateral damage they inflicted and assess the terrible cost of the unintended consequences of their greatness.

But I won’t follow any of those well-worn tracks. I will instead ponder the possibility of my own greatness without generating any lists, almost as if greatness said something about me. My greatness seems something other than the sum of some parts, uncountable yet endlessly accounted for. I blush with the merest suggestion that I might somehow qualify, while unselfconsciously bestowing greatness on people I’ve never met, based upon some good press which probably contains as much fiction as truth, spin as solid fact. And I will feel a bit better about myself then, too. It feels great to witness greatness, even the illusory kind, even if I’m projecting everything I feel.

Somebody claimed that greatness gets thrust upon one, and I suspect he was right. Nobody creates their own greatness. Historians or public relations professionals titled Pyotr Alexeyevich ‘the Great.’ He was known as Peter the First during his lifetime, and his mother did his ruling for him until she died. I suppose it must have been in someone’s best interest to ascribe him with greatness, so they did.

Perhaps greatness resides in the eye of the beholder, not in the great at all.

©2013 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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