Greatness – What It Is And What It Is Not – A Bestselling Author Explains

Greatness…What It Is And What It Is Not

by Don Yaeger

At a speech to Chicago’s Hamilton Club in 1899, two years before he became president, Theodore Roosevelt spoke about Greatness.Don Yaeger Books “If we are to be a really great people, we must strive in good faith to play a great part in the world,” Roosevelt said. “We cannot avoid meeting great issues. All that we can determine for ourselves is whether we shall meet them well or ill.”

These powerful words from one of greatest presidents resonate with me and shed light on my own personal pursuit of Greatness. After spending more than 25 years as a sports journalist, I’ve come to realize that there’s no metric or method we can use to precisely measure Greatness. It is something that can’t be quantified.

An excerpt from my book Greatness: The 16 Characteristics of True Champions provides context that explains what many in the world of sports interpret as Greatness and my interpretation of what makes the Great ones Great.

“There is no debate as to whether or not Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the highest scorer ever in the NBA, because the number 38,287 doesn’t lie; and no one can object to the fact that the 1972 Miami Dolphins hold the only perfect season in NFL history. Those are facts that aren’t subject to interpretation. But does this achievement of those numbers make them the Greatest? It seemed to me that what set the truly Great athletes apart were small, almost imperceptible things that made them dramatically different from their peers. There were incremental improvements in who they were and how they acted. These were the tiny changes, the ever-so-slight differences that gave them an edge in competition and in life.

In seeking my own meaning of Greatness, I’ve narrowed down exactly what I believe Greatness is – and is not.


  • Available to all of us
  • Well-rounded
  • Humble
  • The product of choices
  • A way of life


  • Generic
  • About the record book
  • Taking shortcuts
  • Perfect
  • A fad
  • The same as fame

While I’ve managed to boil down a working concept of Greatness, the time I spent with 10-time national championship winning UCLA basketball Coach John Wooden was most invaluable in my pursuit and understanding of the term. As both a friend and mentor, Coach Wooden, one of the most accomplished coaches of all time, once selflessly remarked “Defining greatness is perhaps even harder than achieving it.”

This statement from one of the most successful coaches of all time, and a dear friend to me, sparked my interest in pursuing that which we define as Greatness. If Coach Wooden deemed that defining Greatness is a challenge that is even harder than achieving it, then it is one that I will see through until the final buzzer sounds and the game clock hits zero.

Don Yaeger is an eleven-time New York Times best-selling author. Patricia Fripp and Don and both known for their good presentation skills and are great public speakers. Don is known for his art of storytelling in his books and speeches. Patricia is known for her expertise in helping executives with their business presentations.

Robert Frippicism: Small additional increments are transformational.

Don’t let poor communication skills hold you back. Get convenient, on-demand, presentation training online through FrippVT.

Fripp Virtual Training FrippVTIf you want to become a great speaker easily, conveniently, and quickly, FrippVT can help. Enjoy three free chapters on Stories, Openings, and Sales:

Executive Speech Coach and Hall of Fame Keynote Speaker Patricia Fripp works with individuals and companies who realize that powerful, persuasive presentation skills give them a competitive edge.