Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The ABC of Greatness

After interviewing hundreds of great leaders who are also great people, the pattern points to The ABC of Greatness.

In the past few years I’ve had the privilege of interviewing hundreds of leaders in both the business marketplace and the nonprofit sectors. When I use the “privilege,” I really mean it. It’s an honor to sit with people who will not only give you their time, but will also share their lives with you. It’s one thing to listen to stories. It’s totally different when I get to ask penetrating questions and get heart-felt responses.

Here’s one of the questions that I ask, and it’s a question that you should answer for yourself and that you should ask everyone on your team: “If 2019 is PERSONALLY going to be your best year ever, what do you need to start doing, what do you need to stop doing, and what do you need to continue doing?”

You see, I’m a “questions” guy. 25 years ago, I saw Don Cousins (dad of NFL star Kirk Cousins) ask job seekers some incredibly good questions. He could get deeper in 5 minutes than I could in 30. I asked him to help me ask better questions. He did. That’s when my journey started. Then I discovered Bobb Biehl and started making lists of questions. His inexpensive “Asking Profound Questions” booklet is worth its weight in gold.  

But today, I want to make a few observations about the best ANSWERS that I have received. Over and over, the most insightful and awesome leaders tend to have similar responses to different questions. Their answers don’t use the same words, but they have similar themes. These answers always amaze me. I want to know “How did you learn that?” but what I really want to know is “How I can become more like you?” When I refer to outstanding leaders I’ve spent time with, the list includes business titans, stay-at-home parents, entrepreneurs, nonprofit champions and academic savants. The position doesn’t matter. The person does.   

In an unfair but realistic “grouping” of responses, I’ve noted undeniable patterns. The best people I meet have three overarching qualities that make them great. I’ve figured out a clever mnemonic device to help me remember the qualities. I call it the ABC of greatness:

Accept Responsibility. An undeniable fact in life is that maturity doesn’t come from aging alone. We’ve all met older people who are selfish or mean, basically immature. From my vantage point, maturity doesn’t come from experience, it comes from accepting responsibility. Think about a family you’ve met that that has several children, and one of the kids has special needs. Are not the siblings of special needs kids some of the most mature young people you’ve ever met? From an early age the siblings had to accept responsibility and do their part to help the family. Remember, it’s not your fault, but it is your problem.

Be Proactive. Passivity kills. It kills energy, motivation, and it sucks the life out of a team. How many hopes and dreams could have been realized? My former boss John Maxwell says something profound in this area: “All of our dreams lie slightly uphill from where we are now. The problem is that we often have Uphill Aspirations, but Downhill Habits." How good is that? The greatest people that I’ve interviewed seem to have a compelling perspective in this area. It’s almost as if they ask, “Am I someone who cares or I'm someone who doesn't?” They answer by their actions: I Care, therefore I will do my part. It reminds me of the oft repeated phrase that has motivated champions in all walks of life: If not you, who? If not now, when?

Courageous Humility. It takes courage to be vulnerable, to admit our mistakes, and to acknowledge that we don't have all the answers. Who is willing to say, “I need help!” My friend Olivia is a trainer extraordinaire. Her sales associates gets superior results. I asked her “What sets apart your highest achievers, what separates the great from the good?” She didn’t blink, but with a gaze of intensity she said, “That’s easy, great people ask for help!” If you’re not humble and if you don’t ask for help, you are probably as good as you are ever going to get. That’s why Tiger Woods and Jack Niklaus always had their coach next to them on the driving range. Friends, it takes courage to get clarity. It takes humility to ask, “Will you help me get better in this area?" 

Accept Responsibility. Be Proactive. Courageous Humility. You and I need to work on one of those every. single. day. As I tell my clients, baby steps are too big! Take micro-steps, but take one every day. You are on the road to becoming a champion!


Have an incredible week!


aka The Robster


Dr. Rob McCleland is a leadership consultant specializing in organizational alignment and helping business owners get maximum value at the time of exit. This article first appeared at


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