Primary Greatness

Summary Written by Justin Gasbarre

The Big Idea

Primary Greatness

"Character, what you are, is ultimately more important than competence, what you can do."- Primary Greatness, page 13

Covey’s explanation and distinction of Primary Greatness vs. Secondary Greatness really pushed me to examine myself and my motives. To further explain each, Primary Greatness is on the inside. It’s our character and who we truly are as people. Primary Greatness is the kind of success that comes from the contribution we make in our lives. Ultimately, who we are and how we act starts with our character and everything else that we do is built off of that. Secondary Greatness focuses on more material and superficial things. Examples might be, popularity, title, position, fame, fortune, honors, etc.

Since Primary Greatness is based on our character, those core principles act as our guiding compass. No matter what we face throughout our lives, our decisions should leverage those principles in order to guide our decisions.

Insight #1

The Three Lives We Live: Public, Private, and Secret

"The secret life is where your heart is, where your real motives are – the ultimate desires of your life."- Primary Greatness, page 1

Dr. Covey says that we live three separate lives. We live a Public Life, a Private Life, and a Secret Life. Here is a breakdown of what each mean:

  • Public Life is seen and heard by our colleagues, associates and others within our circle.
  • Private Life is where we interact more intimately with spouses, family members and close friends.
  • Secret Life is where your heart is, where your real motives lie. It’s the source of your Primary Greatness.

The important takeaway here is that we need to be self-aware enough to spend time examining and exploring our secret life since that is truly who we are and who we want to be. It’s certainly easier said than done, but we can do it. During times of difficulty or success, we must pause and ask ourselves: “What do I think? What do I believe is right? What should my motives be?”

Everything in our life flows from our personal motivations and if we don’t get clear on what those are, we won’t fully live a life that is true to ourselves and our potential.

Join our newsletter

Sign up for the very best book summaries right to your inbox.
We care about your data in our privacy policy.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Insight #2

How to Align Yourself to Principles

"If we believe secondary greatness is better than primary greatness, we have no hope of achieving primary greatness."- Primary Greatness, page 39

“The key to primary greatness is to be centered on principles,” writes Dr. Covey. But why? Dr. Covey does a great job of explaining this concept throughout the book. Essentially it’s because principles never change. They are timeless and universal and don’t change generation to generation. For example, having integrity is a principle. Integrity is deep honesty and truthfulness and in a sense “walking your talk”. Integrity is always going to be important, no matter what changes in our world.

We’re all influenced today by many things. TV, media, social networks, music, etc. All of these can impact your choices, decisions, and views of the world in a good way or a bad way. It happens to us all. When this happens though, we need a way to stay grounded and true to who we are, and living based on your principles is a way to do that.

“If your current lifestyle is not in alignment with natural principles, then you may want to trade a value-based map for a principle centered compass. When you recognize that principles ultimately govern, you might willingly subordinate your values to them and align your roles, goals, plans, and behaviors with them.”

It amazes me that Dr. Covey continues to impact and inspire the world even after his passing. Primary Greatness is a book that will, if nothing else, make you pause, think and examine your own motives. I’m sure you already feel you lead a great life and most of us do (or at least we try to). Dr. Covey says “there is something in us that is always calling us to be greater and better than we are.” We can all be better and do better and if we live our lives striving to attain Primary Greatness, and at the end of our life, we’ll have done more good than we could have ever hoped.

Read the book

Get Primary Greatness on Amazon.

Stephen Covey

Recognized as one of Time magazine’s 25 most influential Americans, Stephen R. Covey has dedicated his life to demonstrating how every person can truly control their destiny with profound, yet straightforward guidance. As an internationally respected leadership authority, family expert, teacher, organizational consultant, and author, his advice has given insight to millions.

Subscribe to digest
Read about our privacy policy.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.