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Everyone can be great

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.- -- A few weeks ago, a football player for the Dallas Cowboys was asked what he'd like from the playoff game home crowd. The player, J.J. Wilcox, responded, "Just be great."

For some reason, that phrase stuck in my mind, and it continued to nag me. Then, I realized why. 

One of my foundational beliefs is that every person can be great at something. This tenet has evolved and strengthened over the decades as I encountered more people in a variety of environments. It is a philosophy rather than a set of hard parameters, but I'll try to explain it nonetheless. 

I'll start with a question: How do you define greatness? 

We all know that person who is terrific at their profession, can speak multiple languages, deftly play a musical instrument, shoot par golf and cook gourmet meals. In fact, we often define greatness in terms of what an individual or group can do or has accomplished without really examining what truly led to those accomplishments. 

How do they do it?

I advocate the most important characteristic is attitude. Attitude is far more important than aptitude, and a relentless desire to improve will lead to strong aptitude in nearly every endeavor. I believe it is this attitude above all others that drives one to greatness.  Is LeBron James a phenomenal basketball player simply because he is 6-feet-8-inch man and 250 pounds? No, it is because he tenaciously works to overcome every weakness while building strength, stamina and mental toughness.

To be great, foster and feed that desire.  Start with small goals and ensure they lead to larger goals over the long run. Just be great, today.

Do not settle. Unfortunately, too many of us settle.  We settle by convincing ourselves we don't have the aptitude to do something great, or we aren't in the best position to accomplish something great or others prevent us from doing something great. You need to ask yourself, "Are you creating hurdles or clearing them?" Beware of surrendering to context. Perhaps no better words describe this challenge than the famous lines from a 1956 speech in which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. eloquently paraphrased a bible verse by saying, "If you can't fly, then run. If you can't run, then walk. If you can't walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward."

In the profession of arms, true greatness also includes the ability to lead, influence and teach others, as well as learn from them too. Inherent in these attributes is an essential underlying attitude that every person matters. Despite what Lady Gaga says, I don't believe we are all born superstars. We are all born a certain way, and the beauty of American culture is that circumstances of birth do not demand circumstances for life. At the center of this fundamental philosophy is individual dignity and respect.  These are crucial to the success of any team endeavor.  This is an attitude and life skill for each of us and not a duty function that stops at the end of the duty day. 

Here is a challenge for all: Consider going to your team with the following sentence: "I think we can be great if we took the following actions." Then provide a vision of goals to achieve.

Just be great. Together.