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Strive for Significance Over Greatness

We all want to attain greatness, but what about significance? Many of you may be asking, what is the difference, is there any difference, or what's the big deal about significance? I believe we are called not to be great, but to be significant. When we focus on significance, success and greatness are part of the package.

You see, when we add value to us, it is greatness. When we add value to others, it is significance. In my first principal job, I thought it was important for my teachers to have a slogan, a credo, a manifesto that we could use as a guide for us. I came up with "Side by Side — We Enhance the Lives of the Students We Teach." I got this idea from two very different sources. One was a teenage Christian singer from Australia whom I had the privilege of "chauffeuring" for the couple of days she sang at a youth camp where I was working. Rebecca St. James later became quite famous in the Christian music scene. She sang her song "Side by Side" at the camp. The lyrics that stuck with me were,

"Side by Side by Side by Side Walking together is the way it should be, Side by Side by Side by Side When you're needing somebody Depend upon me, We'll travel on this journey of life Side by Side."

I just thought, as a faculty, we could serve our students together, working together on the journey of adding value to our students. The other source was Harry Wong. When I heard him speak at a conference, he told us that any educator should have a business card. Under our name should read, "Professional Educator — I Enhance the Lives of the Students I Teach." I put the two together. (I'm good at borrowing others' ideas.)

I also believe that it is in serving where we add value to others. Whenever we can put others' needs before ours, we add value to them. When you can do something for someone who can do nothing in return, that is real service. Over my 30 years of leadership experience, I learned a lot about the needs of others. Here are four questions that everyone you influence will ask.

Do you like me?

Can/will you help me?

Can I trust you?

Will you add value to my life/profession?

I hope that you realize that the answer to each of these is YES! Life is a series of choices. How you invest your time, value your resources, use your talents, and value your relationships will determine your destiny or significance. One of the first books I read that made a significant impact on me was "See You at the Top" by the late Zig Ziglar. I was blessed to have met him, sat under his teaching, and got to know him early in his career as an author and one of the best motivational speakers of our time. I learned from him that "You can have anything you want in life if you just help enough other people get what they want." I believe always choose to heal not to hurt, to forgive not to despise, to persevere not to quit, to smile not to frown, and to love not to hate. In the end, it is not what we bought but what we built, not what we got, but what we shared, not our competence but our character, not our success but our significance. Live a life that matters; one that is adding value to others. In Rick Warren's book "A Purpose Driven Life," he said that everyone has five needs:

A purpose to live for — passion or service

People to live for — relationships

Principles to live by — integrity

Profession to live out — vision/mission

Power to live on & guide you — faith

You have 180 days in education each year to make a difference in the trajectory of the rest of the life of those you influence. The great thing about education is that every day matters. The scary thing about education is that every day matters. We should prepare the students for the path, not the path for the student.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you chose not to do than the things you did. It will be the relationships that you decided not to enhance or cultivate.

Add value to others, and you will live a life of significance!

Hal Roberts, author of Make Waves! is a retired school superintendent after serving for 38 years with 30 of those in leadership. Make Waves! is a book on leadership where he discusses the attributes to emerge as a leader of significance. Hal speaks and makes presentations on Make Waves! In addition, he has a fascinating presentation on neuroscience where he discusses brain-friendly teaching strategies.

You can find Make Waves! On Amazon at

Twitter: @HalLRoberts

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