Can a man be a great man without achieving success?

Here is a quote well worth reading, rereading, and contemplating. Each and every word contained in it has meaning and power for business owners.

In addition to the quote and its source, I include highlights of the themes I feel are important and potentially useful in the continuing development of your ability to succeed in business ownership and in life itself. (As usual with regret, I wish I had written it myself, but, even though I didn’t, it represents the ideals I most believe in and aspire to.)

The Great Man may never have the opportunity to succeed, but if he possesses true historical knowledge of reality and combines a vision of his own responsibilities and goals with the strength of will and power to act, then he will inspire others and serve as a standard of the highest potentialities of humankind.

Richard Sigurdson, “Jacob Burckhardt’s Social and Political Thought,” U of T Press, 2004, p.p. 159.

A note on the author: Richard Sigurdson is a political theorist and the current Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Manitoba.

A note on Jacob Burckhardt: A preeminent cultural historian of the 19th Century whose claim to fame is the extraordinary history (from a cultural perspective) on the Italian Renaissance titled “The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy.” A foundational work that approaches mankind’s place and contribution to history from a well rounded human perspective that includes all aspects of what we deem “civilization”.

The important themes in the quotation in my estimation are:

  1. The concept of the Great Man – a subjective thought no doubt, but one that we should all consider.
  2. Succeed – in the superficial sense it often represents financial gain, particularly in the business world and for many business owners this measure of success will not occur, but that does not mean that they did not achieve a much deeper type of success.
  3. Historical knowledge – how can one possibly understand where they’re at, and where they’re going, without context?
  4. Responsibilities – moving beyond one’s own indulgences and behaving in a manner commensurate with the principles of true leadership through example.
  5. Strength of will – the opposite of dependency.
  6. To act – to take on the very difficult issues confronting the business owner that conventional advisory cannot and will not address.
  7. Inspire – self-evident but only really possible after much hard work and sacrifice.
  8. Highest potentialities of humankind – once again, subjective in terms of specific goals and aspirations but absolutely universal with respect to the reverence we hold for those who achieve the highest of potential.

Bill Sodomsky

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