Primary Greatness: Unveiling the True Meaning of Success

Note: The following article is a piece inspired by the works of Stephen R. Covey on the concept of primary greatness. It aims to provide valuable insights into the definition of success and the importance of character and contribution.


In a world where success is often measured by wealth, popularity, and position, Stephen R. Covey introduced the concept of primary greatness. According to Covey, there are two types of greatness: primary and secondary. Primary greatness is rooted in character and contribution, while secondary greatness focuses on external achievements and recognition. In this article, we will delve into the profound insights shared by Covey and explore the true meaning of success.

Unveiling the Two Faces of Greatness

Primary Greatness: The Essence of True Success

Primary greatness encompasses the qualities that define who we are at our core. It is the embodiment of character, integrity, perseverance, and selflessness. Unlike secondary greatness, which can be fleeting and superficial, primary greatness endures and forms the foundation of long-term success. It is the essence of true success, irrespective of material rewards or circumstances.

Secondary Greatness: The Trappings of Success

Secondary greatness, on the other hand, revolves around external markers of success, such as wealth, popularity, and position. While these achievements may bring temporary satisfaction, they can never replace the significance of primary greatness. Secondary greatness often follows primary greatness and becomes meaningful when it aligns with our authentic selves and values.

Building Primary Greatness: A Journey of Self-Discovery

Understanding the Secret Life

Covey introduces the concept of the secret life, which comprises our private thoughts, motives, and desires. It is the source of our primary greatness. The secret life is where we can explore our deepest motivations, question our beliefs, and realign our lives with core principles. By developing self-awareness and observing ourselves objectively, we gain valuable insights into our true selves.

Unveiling Motives and Choosing Character

Within the secret life, Covey emphasizes the importance of examining our motives. By questioning our intentions and aligning them with principles, we can choose to live a life of integrity and authenticity. Motives are at the root of our deepest desires, and by consciously selecting noble motives, we pave the way for primary greatness.

The Role of Principles in Building Character

Principles serve as the compass for our actions and decisions. They are absolute, inarguable, and always relevant. While external factors may influence us, it is our choices based on principles that define our character. Covey highlights the importance of living a life of integrity, starting with making and keeping promises. Humility and centering our lives on principles are key to building a strong character.

The Levers of Primary Greatness

Covey outlines twelve levers that contribute to primary greatness. These levers act as guiding principles for personal and professional growth. Let’s explore each lever and understand its significance in the pursuit of primary greatness.

1. Lever of Integrity: Building Trust and Ethical Behavior

Integrity is the foundation of primary greatness. It involves behaving ethically and consistently, even when no one is watching. By aligning our actions with our values, we foster trust, both within ourselves and in our relationships with others.

2. Lever of Contribution: Serving a Higher Purpose

Primary greatness is achieved through contribution. By asking ourselves what the world needs from us and how we can contribute to the lives of others, we shift our focus from self-centered success to making a meaningful impact.

3. Lever of Priority: Aligning Actions with Values

To live a life of primary greatness, we must prioritize what truly matters. By scheduling our priorities instead of prioritizing our schedules, we ensure that our actions align with our values and purpose.

4. Lever of Personal Sacrifice: Embracing Synergy and Collaboration

Primary greatness thrives on synergy and collaboration. By sacrificing personal interests for the greater good, we tap into the power of collective effort and create a harmonious environment where everyone can contribute their best.

5. Lever of Service: Making a Difference, One Person at a Time

Service lies at the heart of primary greatness. By embracing empathy and actively seeking opportunities to help others, we create meaningful connections and make a positive impact on individuals and communities.

6. Lever of Responsibility: Taking Ownership of Our Lives

Primary greatness requires taking responsibility for our choices and actions. By acknowledging that our quality of life depends on our own decisions, we empower ourselves to shape our destiny and overcome challenges.

7. Lever of Loyalty: Upholding Integrity in Relationships

Loyalty plays a vital role in primary greatness. By defending the integrity of absent individuals and demonstrating loyalty, we foster trust and create a culture of support and respect.

8. Lever of Reciprocity: Creating Win-Win Relationships

Reciprocity is essential in primary greatness. By seeking mutually beneficial outcomes and considering the needs and perspectives of others, we cultivate harmonious relationships and promote collective success.

9. Lever of Diversity: Embracing Differences for Growth

Primary greatness embraces diversity. By valuing diverse perspectives and experiences, we foster innovation, creativity, and inclusivity, which ultimately lead to greater success and fulfillment.

10. Lever of Continuous Learning: Embracing Growth and Development

Primary greatness encourages continuous learning. By balancing personal and organizational development, embracing new knowledge and skills, and remaining open to growth, we adapt to changing circumstances and unlock our potential.

11. Lever of Renewal: Nurturing the Mind, Body, and Spirit

To sustain primary greatness, we must prioritize self-care and renewal. By taking care of our physical, mental, and emotional well-being, we ensure that we have the energy and resilience to navigate life’s challenges.

12. Lever of Teaching: Sharing Knowledge and Inspiring Others

Teaching is a powerful lever of primary greatness. By sharing our knowledge and experiences, we not only empower others but also deepen our understanding and reinforce our own learning.

The Power of Self-Affirmation

Covey emphasizes the importance of self-affirmation in nurturing a healthy secret life. By affirming our positive qualities, beliefs, and aspirations, we strengthen our sense of self-worth and align our thoughts with our desired outcomes. Self-affirmation serves as a powerful tool for personal growth and development.


In a world often driven by external markers of success, primary greatness offers a profound perspective on what it truly means to succeed. By focusing on character, contribution, and the cultivation of a healthy secret life, we unlock the potential for long-term fulfillment and create a legacy that transcends material achievements. Let us embrace the principles of primary greatness and embark on a journey of self-discovery and personal transformation.

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