If you haven't read Abraham Maslow recently (and who of us have) you might want to pick up a copy of his book The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. It is an exploration into the concept of greatness, though Maslow refers to it as self-actualization. Heck, if you don't want to read the entire book, just read chapter 3. Maslow identifies eight behaviors that lead to self-actualization. It is a "how-to" chapter on greatness.
Most of us are familiar with Abraham Maslow from our psych 101 classes in college. We learned about his "hierarchy of needs" culminating in self-actualization. It seemed from that brief perusal that Maslow focused only on the stages of development that life pushed us through. If we don't fulfill the needs in one stage, we don't progress to the next. It seemed very punitive and negative.
However, rereading Maslow recently for a paper I'm writing, I realized that he was much more than a needs-driven psychologist. Maslow explores the positive dimensions of psychology, especially the upper limits. Writing about self-actualization, peak experiences, and transcendence, he explores human possibilities with a rich lexicon that is part psychology, part philosophy and part poetry.
If you are interested in greatness then perhaps Maslow's description of how he began his study of self-actualization will seem familiar. "My investigations on self-actualization were not planned to be research and did not start out as research. They started out as the effort of a young intellectual to try to understand two of his teachers whom he loved, adored, and admired and who were very, very wonderful people. It was a kind of high-IQ devotion. I could not be content simply to adore, but sought to understand why these two people were so different from the run-of-the-mill people in the world." (emphasis mine). I found myself nodding in agreement as I thought about these words. Maslow read my mind and my desire to understand greatness.
If you wish to understand greatness, for yourself or others, pick up Abraham Maslow again. You won't be disappointed.