Over the last few weeks, we have looked at quotes dealing with the topic of significance by Oprah Winfrey, Michael Josephson, Ken Blanchard, Jackie Robinson, Nelson Mandela, John Maxwell, and Sean Michael Norris that I discussed on the Great Quotes for Coaches podcast.

This week I talked about three more quotes on the podcast. However, in the interest of brevity, I am going to focus on just one of those quotes today. (To hear the other two quotes and my thoughts on all three, check out this week’s episode of the Great Quotes for Coaches podcast or this week’s video on the SlamDunk Success YouTube channel.)

Today’s post deals with a quote by John Ortberg, a pastor and Christian author. Ortberg said, “Significance is about who we are before it is about what we do.”

I have heard something along these lines in various ways through the years, and I have always liked its message.

So often we focus more on what people do instead of who they are.

One of the first questions we ask others after we meet them is “What do you do?” It’s a nice way to break the ice, learn a little bit about someone else, and jumpstart a conversation.

It might also be a bit awkward to ask someone that you have just met, “Who are you?”!

But in all reality, who we are is so much more important than what we do.

Yes, our job or career says a lot about us, and it can make for interesting conversation.

But who we are is what we’re all about.

And while Aristotle (by way of Will Durant*) may have said, “We are what we repeatedly do,” he wasn’t talking about people’s professions.

He was talking about people’s behaviors.

And people’s behaviors are a direct reflection of who they are.

Our behaviors speak volumes about us, what matters to us, what’s important in our lives, and how we handle ourselves.

Ultimately, though, what’s more important to you when you deal with other people? What they do or who they are?

Of course, we care much more about who people are.

Ironically, oftentimes who we are plays a major role in what we do, too!

Significance and Who We Are

Ortberg’s quote, though, moves this concept into the realm of significance.

The concept of significance starts with who we are. It may end up moving to what we do, but it starts with who we are.

This reminds me of Simon Sinek’s great book, Start with Why. Sinek says that, while we all have our Whats and Hows when it comes to living our lives and performing our jobs, everything starts with our Why.

He uses a bullseye and concentric circles around the bullseye to illustrate the concept.

The center of the bullseye is our Why. Everything we do and who we are emanates from this. The first circle wrapped around the bullseye is How we do things, and the circle on the outside is What we do.

What we do and How we handle ourselves while doing it is extremely important.

But at the center of it all is our Why.

Therefore, what we do is impacted by how we do it, which, in many ways, is determined by why we do it.

What Is Your Why?

Consider that concept with the various teams that you lead or are a part of.

Do you and all of the members of your team know the team’s Why?

If you are the leader of your team, it is up to you to make sure your team members know your Why.

When it comes to your team, what determines your why?

Ultimately, you, as the leader of the team, determine it.

But the best way to develop your why is to include team members in the discussion.

Take the time to develop your team’s Core Covenants or Core Values.

While you will have the largest say in what those values are, it is important to include your team in that discussion.

When team members are allowed to be in on the discussion and decisions as to what they want their team to be all about (their Why), they feel much greater ownership in it.

They are also much more inclined to live up to those standards and values if they have had a hand in determining them than if you just tell them what the standards and values are.

Still, whether or not you include your team members in determining your team’s Why, the key is that your team’s Why is determined by someone, communicated to the team in various ways, and then lived by the members of the team.

When this happens, you increase your chances of creating a focus for your team to create a great team experience, which also increases your chances for creating excellence in performance, which also increases your chance for creating scoreboard success.

Sounds like we have a great opportunity for a win-win-win there!

So, when it comes to becoming a leader of significance in people’s lives, while you need to focus on what you do to create that, before you focus on what you do, focus on who you are.

The more you focus on who you are as a person and what you need to be to become a person of significance in others’ lives, the easier it will be for you to do what you need to do to become that person.

 SlamDunk Significance

If you want to be a person of significance in kids’ lives by trying to provide them the best opportunities to have positive athletic experiences, I encourage you to check out my new project, SlamDunk Significance. If you’re interested in joining me on the SlamDunk Significance mission, there are a few ways to do so:

  1. If you’re a coach, athletic director, or league director, and you would like to have us pay for a speaker to come to your school, fill out the application under the “Schools/Leagues & ADs/Coaches” section on the SlamDunk Significance page.
  2. If you’re a speaker/trainer and you would like to be connected with teams, schools, or leagues looking for professional development for their coaches, kids, administrators, and/or parents, fill out the application under the “Trainers/Speakers” section of the SlamDunk Significance page.
  3. If you’re an athlete, coach, or someone who would like to donate to help teams, schools, and leagues create positive athletic programs for kids by bringing in quality speakers and trainers, click on any button on the SlamDunk Significance page to be taken to our GoFundMe page.
  4. If you would like to volunteer to help out in any way, email me at scott@slamdunksuccess.com.
  5. SPREAD THE WORD!! Tell anyone and everyone you know about what we are trying to do to help kids have great athletic experiences. And if you know anyone with the financial means to make a donation to our mission, please let them know about it.

When you join us on this mission, it will help you focus on who you need to be to become a person of significance in kids’ lives every day, one who is helping to create the best athletic experience possible for them.


*People often attribute the famous quote, “We are what we repeatedly do; excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit,” to Aristotle. However, it was actually written by Will Durant in his book, The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World’s Greatest Philosophers, as he was explaining a point that Aristotle was making about the difference between talking about how we behave and how we actually behave.