Top 16 Characteristics of Greatness with Don Yaeger


What does it take to achieve greatness?

Don Yaeger has been mentored by legendary coaches like John Wooden.  He’s interviewed hundreds of the top champions in the world and even lived with athletes to learn exactly what makes them amazing.

Through his years of experience with these legends, he’s discovered 16 common characteristics of greatness.

I sit down with the 7 time New York Times best selling author as he shares with us the secret to achieving greatness in your own life on episode number 17 of The School of Greatness podcast.

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The School of Greatness Podcast

Don Yaeger on the School of Greatness with Lewis Howes

I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’ – Muhammad Ali

In This Episode, You Will Learn:

  • Who was the most inspiring athlete that motivated Yeager to start writing books
  • What it was like to spend time with Walter Payton during the last 10 weeks of his life
  • What it was like being mentored by John Wooden for the last 10 years of his life
  • How to maintain a positive and valuable inner circle (and how this is essential for greatness)
  • That “life is all about a series of pay it forward opportunities and mentoring is the greatest one”
  • The importance of reaching out to mentors when seeking them
  • Who the most inspiring athlete is for Yaeger: Michael Jordan
  • About the intimidating presence that Michael Jordan has
  • Yaeger’s explanation for seeking greatness
  • Why you must hate losing more than you like winning
  • Which is more valuable: an amazing skill-set or an amazing mindset
  • Why sustainability is so important when seeking greatness 
  • Why Yaeger appreciates Derek Jeter so much as an athlete
  • Yaeger’s predictions for Kobe Bryant
  • What’s going on next for Yaeger: Make a Wish Foundation
  • Plus much more…

Quotes for this Episode:

  • “You will never outperform your inner circle.” – John Wooden
  • “You show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.” – John Wooden
  • “Competitive greatness is your ability to be your very best when your best is needed.”
  • “A loss is not a failure until you make an excuse.” – Michael Jordan
  • “You gotta do common things, uncommonly well.” – Don Yaeger
  • “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” – Don Yaeger
  • “Greatness is not attainable, but in the pursuit of it, you can achieve excellence.” – Vince Lombardi

Continue Seeking Greatness:

Books Mentioned in this Episode:

  1. Never Die Easy
  2. The Game Plan for Life
  3. Wooden on Leadership
  4. 16 Characteristics of Greatness
  5. Wish Granted (Out Soon)
  6. Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

Did you enjoy the podcast?

What was the biggest characteristic of greatness that stood out for you in this episode, and do you think Don is missing something in his top 16?  Please share you thoughts in the comments section below.

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Oh nice another person who thinks he is great telling others how great he his

The Shef
The Shef

If Napoleon Hill played a sport, he would be Don Yaeger. Great way to peek under the hood of greatness to model the systems of success!

Dave Rael
Dave Rael

this was a spectacular episode.  amazing it had never occurred to me to read the writings of coach wooden.  going immediately to the top of my list.  thanks lewis and thanks don.


Loved this session Lewis. This is one of my favorite topics... I often study what it is that makes people great. I live to learn the characteristics of people who succeed and people who fail so I can be sure to succeed. And Don definitely laid out some great points!


Really enjoyed listening to the podcast. Inspiring and insightful. I liked Yaeger's perspective on greatness; everyone can indeed achieve greatness. I also loved the idea of sustainability to achieving greatness. I heard Keith Cunningham once said "the goal is not to make it life, but to keep it." Thanks for putting this together, Howes. 

Keri Drugan
Keri Drugan

Loving your podcast! Nothing gets me more inspired than hearing people start from nothing and grow into something amazing. It gives me hope, faith, inspiration and that push I need to help me when things get tough. I have recently decided to create my own online business because of you and the network of great people you surround yourself with. Thank you for your enthusiasm and passion. Can't wait for your next podcast!

Devan Nielsen
Devan Nielsen

Right now my biggest question is how can I improve my inner circle? Can your inner circle consist of mentors through reading, and listening? Or is it literally who you spend the most of your time with?

Devan Nielsen
Devan Nielsen

In all seriousness. It was great. I took a lot of notes and condensed them on a 3x5 card. I carry a couple around with me with my goals on one of them, and notes on the other. It helps me reflect on what I'm currently doing, and what I need to change.

Tami Davis
Tami Davis

Great Job Lewis! I enjoy reading Don's books.


  1. […] Don Yaeger – Though I’m not really into sports, Don does an excellent job of describing what makes great people great. […]

  2. […] started with Lewis Howes’ podcast, The School of Greatness, which provided great (no pun intended) depth, interesting conversations and insights into […]