I interviewed Stedman Graham for International Women’s Day in March 2004. Stedman Graham is chairman and CEO of S. Graham & Associates (SGA), a management and marketing consulting company that specializes in the corporate and educational markets.
In this interview, Graham discusses his methods, his passions and how his famous life partner, Oprah Winfrey, inspired his own personal development.
Q: What is your nine-step process about?
Stedman Graham: Most of us don’t focus on personal development because we are so programmed to buy into labels and titles in our daily lives. Then we do the same thing every single day. We become so busy doing stuff that really has nothing to do with who we are
Real freedom is about being able to take information and make it relevant to the 24 hours you have every day.
I have developed a process to use the world’s resources to build your own life. It is a nine-step process of understanding and discovering who you are. And second, developing who you are. My process has been well received in the United States, Canada, South Africa. Corporations like it, and I have spoken at Harvard and Wharton about it.
Even at Harvard and Wharton, students wind up, when they are done, simply sitting in a room somewhere. They might get paid more but still they’ve learned little about how to leverage their own intellectual worth.
Most of us are never engaged in the world because we wind up doing the same thing every day. We can work at a job and after 30 years look back and see that we have no more than we had in the beginning. That’s Ok if that’s what you want.
This process is for people who want a better life.
Q: Do you see a trend in time of life or gender related to when individuals become earnest about connecting with their authentic cores?
Stedman Graham: Women are in special need of the process because they are defined so much by the external world. They live in such a small box, and it is so programmed. They have such an expectation of what they should do. Their programming is very difficult to break out of without any help. It is very difficult for anyone to break out of if you don’t have the network, if you don’t have the information, if you don’t have the good old boys club, if you don’t have the ability to exchange information with other people who really know how to do it.
Unless there is an alignment of your talent, your skills and your passion with a process for developing them, you are not going anywhere. It doesn’t matter what you want to become, how determined you are, how smart you are. It is impossible to do it unless you come from a core competency that will allow you to grow.
It is a problem of self-empowerment and how to take responsibility for your own actions – which is really centered around personal excellence, results and performance.
You can’t possibly brand yourself unless you have a personal understanding of who you are.
I know that there is nothing that you can’t do. It doesn’t make any difference what your background is, whether your parents had money, etc, you can become equal to anybody following my process. Q: What was it like for you growing up?
This belief system that I could do it is different from how I grew up. I grew up in a small town, part black and part Native American in New Jersey. I grew up believing that it was all about white America, race and government control. I did not understand my own potential as a human being.
It took me 30-something years to understand that my potential was predicated on my skills and talent. I did not know how to self-actualize. My parents told me to go to school and go to work, that was it.
This (blindness) is about not knowing how to process or how to think. It is not centered around other people.
This is about taking responsibility and being able to transcend bias. It is about all those things that will allow you to look at yourself and learn what you need to know about yourself to become more of a leader.
You have to align yourself with the resources of the world.
You have to create a platform that will create some opportunities in the market that you are residing in.
It is a process that blows me away every single day. It closes the achievement gap.
Q: Was there a specific aha! moment for you?
Stedman Graham: It was a combination of things.
I was in a relationship with a very powerful woman, Oprah, so I had pressure every single day to prove myself.
Most people don’t have that kind of pressure so they become comfortable where they are.
Because of the pressure I had to define myself under an umbrella that was bigger than life. That was one influence, and so was understanding business, and how business worked. Having a lot of different mentors was an influence too. I also am a person who is organized and I like that. It helped me come up with a program that I think all successful people have.
I did a comparative analysis of where I came from and where these people were going. And I saw a huge difference. I put that difference into my nine-step program.
It was like this… You’re a man in a relationship with a very powerful woman who reaches 20 million people every single day. You don’t get any respect for that. So the idea of having to find that was part of the catalyst. Being in that circumstance allowed me to look within to survive in that setting. From there I discovered that it is all internal. .
Q: What is your favorite part of your work?
Working with companies and working with business is something I do very well. I really enjoy being able to work with people who are smart. People who are a-plus folks and who are trying to maximize their potential in all spheres. That is what I enjoy most.
Q: What will you be talking about at ChicWIT’s International Women’s Day?
Stedman Graham: I will be talking about the nine steps, and internal and external branding. I do this work with Merrill Lynch working with small businesses and high worth individuals. We change the trajectory of people’s lives.
We go into the idea of success circles. We teach them how to organize their lives based on three areas: education, career development and community development. As a core base of organizing their lives, we want them to be branded as an expert; we want them to make as much money as possible; we want them to be able to give back. We organize their lives around their passion – what we call their life theme.
It really does change the entire financial landscape when you are able to understand what legacy they want to leave and what kind of brand they want in the marketplace.
Lots of people have financial tools. But a lot do not have alignment. That’s what I bring to the table. We give them the process for owning their world.
Q: Many people talk about this kind of personal development. One of the most interesting aspects of your work must be seeing the switch go off when people finally get it… Can you give me a good example of having seen that?
Stedman Graham: There are a number of switches and everybody’s different. Some women may have been held back by their lack of understanding that they can be anything they want. That’s the first switch. Once that switch gets turned on then there is another switch that needs to be turned on and that is “how do you do it”?
Then there are the switches of discovery, planning, being able to integrate that with financial tools, and further alignment.
The idea of being able to change the way you think about your possibilities and about yourself, that is the big switch.
That’s the key to owning your world.
For my own personal life, I wasn’t a great student in school because I never turned it on. Once I did, I realized that I could do as well as everyone. There was unlimited opportunity for me.
Q: Has your relationship with Oprah changed since your switch went off?
Stedman Graham: It doesn’t make any difference about anyone else. It just makes a difference about what you want to do in your own personal life to develop your own potential. The thing that you bring to any relationship is the fact that you are able to be your own man, to be your own person. That is the greatest gift.
You don’t ever have to rely on anyone else because you know how to make things happen, end of story. You can share, and you can talk and you can advise and you can help each other. But you stand alone. That is the greatest gift. Wherever you go you stand alone. And you can hold your own.
You never have to apologize anywhere, anytime for who you are. And you understand how to build and to grow and every day you become better than yesterday. If you get that, that’s freedom.
Regardless of how the world might define you or how other people might see you that’s not the real world you. That’s an illusion.
Q: What do you say to nay-sayers, to those who focus on circumstance?
I say it is harder at the top than at the bottom. It is harder when you have to think. It is more difficult when your life is in the limelight.
Leaders do not have it easy. People at the top know that. Success is not an easy thing to deal with. It is difficult to deal with from the family aspect of it. People change. It is much easier when you are playing softball at the lake.
The naysayers don’t understand what it’s like to be in the limelight. How the media can destroy you.
So it’s not what happens to you. It’scan you handle it. Do you have the capacity to deal with it every single day?
Q: How do you deal with questions of perceived scarcity vs. abundance? How do you counsel or help a kid in the projects recognize the resources around him when he sees pain and disappointment?
Stedman Graham: It’s a process that takes a long time.
You have to have the capacity – what it has taken me to get to this point. Serving in the US army, playing ball all over Europe. It’s taken me graduate school. It’s taken me four years in undergraduate school. It’s taken me working five years in the prison system. It’s taken me working in public relations. It’staken traveling around the world, traveling to South Africa. It’s taken me seeing Winnie Mandela’shouse being burnt down and being right there. It’s taken me almost losing my life in a couple of situations.
You are not here (at this level of awareness) because you have just arrived. You are here because you deserve to be here, not because someone gave you anything. For example, I can tell that your life as a journalist is based on countless hours of writing and developing and reading and working on your craft —- otherwise you couldn’t do it.
You are where you are because you deserve to be there. People might look at you and say, “Oh yeah, you have it easy because you work for this newspaper or that newspaper.” They don’t realize what it took to get there. And you can lose that in one second. Or in one week or two weeks, your life could change.
Q: Many women attending ChicWIT’s International Women’s Day have experienced the tiny little box you described at the beginning, and they have also been through repeated loss related to their careers. How would you counsel them to handle those ups and downs?
Stedman Graham: You have to have gone through that to be the success that you are. You had to have had failures. If you don’t know what it’s like to worry about missing payroll then you can’t appreciate when the money comes.
You are not at the top because you are given anything. You are at the top because you have processed your way through. Most people don’t see the process. They see “A to Z” and think that you have gotten there because of such and such.
What they don’t know is that it is impossible to do (get to the top by maneuvering or circumstance). You can’t maintain the posture. You won’t last. People who are experienced, and people who have gone through the process, and people who have earned the right to be where they are understand that.
Because the determination, the work and the perseverance that it takes to make it – you’ve got to have that. Otherwise you won’t make it.
It’s the never quit and never give-up syndrome. If you don’t have that, no matter what you get involved in, you will never make it.
Q: Many of us fare well at the small victories, but these days sometimes it feels as though you have to be heroic – any advice for that?
Stedman Graham: You have to keep going. You have to have the determination and keep going and not have your spirit broken or give in because it’s hard.
Consultant, Editor, Writer and Member of WorldWIT Steering Committee
An interview with
International Women’s Day
June 25, 2004
BY SALLY DUROS