Stedman Graham on how to build a platform

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.

—Sally Duros
Consultant, Editor, Writer and Member of WorldWIT Steering Committee

An interview with
Steadman Graham

WorldWIT
International Women’s Day
June 25, 2004
BY SALLY DUROS

Spirit in holiday flavors

Originally published on www.worldwit.org — Liz Ryan’s social network

By SALLY DUROS

So we are caroling to the animals at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, and it’s quite a family affair with Santa Claus and humans disguised as reindeers and penguins, and earnest people singing holiday songs. There’s even free hot chocolate and cookies for everyone. But I am feeling disoriented because Santa Claus is being interviewed and he is talking about ‘time management.”

Time management? Give us a break! Whatever happened to holiday spirit? You know spirit like in sacred books and all the spiritual traditions of the world. NOT spirit like the car, the movie, or the gun. Santa, please say it isn’t so!

Some would say that spirit has been lost in the supermarket for a long time, and that Santa himself is one of those common signs of its impending extinction.

But I would counter that Santa originates from many great spiritual traditions of gift giving, and that spirit is actually ubiquitous. You’ll see it everywhere if you look for it. Even in business.

Like the cover story for Business 2.0 in November. In case you missed it, the topic was, “The Art of the Brilliant Hunch. Science is starting to understand why the best decisions come from the gut. Here’s how to make tough calls under pressure. ”

Boy, did I glom onto that headline. That’s because I know and you know that following the gut is always the best, but not necessarily the easiest, policy. When we ignore those gut feelings to do something one way, and we do it the other way and everything goes wrong and away from the direction of our intentions, we know the real bellyache is sure to follow. And our pain is amplified by the fact that we knew better!

The Business 2.0 article cites some interesting research on intuition. The bottom line, according to the article, is that emotions start the decision-making process, people are superb pattern makers, and we excel at abduction (rather than induction or deduction. Thank goodness for that because I never could keep those two straight.) The informed gut rules, the article said, in complex, complicated and chaotic situations, rather than in situations where formal rules can be applied.

Readers were also treated to several worthwhile capsules of how hunches work in business including advertising, publishing and broadcasting. My favorite factoid was that Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, shook uncontrollably when he came up with the idea of Starbucks. (My hypothesis is that the shakes came not from the power of the idea but from psychically connecting with the future caffeine overload of a nation of office workers.)

It was s good piece of journalism, bearing good news and befitting a fine publication like Business 2.0. The argument was based on scientific fact and expertise, and I applaud Editorial Director Thomas A. Stewart for his persuasive case.

Seems to me, though, Stewart missed pinning the tail on the hunch by about a foot and half. That’s because so much of his argument was draped against that common worldview of business, where relations are assumed to be contentious, competitive and warlike. Yeah, business is like that sometimes, but does it have to be?

It’s in my nature to shift perspective and ask: What happens when we change the worldview from one of scarcity and conflict to one of plenty and affinity?
Then the real mystery becomes less about how we make decisions in chaos and complexity, and more about how we become attracted to and then passionate about an idea. And sometimes that idea – like Starbucks – has multi-billion dollar legs.

I say the beauty of the hunch is expressed most brilliantly in the creative act of bringing something new into the world.

It’s like that hunch I have that the Business 2.0 writer was picking up some energy from the cultural stew when he decided to research this article because, well, he had a hunch! Still, where did that genesis spark come from? How was he attracted to the story idea and how was it attracted to him? Pattern played a part, paycheck played a part and editors played a part, but none of these constitute the Velcro that sealed the deal.

I believe the answer is spirit, the spirit unique to each of us that brings specific gifts into the world. And, yes, the kind of spirit that has to do with looking at the world wide open, and asking,” I wonder ..? And yes, that holiday spirit that celebrates all that is good in life, and the way we are all, each and every one of us, connected with each other.

So, here’s a holiday invitation offered in the spirit of peace and new beginnings. It’s adapted from the writings of Sonia Choquette, a well-known spiritual counselor in Chicago.

The next time you are called into a meeting with parties holding close cards and disparate interests, ask yourself this question: “How are we alike?” And look for what is true and what is real. Most of all, trust what you discover.

Radical, I know.

And if you are feeling really brave, check your assumptions at the door. Even if you have worked with these people for 20 years, walk into the meeting with this one directive: Never assume that you know anyone. And during your meeting, listen to what your intuition is telling you. Really listen – deeply. And trust it.

And most of all, here’s an invitation to a different kind of time management.

Let’s stretch the time period for holiday spirit to 365 days of the year.
And make each day a celebration of what is unique in each of us.

Let’s start the New Year off right.

Bobbing for bits on the media streams

Sally’s World, July 2003
www.worldwit.org

By SALLY DUROS

Lately, those who make a living as pundits have been busy clicking and clucking and clattering keyboards and uttering bellicose profundities about one, single-syllable word: Facts. The questions about fact morphing into fiction float and bob about like so many balloons buoyed by the media winds.

Me – I’m not chasing any balloons because I take as fact very little of what I read or see broadcast in any of the media streams. I am one of those people who thought the Barry Levinson film, “Wag the Dog,” was a thinly veiled documentary.

Instead I ride the media currents to see what is bobbing on the horizon of the public mind. What’s happening today is a simple matter: The media soufflé has flattened and with the collapse of the puffery – within corporations, government, and media outlets – we are rushing to fill the void. I’m enjoying the “whooshing sound,” and looking forward to seeing what kind of omelets we’re left with.

Label me wacky or label me a cynic (perhaps both!), but for me a fact begins with that which I can personally touch, see, smell, taste, and hear. I then apply the gut test – my intuitive sense – to create an impression aligned with my value system, cultural wants and spiritual beliefs. Some of my criteria are tangible and some are intangible. And then, when I’m done I still don’t have a fact. I have my belief. One of my core beliefs is that we are all – each of us – a spinmeister of sorts.

I liked the tale that was being spun by master storyteller Judy Wicks, owner of Philadelphia-based White Dog Cafe, co-chair of the National Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), and chair of the Social Venture Network (SVN). She was speaking at a kickoff meeting for a new organization here called Sustainable Chicago.

Wicks says that upon waking every day, she looks in the mirror and says: “Good Morning Beautiful Business.” You have to like a woman who has two cabins in the woods, one named “Happy House,” and the other named “Fart Freely.” What began as a home-based coffee shop in 1983 is now a restaurant that seats 200 and grosses $5 million a year, with a commitment to fun, food and social activism.

What was most persuasive about Wicks was that her tale came right from her heart. I could tell because I had heard it before – from entrepreneurs of all political stripes and others involved in building local economies. That is, that business is really about relationships, relationships with certifiable, verifiable, living, breathing real people.

“A large factor in our success is that we are a real community-based business,” Wicks said. “We share values with our customers.”

“Living and working in the same community has given me a great sense of place, which is really important for building local, living economies,” Wicks said. “When you work and you live in the same place there is a very short distance between decision makers and the person who is affected by your decisions because every day you see your customers that you serve, every day you see your employees that you work with. And you live in the community and you see your neighbors (and the impact of your decisions.)”

That’s the kind of real world fact-checking that resonates for me, and helps me spin my personal vision of a perfect world. It also occurred to me that that’s the kind of fact-checking you get, and you can create through your local WorldWIT email discussions and real world events.

WorldWIT was ahead of the game in understanding that the strength of the new email tools of the web could help women with a friendly point of view, women from the same work/life integration tribe, women in the same cities and regions, share information with each other, and then create real world networks.

When you post a question to a local discussion list, like ChicWIT, you can receive a dozen or more replies. You can pick and choose what information to follow up on based on your own criteria. Even better yet, you can attend a networking event and meet the helpful individuals who communicate with you through the lists. And if something happens and you have to change jobs and move to another city, you can use the same WorldWIT resource to check out your new hometown.

Before the rush to make the Web a commercial force, there was a web that was a community of people. Hobbyists and techies and those who were simply curious built the web by putting up special interest sites, basically as communications tools that said, ” Hi, there – look what I’ve done!” That was about it. If you were on the web around 1995, you will remember when Yahoo was just a page of favorite links, a daily record of what was new on the web, put up by a couple of guys who thought the information-sharing was really neat. It was a community, and the sites were places where like attracted like, where you could find your tribe.

During the days of the dotcom gold rush, some of us lost site of the tribal energy because some financial wizards got the idea that there was money in huge global markets and numbers of eyeballs. Perhaps there is. But in my opinion, that is not the richest or deepest well.

The under tapped frontier is the landscape occupied by WorldWIT, where the locals knock on each other’s doors to find the answers to the burning questions of the day, the answers that simplify our everyday lives.

When we send our request to the WorldWIT universe, we are inviting friendship and collegial exchange. We are building trust and creating relationships. We – friends, neighbors and colleagues – are finding and becoming trusted sources for each other. And that is a great way – and the only way – to do business with each other. And that – to me – is a fact that I count on.