He is known to people throughout the world. Stedman Graham is Chairman and CEO of S. Graham and Associates, a management and marketing consulting company that specializes in the corporate and educational markets, and he is known to many through his relationship with Oprah Winfrey.
Stedman is a powerhouse in his own right. His company’s clients include Merrill Lynch, Wells Fargo, Georgia Pacific, Pro-Line International, Hyatt Hotels Corporation, Manpower, CNN, GlaxoSmithKline, The American College of Sports Medicine, YMCA, the US Olympic Committee, the US Department of Labor’s Job Corps, Credit Suisse First Boston, Harvard and Wharton Business Schools and the US Department of Education.
He is the author of nine books, including the New York Times best-seller, You Can Make It Happen: A Nine-Step Plan for Success. In this book we’ll also talk with him about his latest book with a very intriguing title, Who Are You? – A Success Process for Building Your Life’s Foundation.
The co-host for this interview, Stephen Pierce, is one of the top Internet marketers in the world today after taking the Internet by storm with his book The Truth, The Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth About Internet Marketing.
Stephen Pierce: Stedman, welcome. In your recent book, you asked one of the most basic questions of life, which is Who are you? What role have your passions and the things which are most important to you in your life, played in helping you answer that question for yourself?
Stedman Graham: It’s something I’ve been searching for all my life, trying to fill that hole up in my heart, and not feeling equal, not feeling like I was on par with everyone else. I always felt like I was a second-class citizen. I had a race-based consciousness and always blamed everything on the white man and the government, and really was a victim.
I had a victim mentality, so [it was a big shift] to be able to figure it out based on how the world works, and discover that passion was the key to eliminate race, class, achievement gaps and all those historical footnotes and baggage you bring along because you don’t understand process, how things work, or how to put it all together.
Passion is the key to my development. It’s the key to my ability to create, think and take information and make it relevant to my own personal and professional life every single day.
Stephen Pierce: You’re an author, a speaker, an educator and an extremely successful businessman. Many people know of you, but they probably don’t know your story. Tell us your story and how your career got started.
Stedman Graham: In high school, I was a basketball player, and I grew up basically in an all-black town, surrounded by a white county where they said, Nothing good ever comes out of Whitesboro. I grew up in a family with two disabled brothers. I grew up with low self esteem and a lack of confidence in myself.
Basketball was kind of my way out. I went to college and played ball in college on scholarship, went to Europe and played ball in Europe in the European Pro League. I served in the US Army a number of years, came out and worked in the prison system.
I served in the prison system in Denver, then transferred to Chicago and worked in the prison system for five years. Then I worked in North Carolina for a guy named Bob Brown, who was in public relations. I worked for him for a little while.
I came back, opened my own business in sports marketing; did okay, but didn’t do so well there the first time. The second time, after I started to reorganize my business, I got into the golf course business and sports marketing business in Chicago with Kemper Golf Management, and became a partner in that firm.
After that, I got into the advertising business in New York. I was in Chicago and used to fly back and forth to New York.
I discovered education and got into the business of writing books, based on understanding that there was a missing piece in the educational system, and also in discovering that there was a missing piece in my life. I began to write about that and wrote You Can Make It Happen: A Nine-Step Plan for Success.
I wrote Teens Can Make It Happen, and from there, I got into the education business. I have now dedicated my life to education based on teaching people how to find out who they are.
Stephen Pierce: You mentioned the nine-step success process and we’re going to get into that in a bit. When you were in the sports marketing business, that didn’t necessarily work out, right?
Stedman Graham: Well, I was just on the verge of going out of business and somebody introduced me to somebody else and said, Why don’t you be a partner with me and we can work together and you can help sell and all that.
So the gentleman I worked with was Steve [Lesnick] and he really became a mentor and a good friend of mine. He helped me learn the business. He took me under his wing and basically, that was a great foundation and a great start for me.
Stephen Pierce: How does being able to answer the question who you are, impact you or sustain you in moments where you have a business and you go into it with high hopes that it’s going to work out, but in many cases, things just don’t happen to work out?
Stedman Graham: You have to be able to, first of all, want it bad enough. Then secondly, you’ve got to be able to hang in there long enough, not quit, and not give up. It’s easy to give up on your dreams, and being able to persevere, be determined, and believe in yourself and what you’re doing is very important in order to be able to get past the obstacles you face every day.
Also, the naysayers who say you can’t do it: You shouldn’t be doing this. Why don’t you just go out and get a job? It’s having some sense of self, and that’s just one small piece of your support system. It’s being able to put that piece together, then you’ve got to go out and find the information, find business and set up an operation.
You’ve got to be able to market your company, determine, who your customers are going to be, do research, read as much as you can and work 12, 13, 14 hours a day and weekends. You sacrifice nice days in the summertime for being in the office, working, just so you can get to the point where you understand your business.
I didn’t have an MBA from Harvard or Yale and I didn’t go to business school, so it was very difficult for me to understand the big picture. I had to take every little piece, and the most important thing was having a sense of self and having a strong base that kept me in the game.
Stephen Pierce: Today, after having experienced those different things, you have both the blessing and the challenge of having a partner who’s one of the most well-known people in the world. How has that affected your answer to the question of who you are? How do you maintain your own sense of self in the midst of everything that’s going on around you right now?
Stedman Graham: That’s a great question. Most people think that it’s an easy thing, being in this big space. What they don’t consider is that that’s not my space. I’m a smaller person in a larger space that’s not mine. So what happens is you have to be able to understand who you are.
That’s even more important being in a larger space, because the space tries to swallow you up all the time, based on other peoples’ definitions of who you are, based on the media and all of the complexities that big space brings, that have nothing to do with you.
If you don’t have a sense of self, if you’re not sure of your background and where you want to go and how you’re going to get there, then you get off track because you start buying into all the sizzle stuff that’s really based on an illusion and is not yours anyway.
What has helped me is the ability to have pressure on me all the time so I don’t get comfortable, and I’m able to think about how to take the self awareness – I think it’s one of the highest forms of self-awareness you can possibly be in, where the whole world is watching everything you do, every time you step out the door.
It enables you to be on guard and be highly sensitive to those people around you and to your current circumstances, and to figure out how you go in and out, around and through, and how you control your attitude and how you control, sometimes, even your anger, and how you control peoples’ response.
It’s a challenge that is probably one of the greatest things that ever happened to me because I get to go within to be able to handle the situation. When you can go within and stay internal, then you have a lot of control. When you go external, you give all your power away to the house, the car, the money, the race, the titles, the people, the religion-all those things externally that define you.
What you have to do, constantly, is pull your power back, go internal, own yourself, and not give things away, but be able to establish a strong base and a strong foundation, where you can put everything in perspective and use the American free enterprise system and the resources around you to figure out who you are, to be able to clarify and align yourself with what’s important, so you can focus on what’s relevant in your life, that brings you joy and happiness.
Stephen Pierce: What about ego? You were talking about being in a big space and that space is not yours. How does ego come into play, especially when you’re looking to keep your own sense of self and identity within that big space?
Stedman Graham: Ego is the danger point. When the ego drives you, then the ego is telling you something that you’re not. The ego is illusionary-thinking that you’re better than somebody else because of your situation, so the ego plays a lot of games on you.
To be able to realize that you’re no different than anybody else and that the power comes where you are the same person, whether you’re talking to a homeless person on the street or the President of the United States, you’re the same person all the time.
So if you can keep your feet on the ground and stay grounded based on your passion, and stay grounded based on what you do well and focus on your strengths and what you bring to the table and have tunnel vision in that, then what you’re able to do is build an internal base that strengthens itself over a long period of time, based on the process you created to build what you’re trying to build.
Now you have your own world, you have your own life, and essentially, you haven’t bought into the external things that try to take away that power.
Stephen Pierce: As far as the answer to the question of who you are, is it something that continues to change as we evolve and accumulate additional experiences in life, or is it something that tends to be static, and once you have a sense of who you are, regardless of where you go in life, it tends to be the same?
Stedman Graham: You have to change, because the world is constantly changing and the world tries to change you, so you have to be fluid. In this world today, you want to be seamless. You want to be able to do a lot of planning and preparation. You want to be behind the scenes. You want to be able to control as much of the situation as possible because you’ve done the work.
You have to have some idea of where you’re going and where you’re going to be, and you have to be two steps ahead of most things. If you don’t do that, then you get lost in all of the changing things that happen all around you, that are happening very quickly, based on the global marketplace.
If you go back to that space within the space-if you focus on the war, and if you focused on all those things that are happening in the world today, if you get into a situation where you start trying to take on the whole world and its problems, you lose your focus.
And you lose your influence, so you have to stay really focused on what you’re able to influence based on your environment and based on your control. It’s great to have vision, but you’ve got to go back to: What’s happening in my life right now? What kind of workout should I have today? How can I protect my health? What kind of health program have I created for myself today?
Have I done all the push-ups I’m supposed to do? Did I swim the laps? Did I run the miles that I planned on running today? It’s a combination of organizing everything that gives you the strength you need to survive just for today. Then if you take seven of those days, you’ve got a great week.
If you take four of those weeks, you’ve got a great month. If you take 12 of those months, you’ve got a great year. You can pretty much, through the process, build as much value as you possibly can, and really, that’s how the world sees you. It sees you based on the value you create.
The world sees you as you see yourself. With change, you have to change and begin to change the way you think and feel about yourself. The only thing that makes us equal is that we’ve got 24 hours. What’s the question? What do you do with your 24 hours? What most people do with their 24 hours is give it all away.
Stephen Pierce: Interesting. The focus of this entire interview series is on passion and its relationship to one’s personal destiny, which is highly impacted by what everybody does with those 24 hours they have that’s equal to the next man. How do our passions help us answer the question of who we are? When we’re able to get that answer, what’s the relationship between who we are and our destiny and our mission in life?
Stedman Graham: It’s really about alignment and keeping everything in balance, keeping everything on track and trying to create small successes. The question is how do you get to the top of the mountain? The answer is you take one step at a time, one small step at a time.
It’s really about figuring out What vision can I create? How big is the space I want to operate in? What does that look like? How do I organize my passions and the things I love so I can take the resources of the world and organize them, and apply those resources and information to the development of who I am as a person?
Once you locate yourself as a whole person and say, I’m a whole person. I’m not my job. I’m not my house. I’m not my relation-ship, that’s just a part of who I am. To be able to take all of those things you love, want to do, are good at and have the skills to be able to do, and be able to develop those things at the highest possible level, utilizing the research and information that’s available so you can drive those things, all of a sudden you are able to say, How does this fit into the world I live in?
What kind of destiny can I create? What kind of legacy can I leave based on being the best person I can be and looking at the world as unlimited opportunities for myself? You can virtually dream the dream and make that happen, or expand your knowledge and vision to the point where you’re outdistancing everybody. Nobody can touch you because your vision is so big.
You’re able to execute it every single day. You have the energy to make it happen because you’re focused on things that are relevant to you. You have access to all kinds of information and resources. You’re able to create a network that’s just unbelievable. You’re able to imagine and dream the things you want to dream. You can make those things happen and you have a dream team that helps you make it through the tough times every single day.
So, there’s the combination of all of that and figuring all of that out, and then being able to apply it to your own life based on who you want to become and what you’re passionate about.
Stephen Pierce: In your book, you talk about the meaning of authenticity. As far as you’re concerned, what is true authenticity and why is being authentic so important?
Stedman Graham: I think true authenticity, if I had to define it, would be being comfortable with yourself. That would be one thing. I think being able to build from a core base and a core foundation. So, what’s beautiful is if you can build a core foundation or a core base and that base is consistent so you can always go back to that base no matter what happens, then you’re able to expand that base and extend from that base to create similar things that relate to the core base.
You stay in the space, you stay in the area and you stay in the area of influence based on information that’s relevant to the space you created in the first place so you don’t go too far away from the core. You can always go back to the core. You can go in or you can go out. I think being able to be authentic is that you never leave that area of influence based on the space you’ve created, and everything relates to the core foundation you created in the first place.
Stephen Pierce: For those who have people they look up to and admire, many actually go to the extent of actually emulating them. How can they know that they themselves are being authentic although they seem to emulate different characteristics of people they look up to?
Stedman Graham: I think being able to take a little bit of what you learn from every single person and figure out how that thing you got from that particular person can relate to your core foundation so, again, you take what you need. You borrow what you need and blend in what you need with the idea of being able to have other people kind of help you build what you’re trying to build.
I was in a similar situation this past weekend. One of the people I was with was just very quiet. So, I spent the weekend with them and throughout that whole process, them being quiet reminded me how strong they were. This other person was kind of getting on this person and yelling at them a little bit and just making fun of them. During the whole process, that person didn’t say anything. They didn’t respond to it. They just kept going.
I said, I’d love to adopt that. Not that I don’t have that, but I would love to be able to make sure I stay on track with that. When the world is laughing at you, the world is saying something about you, or the world is sometimes ridiculing you, the ability to be able to just be still, be quiet, keep your mouth closed and not respond is a great trait.
So, if I can just adopt that trait, or get that trait from that person when I’m faced with those challenges, to me that is being able to have some self awareness and being able to borrow that from other people, and not having to put people on the pedestal of thinking everybody’s perfect and you have to be 100%. You don’t have to be 100%. Just do the best you can.
This cover story is an abridged version of the full 1-hour-plus interview with Stedman Graham conducted in front of a live Tele-Audience.