Given that people often think of him as Oprah Winfrey’s other half, it makes sense that Stedman Graham, 63, wrote a book about the power of personal identity (Identity: Your Passport to Success). Here, the Chicago-based entrepreneur, mentor and long-time intimate of the Big O shares some of the secrets to his success.
I’m not Oprah … and that’s the point
Being happy with yourself is the key to being happy with another person. That is true whether your partner is Oprah or anyone else. I have built and continued to build my life around my own passions; I find my own way. My book explains how being and feeling successful begins with having your own identity. When you have this you don’t have to worry about anyone else or getting upset about anyone else’s success because nobody else is going to be the best you. I am proud of Oprah, and I take joy in her accomplishments, but I don’t compare my own success with hers or with anyone else’s. Regardless of who you are, there is always going to be somebody who is more successful than you.
Life will give you a box – bust out of it
I grew up in a world full of stereotypes and small mindedness. People wanted to put me in certain boxes because of race or economics. One of my mentors was a man named Bob Brown; he was a black businessman who worked at the White House and he really opened my eyes to what was possible. I travelled with him when I was in my thirties and I realized how small my world had been until then, and how these socially constructed ideas that I had been taught about race weren’t true. I saw people of colour all over the world doing amazing things. It was such a huge realization for me, and the principle applies to so many of us. Most people live in some sort of a box: They allow the outside world and circumstances to define them and, because they don’t understand their own power, they become complacent. Every person can think beyond where they are. Almost every day I try to consider how I can get out of my comfort zone to get closer to my goals.
Good leaders know when to follow
The global market place is like a giant puzzle, and it’s the role of a leader to figure out how to put the pieces together. The art of leadership has changed a lot in the last decade. It used to be fear-based: You do what I tell you to do. Today’s most effective leaders understand that success comes from being a good collaborator. As a leader, sometimes you need to speak up and set the direction. But other times, you need to keep your mouth shut, listen, and let people find the way. A good leader knows when to be a follower and also the importance of co-operating and building strong relationships. I believe in the importance of supporting your team and figuring out how to create small wins within the larger picture.
This interview has been condensed and edited.