To be an effective leader, you must first work on yourself. That was the key takeaway from Stedman Graham’s keynote presentation to the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce’s 131st Annual Meeting, held Tuesday, Jan. 29 at DeVos Place. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan was the premier sponsor of the event, which drew a large crowd despite blustery winter weather conditions that shut down schools across the region. “You cannot lead anybody else until you first lead yourself,” Graham said.
Stedman Graham addresses the crowd gathered for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce's 131st Annual Meeting. Photo credit: MI Blues Perspectives Chairman and CEO of S. Graham & Associates, a management and marketing consulting company that specializes in corporate and educational markets, Graham presented his Identity Leadership Nine-Step Success Process. Most famously known as Oprah Winfrey’s significant other – a fact Graham acknowledged to much fanfare from the crowd – he said in his own life he’s had to put up with other people defining him. He finally learned that if he wanted to be successful, he had to determine who he was and define exactly what it was he wanted. The process that resulted helped him go on to become a best-selling author and led to his passion for helping young people and business leaders find their spark and a path to “self-actualization”. He said the traditional education system teaches people to be followers, while a 21st century economy demands leaders who come to the table with ideas and drive. “The system is not set up for you to be self-actualized,” Graham said. Everyone has the same 24 hours, Graham explained, and it’s up to you if they’re spent in a familiar rut or if there’s time to be carved out for learning and goal setting, every day. He recommends working on bolstering yourself up by throwing out self-defeating language and ignoring labels placed on you by others that might hold you back. “The label is too small,” he said. To put Graham’s nine-step process to work for you, here’s what he recommends:
- Check your identity. Figure out who you really are by taking time to identify what you’re passionate about. Write down everything you care deeply about and what you want to do with your life.
- Create your vision. Visualize what success looks like to you. What do you want to be? Where do you want to go? “You can create anything you want,” Graham said.
- Develop your travel plan. This is your action plan, broken down into achievable goals. Picture your desired destination and work backward to figure out how to get there.
- Master the rules of the road. Set a value system you can live with as you work toward your goals. Graham mentioned honesty, hard work and determination as solid principles that can guide you toward success without losing yourself in the process.
- Step in to the outer limits. On the road to success, Graham said many people get stuck when they listen to the negative self-talk loop that tells them they can’t make it. He said you have to confront and overcome your fears and get over whatever it is that’s holding you back from a real breakthrough. “Fear is learned behavior,” he said.
- Pilot the seasons of change. Building your internal capacity to welcome and embrace change can mean the difference between getting left behind and being ahead of the curve.
- Build your dream team. Networking and building supportive relationships will only help propel you toward your dreams. “You can’t make it on your own,” Graham explained.
- Win by a decision. Deciding to invest in yourself and your ability to be a leader through continuous self-improvement, learning and growth opportunities will help you go from being a follower to feeling comfortable as a leader.
- Commit to your vision. On the path to success, there will be obstacles and failures. By keeping the end goal in mind at all times, it will be easier to overcome and keep moving forward. Graham said you will fall down on this journey, but you only fail if you don’t get back up again.
Graham’s next book, Identity Leadership, is available now. If you found this post helpful, try these:
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Main image photo credit: pixelfit