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When you see how underrepresented African-Americans are in current leadership roles, it can be easy to get discouraged about their prospects for leadership advancement. Despite a rise in the number of black college and university graduates, just 8% of managers and under 4% of CEOs are black. In the Fortune 500 companies there are currently only three black chief executives, down from a high of 12 in 2002.

We, however, are not discouraged. In the course of our research, we have met myriad African-American leaders who, despite being underestimated, underappreciated, and under-resourced, have prospered and achieved incredible success. How do they do it?

Our research suggests that success in the face of systemic discrimination often begins with affirming one’s own potential. When people believe in their ability to grow, they make decisions that reflect this conviction, such as investing in their potential, focusing on their unique strengths, and discovering new paths to success and fulfillment that align with their core values and leadership goals.

Here, we offer a set of self-affirmations developed from interviews and surveys we have conducted with African-American professionals, as well as from our analysis of research on black leadership and career paths.


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