Douglas Wilder, former Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the first elected Black Governor in the United States gave me advice that I will never forget. He said, "From this point on, when you walk into a room, walk in that room like you own it, when you talk with people remember to stand on your principles, keep your word, and people will want to associate with you." His advice became synonymous with my career and everyday living.
At the time, that advice seemed a bit arrogant, but in retrospect, his advice has granted me passages into many executive suites, corporate boardrooms and has helped me build solid relationships. His advice came at a time when I was desperately seeking to glean knowledge and help from anyone who was willing to share insight on what it takes to be successful in business as a young African-American-especially one on the lecture circuit.
Seemingly overnight, in a section of Fairfax, Virginia, businesses stretching a two-block radius have changed ownership from a predominately-White entrepreneurial establishment to an Asian and Latino establishment. They are receiving thriving support from each other. Granted, I find it great to witness that in the land of milk and honey success can be achieved by all. But, how long will African-Americans continue to allow years of division to stop us from gaining the riches and wealth we deserve? Why is it difficult for African-Americans to build business alliances and partnerships with each other?
Marie Johns, President and CEO of Verizon Communications Washington Company said, "Creating alliances and partnerships is a dynamic organic process. It is formed and reshaped. As professionals move to different sets of responsibilities there is a need to network with new people as well as maintain current alliances. One can never say that their network is complete. There are always interesting people with whom one can engage who would end up being a valuable experience."
In today's business culture, having productive relationships for commerce exchange is a way of life. People do business with people they know and with people, they like. They do business by referrals from people whose judgment they trust. Albert Einstein said it best, "Trust is what stands the test of experience."
Similarly, Frank Fahrenkopf, Co-Chairman of the Commission for Presidential Debates said during our interview it's best to "Look for opportunities and see where there is a need, think about it while making sure that you have a plan, set objectives that are reachable then prove yourself by your professionalism as you go along with every small step until you reach the end. It is highly important to be able to articulate your views once your objectives have been set."
It's foundations like Emerging Business Forum who see the need and are bringing minorities together as a culmination of the essentials for business growth, knowledge transfer for personal and business relationships. But, does former Governor Wilder have a valid point in how to attract quality relationships? More importantly, what are colleges doing to educate students in creating alliances before they get into the workforce?
Cliff McKnight, Counselor and Associate Professor at Montgomery College in Maryland believes "that colleges should engage students in leadership activities such as clubs and other organizations through the office of student life. It's a major component for student development." His belief is noble. But without a formal setting is joining clubs enough to provide competent networking skills?
Dr. Ivan Misner, President and Founder, of BNI (Business Network Int'l), an international organization that manages two thousand networking chapters says, no! Colleges and universities are not teaching networking skills because the professors don't know the subject matter." Why? "Because it's an emerging topic and many are unfamiliar with the art of networking themselves," Misner said.
After years of research, informative interviews, and hundreds of social events, I discovered the key to creating successful alliances and partnerships is by utilizing the NAAP Approach. The NAAP Approach is coined and defined as a three-dimensional approach to creating long-lasting partnerships. The rules of engagement are:
?Networking-First stage, strictly for building a Rolodex of contacts and expertise. Identify professionals that have partnership potential.
?Action-Alliance-Second stage, relationship building takes place at this stage. It is important that keeping in touch or practicing due diligence. This process can take months or several years.
?Partnerships-Third stage, after completing stages one and two, a shared purpose for partnering can be determined. At this point, there should be a solid foundation for working together; call in your chits.
Contrastingly, Marilyn Crawford, of Primetime Omni media says, "If you have established a genuine relationship with a person there's no such thing as calling in a chit. If you need help with something and you go to a certain person, you are essentially forwarding the relationship. In turn, they are simply forwarding opportunities to other people." Crawford continued by saying, "If I need something from an alliance, I am comfortable enough with the relationship to pick up the telephone and say this is what I need, can you help me? On the other hand, because that person is comfortable with me they will say either yes or no. Just be prepared for possible rejection."
Rejection! Rejection? Many African-Americans will say that the fundamental nature of rejection is nothing new and the word itself carries no meaning until the banks and lending institutions makes the word real. "It's the banks, they refuse to give minorities loans," a woman said while reading the draft of this article. Maybe Rennie Williams, a professional barber dubbed by the Washington Post as a "debater laureate" says what some are afraid to say, "It's trust. Whom can you really trust in business? Many African-Americans don't trust each other and that mistrust stagnates our culture."
In my opinion, the easiest and most effective way to accomplish creating many strong partnerships simultaneously is to:
?Go direct to the decision maker. Begin at the top. It's the top down theory. Going direct to the top will eliminate corporate politics that come with starting at the bottom. Top decision makers assign projects to the appropriate person.
?Present your credentials before an introduction. Having a good image can open many doors. Presenting your credentials before you meet with potential partners allows them to have an idea of who you are and the past work you have done.
?Provide any professional supporting documentation. Submitting supporting documentation such as patents, trade articles, or related accomplishments is often the deciding factor whether executives will accept your request for a meeting.
?Have a reason for the dialogue. Make sure the purpose for communicating with potential alliances is compelling. Ask yourself this, is the meeting more to help them or help me? If it is more for them, your chances of collaborating are greatly increased.
?Maintain good values, strong ethics, and moral principles. Would you do business with a liar and a cheat? Of course not! Never assume that you know someone's values and ethics. The best rule of thumb is to carry yourself and treat others with the highest respect.
Creating successful alliances and partnerships is critical more than ever before. It takes more than having a college degree and it takes more than just having a prominent job title. Just remember, it doesn't matter how much money you have, creating partnerships that work takes personality and action. Once you put these two ingredients together and see the benefit of the alliances you form, you will understand why Tim Russert, Host of the television news magazine Meet the Press says, "Creating partnerships has been the most important component helping me build my career."
Speaker and author of: "It's Who You Know: Creating Successful Mentor-Based Alliances, Coalitions and Partnerships Through Networking"