I remember it like it was yesterday. I’m sitting in Perkins Restaurant as we finished our Friday morning bible study class in Louisville, KY. With me was Carl Brazley, my closest and most creative mentor. We were about to start one of our usual mentoring sessions that we had about once per month. This session was special as he shared his wisdom about success that has become fundamental in my life philosophy.
Mr. Brazley asked me two questions right off the bat: “What does success mean to me?” and “How will I go about achieving it?” I shared with him my personal mission statement that I had recently developed at the LeaderShape program in Champaign, IL. It states that “I want to become a tycoon politically, socially, and economically so that I may have a positive impact on my community.” Mr. Brazley then said, “That’s great! Now how are you going to ACHIEVE your mission?” This was the question that I was still trying to figure out. I had seen ultra-successful all around me in person or on TV, but I found the process mystifying at times.
Mr. Brazley continued, “Lawrence, don’t believe the hype that you see on TV when it comes to people who you view as successful. The media loves stories about self made millionaires and billionaires, but rarely are they self made.” What he said next changed my perspective, “Here is what they [the media and often the individual in question] don’t want you to know: Success is manufactured! Many successful people have other hidden influential people in the background guiding them on the right path. Giving them the connections that they need to accelerate their success. This is what I am going to do with you Lawrence.” Whoa!! Talk about some heavy material!
I researched the statement that Mr. Brazley made further and I started to read more about individuals who I view to be successful. I was very surprised at the results/trends that I found. Let’s start with Donald Trump, the King of the Self Made…His father had over $100 million in real estate by the time he was born. Warren Buffett (a major influence in my thinking), the Sage of Omaha… His father was a stockbroker and four-term congressman from the state of Nebraska. What about Bill Gates? His mother sat on the board of directors of a bank and his father was a prominent Seattle attorney. The more people that I researched, the more surprised I became. Then I started to feel apprehensive, “What do I need to become successful?”
There are two things that I don’t want to happen by sharing this story with you:
1. I do not want to relegate or belittle the accomplishments of successful people just because they come from a well connected family. The people mentioned above are all extremely intelligent and have a strong work ethic. It’s also important not to hide facts about people’s environment as if that doesn’t play a critical role in success.
2. I do not want you to feel like the situation is hopeless if you don’t come from a rich and powerful family. Throughout this article, I’m going to teach you how to create your own “synthetic power family.”
If you don’t come from a rich and well connected family, do not worry about it. It is not the end all, be all. In fact, I know many people who come from well-to-do families, but their lives are in shambles. Money and entitlement can be hindrances to living a WEALTHY LIFE just as much as they can be assets. I come from a solidly middle class family where my father was a high-ranking police official and my mother was a high school guidance counselor. I was able to use this base to expand even further and broaden my experiences to study at Phillips Academy Andover, Carnegie Mellon University, and now Cornell. The most beautiful part is that I have paid very little for my educational experience and it’s because I created a synthetic family to help me achieve my goals.
A synthetic family is not the family you were born with, but one that you created that helps provide the resources you need to accomplish goals. I’m not just talking about money, but also advice and connections as well. Having a synthetic family is not a substitute for your real family, proper planning, or an intelligent work ethic (see my Pareto and Parkinson article). I view the synthetic family as an accelerator of the success process. The great thing about the synthetic family is that it is easy to start and replicate.
After President Obama (wow, that sounds great) won the election for United States President in November, he had to move his actions from campaigning mode to governing mode. Immediately, Obama selected Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff and then dozens of other appointments were announced in the following weeks. President Obama surrounded himself with individuals who have a greater knowledge about different aspects of governance than he does. When President Obama and his advisors meet about the current economic situation, the advisors give their expert opinions about what Obama should do. After that, President Obama escorts them out of the room and then makes the decision he feels will be best for the country.
I ask, “What’s keeping you from being your own Barack Obama?” I urge you to assemble your own personal board of advisors to help you when you have a tough decision to make. There is not a human being on the face of the planet who knows everything. Seek out those individuals who have general wisdom as well as those who have specific expertise. Bring them into your family and achieve your goals more effectively.
One of the great myths of networking is that you start reaching out to others when you need something. The people who really succeed in building relationships know that you need to start building way BEFORE you need anything. This is especially true if you are thinking of opening your own business. Many people start the networking process too late in the game. Prospective entrepreneurs think about details like incorporating or the specific name of their company. Although those tasks are important, they have much less influence over your business success compared to relationship building.
Immediately after graduating from college I worked for my brother, Dr. Boyce Watkins. My job was to book him for speaking engagements and manage his growing national media profile. I knew long before I started to work for him that I wanted to start my own company and I took steps to achieve this goal. For example, when Boyce would appear on a national TV show, he was often on the show with other high profile guests. We would make sure to collect that person’s contact information and follow up with him/her right away. When I started Great Black Speakers Bureau, those were my first speakers. Make sure to always begin with an end in mind!
Bestselling author and networking guru Keith Ferrazzi calls this the “genius of audacity.” If you never ask for what you want, very rarely do you ever get what you want. The two major emotions that stop people from asking are the fear of rejection from the other person and a feeling that the other person is better than you. Question: What’s going to have a longer impact on your life? FEAR of rejection or FAILING to reach your goals? The answer to this question for me is not reaching the goals I set out to accomplish. In this scenario, rejection MIGHT happen but failure WILL happen.
If the yin is overcoming your fears and asking for what you want, then the yang is following up with your contacts. This is something that I have personally struggled with lately as my number of contacts has grown significantly. However, I have noticed a direct correlation between my rate of follow up and the amount of success I achieve over any period of time. It is funny how people spend so much time making new contacts and so little time following up with them. This reminds me of the local ladies man who is only interested in the chase of a woman. Once he gets her, he then loses interest. In business and in life, don’t be this person! It is much more expensive to attain a new client/contact/friend than to maintain the ones you already have. I am not telling you to not meet new people, just do right by them when you do meet them for long lasting business/personal relationships.