Long before Sadiq Ali decided to write a book about male manners, he grew up observing a father whose respectful, regal mannerisms helped him to move successfully through life.
"He was a longtime business owner, and the way he dealt with his customers was a labor of love," recalls Ali, 32, a Washington. D.C., native who now lives in Windsor Mill. "He treated everyone well and never had a negative word to say about anyone. He has passed away, but I still strive to make him proud."
This year, Ali self-published a book titled "Millionaire Manners: The Men's (and Boy's) Guide to Social Grace in the New Age," which he dedicated to his dad. The self-help guide encourages a return to manners for men, with a particular emphasis on reaching younger audiences that may not have learned polite behavior and social graces at home.
It goes beyond the basics of "please" and "thank you" to address a wide range of issues, including making sure the messages you send via social media aren't offensive, making friends at a party, and steps aimed at helping one land a job or obtain a promotion or impress romantic interests.
"While working on corporate teams, leading others and mentoring youth, I noticed a lack of manners and a pervasive lack of refinement among so many men," says Ali, founder of the Millionaire Manners Academy, a sort of traveling institute that partners with schools, government, nonprofits and other organizations to complement their existing programs with etiquette-based training.
He's made it his mission to help youth, men in particular, acquire basic skills they might be missing, such as courtesy, consideration and communicating effectively. His clients have included a re-entry program that helps the formerly incarcerated upon their return to society and at least one Baltimore City public school.
"While schools are able to prepare students academically, they're generally not equipped for teaching this type of thing," says the married father of four, who earned degrees from Morgan State University and an MBA from the University of Maryland, University College. "And with more parents working outside the home and the prevalence of single-parent households, the fact is that many young people are not learning these essentials at home, either."
That's where Carol Haislip, co-director of the International School of Protocol in Towson, has discovered a niche. For 18 years, she and a team of experts have provided etiquette and social training for groups and individuals, ranging from business executives to children.
"We're seeing more parents who are signing their boys up for classes — it's about 50-50 with girls — that help them prepare for dates to the prom or simply how to dress for their first job interview," Haislip says. "We want to boost their confidence and build their self-esteem by teaching them how to recognize and apply appropriate social and communication skills, while making them aware of how their behavior affects others in social, academic and work environments."
The school offers courses and sessions that can be customized. They run the gamut from primers on table manners and proper usage of utensils to mock job interviews and proper etiquette for attending movies, theater and sporting events.
Richie Frieman, a 35-year-old Owings Mills resident who hosts "The Modern Manners Guy" weekly podcast and column about manners and etiquette on the "Quick and Dirty Tips" network, says many men find it hard to reconcile being cool with being courteous.
"Some guys associate manners with being wimpy or a pushover, or they think having manners is only for older people," says the husband and father of two, who is a former pro wrestler, as well as children's book author, inventor and clothing designer.
"But it's time we rethink the idea that you can't balance being mannerly and being cool or current — as if one must necessarily exclude the other."
Born in Richmond, Va., and raised in Baltimore, Frieman attended the University of Maryland, College Park, graduating in 2001 with a degree in fine arts. His growing reputation as a manners expert led him to write "Reply All ... and Other Ways to Tank Your Career," a book about professional etiquette in the workplace.
Frieman conducted interviews with leading CEOs, entrepreneurs and industry tastemakers about their experiences climbing the corporate ladder. The book tackles myriad topics, with such chapters as "How to Deal with Annoying Coworkers," and "Work Events Etiquette." There are also cautionary tales, conveyed with humor.
"The title stems from a true story," says Frieman, who writes about an employee at a conservative financial firm who mistakenly sent an email about, ahem, passing gas, to hundreds of colleagues, including the CEO.
"Let this be a warning: Always, always, always check the 'to' line of an email before you click 'send.' Remember there are two options: 'reply' and 'reply all,' " Frieman notes. "One will keep you safe and the other could ruin your career."
Ronald Anthony Mills of West Baltimore, the father of three sons, applauds the work that local manners enthusiasts are offering to men and boys. He says it's not always easy to convince millennial-era males that traditional rules of manners and etiquette still apply.
"I didn't have a father in the house, but as a little boy in New York, my mother and grandmother taught me how to be a gentleman," says the 48-year-old vice president of human services for a Park Heights community organization. "I learned how to open doors, make eye contact and say 'Yes, sir,' and 'No, ma'am' to adults."
Mills and his wife have imparted to their offspring — who range in age from 14 to 21 — advice on how to deliver a firm handshake, for instance, or the importance of speaking clearly in public.
"I think many young people today don't want to be beholden to what the older generation thinks," says Mills, who has served as a mentor for city students and holds a national office with Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. "But I am trying to teach my sons that there's value in being mannerly, well groomed or things like sending a handwritten thank-you note.
"It speaks to your character," he adds. "I have seen firsthand that good manners benefit you wherever you go."
Ask the manners experts
We asked Sadiq Ali and Richie Frieman to offer some advice on manners. Whether it's prepping for the upcoming holiday season, or exhibiting etiquette that might garner a raise in the workplace, now is the time to ensure that your manners are on point.
What advice would you give to someone attending a dinner or cocktail party around the holidays?
Sadiq Ali: "For me, the art of conversation at a dinner party is simple and fun: Ask as many questions as you can about the other person; look to learn what they like. Then when you get to speak, talk about what you're passionate about, and your eyes will twinkle, instantly making you more relatable. And don't forget that a smile is your most cost-effective way to improve your looks."
Richie Frieman: "Similar to a dinner party, you are there for the people, not the food. Walk around, be social, make the best of the night. Do NOT check your phone every five minutes. Do not act like your Facebook wall is more important. Why would you get dressed up and go to an event only to do things you'd do on your couch in your pajamas? And always watch your alcohol intake. Walk out; don't be carried out."
The holiday season can mean that couples will meet their significant others' parents and family. How does one prepare?
Ali: "Do your research. Google is your best friend: Find out something about them that is near and dear to them (besides their son or daughter), and ask them about it. In the Information Age, there's no way you shouldn't know something about everyone before you meet them. Most people will find this flattering. Oh, and don't come empty-handed. One of my favorite gifts: flowers. Everyone loves flowers, and even when I'm explicitly told by hosts not to bring anything, flowers are my go-to because they are pretty and everyone loves them."
Frieman: "Bring your 'A' game and nothing less. You are here to make a statement, but this does not mean being the funniest or slickest person in the room, it means being personable. Even if you are intimidated, don't be tonight. If you're an introvert, break out of that shell for just one hour. You may have started the night with a handshake, but you want to end in a hug."
Any advice for business gatherings?
Ali: "Don't go in always looking for a sale, or trying to figure out what everyone else can do for you. I talk much about connecting people, not collecting people. Attempt to be an authentic person and be of service to others. Sales will then come much easier, because people will know, like and trust you. Also, don't be the 'one-upper' at the party. You know, the obnoxious guy who always has to be louder or tell a bigger, funnier story. Just look to make one or two genuine connections, and your night will be great."
Frieman: "Every business gathering is an interview. You are always being judged, watched and critiqued. Maybe not outright, but people are always thinking, 'Can I work with this person? Do I trust them?' And you want them to leave with confidence, not feeling like you don't know what you're talking about. Be engaging and professional. Talk the language of your industry and remember that everyone is a future contact."