THE success of a business is measured in terms of dollars and cents, profit and loss. After all, that is why most people go into a business.
Trainer and author Dr L. Michael Hall looks at the business entity as a network of relationships where at each stage, some sort of value is added to the other.
“Business is all about people. Someone has to buy it. You have to work with suppliers, you have to sell it and you have to stand by it. It is all about relationships; the products and services are secondary,” says Hall, who is trained in psychology and business. Hall was here in Kuala Lumpur recently (March 27 and 28) to give a two-day course on Coaching Leadership.
Hall, 57, has set up a network of trainers around the world to exhort others to be resilient and to be strong in the midst of challenges. More of a psychologist than a trainer in business ventures, he uses certain principles to motivate and stretch one’s potential in overcoming the dark shadows that life sometimes heap upon us. But he is not an advocate of positive thinking. He delves into a myriad of subjects – from leadership to marketing, communications to motivation.
“The principle is to be resilient. To do that, we have to see meaning in the things we do and that includes the business, and the work...,” he says. The events in our lives mould us. The past make us what we are today. The person you see in the mirror is a result of what happened yesterday.
There is always the option to walk away but the past sticks like a shadow, inseparable until the shelf life is over. And so life moves on. The smile is turned on at the right time, the right words are chosen, sometimes mechanically and unconsciously. But the private world haunts and the past hounds.
And it was in this confused state of mind that Hall found himself in the mid-1970s. Not yet 25, his wife of three years had just walked out.
“I lost my career because a minister of God cannot be divorced. I lost my family and my parsonage,” says Hall whose first job was a Protestant pastor. It is indeed a deep and personal loss and one which he talks openly about because it was on the basis of that loss, and the subsequent steps he took, that has shaped him and made him who he is today.
The combination of business and psychology is intriguing, besides his earlier training in Bibilical literature. But what is business, if it is not about people? And what is psychology, if not the working of the mind. Much of leadership, says Hall, is listening, learning to be democratic and taking time with people and staying with a vision.
“As long as we are alive, we are made up of body, mind and emotions. We are wired that way. Our existence has to have meaning, if we are to make the most of what life has to offer us. If it is not meaningful, why do I do what I do?”
Leveraging on Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Hall says there are different levels beginning with physical, safety and security, love and a sense of belonging, self esteem and self-actualisation. Self-actualisation is when we go beyond our animal nature.
“But Maslow missed out one thing – meaning. It is meaning which adds that all-important dimension to life. And you need to identify at what level you are. Otherwise, you will not know where you are going. And you must also know what holds you back. Your thoughts and frame of mind may hold you back, or maybe your habits are preventing you from moving on,” he says.
On how he went on to become a psychologist after being trained as God’s representative, Hall says he became very confused after his divorce.
“My wife left because she could not take the stress of the parsonage. When I found her nine months later, she was in a psychiatric hospital. That was my first encounter with psychology. I could not understand what was happening to her, or to me. And there was my daughter. I had no money. That was when I created my own personal school by reading everything Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler (both psychologists) wrote.
“I could not understand why I was doing things to sabotage myself. Later, I discovered that we self-sabotage because our frame of mind is insufficient to navigate through whatever we are experiencing. We have a cognitive distortion.
“I told myself not to let the event define me, my present or my future, but I must discover what I can learn from it. This is critical if we are to overcome the dark patches we run into. If a person does not know how to ‘run’ his brain, he goes out of control which means I must take control of my thoughts. Today, we call that emotional intelligence.”
He eventually took a business degree because he was not able to get a job after about 2 years with his Biblical Literature degree. “How relevant is Greek, Hebrew and Latin? That was when I delved deeper into psychology and cognitive behaviour. I learned about the importance of resilience and I went back to school to study business because where ever I went, I was asked if I had a business degree.”
Hall researched and talked to those who survived the holocaust and how people bounced back after huge challenges, and that became the basis of his training manual on resilience.
Today, Hall has more than 40 titles to his name, some of them are used as college text books. The basis of his writing is his reading. His daily regimen – two hours of reading and an hour of writing. When he’s travelling, this is halved. On whether he still believes in God, Hall says he is no longer a theologian. And he has remained single, although he dated for many years.
“There was this woman who was not very happy with her work and other things in life. There were setbacks but she was unable to overcome these challenges. She allowed the situation to define her and her present and future. After a while, I decided it was enough. And I realised there are many people in the world today who are like that. And I want to help them.”
Hall also became an entrepreneur, dabbling in different types of business. One of them is real estate. “I know a bit about psychology, but I knew nothing about business. So I decided to do little businesses here and there. Not because I want to make lots of money, but because I want to see how far I can go. I started with buying one real estate, and then another and I went on. And today, I have 12 and they are all running very well, despite me travelling 80% of the year.”
Hall says people today are fixed on wealth creation. “You do not pursue wealth by taking, you pursue it by being wealthy inside, by adding value to others. It is a form of giving back. If you treat people like you trust them, then they will be trustworthy.
“Ask yourself: what is your vision? What is your pain? How can you turn that into something of value, into a business that will be of value to others. I have turned what I went through into a business, because I want to add value to others.”
On whether he believes in God after all that he’s been through, Hall says there is too much beauty in this world that could not have come about as a result of some explosion.
“There is an intelligence out there who is greater and bigger than all of us. Some call him, or her, God.”