If you think your boss is on a narcissistic power trip, Robert Hall says there’s a good chance you’re right.
The 66-year-old Dallas author, consultant and executive coach has spent four decades helping companies build relationships with customers, employees and shareholders. But he says he’s never seen anything like the dysfunctional mess we’re in now.
The schism between power-brokering CEOs and distrusting workers is growing wider by the day.
Too many bosses, especially those at the top of public companies, have succumbed to the me-first route to success, he says. That’s often because they’re rewarded for meeting short-term financial goals that can come at the cost of employee well-being.
Meanwhile workers grow increasingly cynical and learn not to depend on the filtered information they get from the top.
“Leaders used to be able to say one thing and do another because no one would ever know,” Hall says. “Not today. There’s virtually nothing you can do that’s not out there to be found. We want leaders who will authentically tell the truth. Instead, we get people who manipulate us. And we’re less willing to put up with that every day.”
His solution: We desperately need “touchy-feely” leaders who value relationship-building and know how to deal with this epidemic of disengagement and distrust.
Hall is a research junkie. He spends about four hours a day scouring the Internet and reading books about relationships and leadership. He also has 23 years of CEO experience and coaches a half-dozen C-level executives.
“One in 5 people trusts a business leader to tell the truth in a difficult or contentious issue; 86 percent trust corporations less today than they did five years ago, and 70 percent say, ‘I’m disengaged at work,’ ” Hall says. Twice as many employees would rather be criticized than ignored.
Hall says he’s willing to cut leaders some slack. Leadership is getting harder because of size, scale, geographic reach and technology, he says.
He spent six years at major consulting firms before co-founding a customer relationship management company in 1979. He wrote his first book, “The Streetcorner Strategy for Winning Local Markets,” on that topic in 1994.
He sold his company in 2000 and now writes, coaches and consults full time.
Hall’s wife, Linda, was executive director of the Interfaith Housing Coalition from 2004 to 2010. At her urging, he began counseling inner-city homeless families.
“Broken family relationships have economic, emotional and social costs in the same ways that broken relationships in business do,” he says. “Most often, a person becomes homeless not when they lose their last dollar, but when they use up their last relationship.”
That’s what got him started on book two.
Three years ago, Hall broke ground with “This Land of Strangers: The Relationship Crisis That Imperils Home, Work, Politics, and Faith.” The book’s premise is that broken human connections of every sort have created a “disengaged economy” that operates in a costly, inefficient manner.
It took him six years of research to complete it.
“I knew there are a lot of right-brained people who wouldn’t believe this unless I brought the numbers,” he says. “But the fact is, I didn’t need any of those numbers to know it. It’s a truth larger than that.”
Priorities, purpose and power have to be leveraged differently from 40 years ago when we all did what we were told, he says.
“Power has to be more sharing and collaborative. Leaders who stand out do so because they are focused on building productive, sustainable relationships.”
When some leaders get to the top, they think they’re too important to deal with messy employee and customer issues, Hall says.
“Followers say, ‘Hey, I’m kinda important, too. You don’t have to tell me I’m great. Just acknowledge that I’m here.’ ”