Inspiring Conversations: Leading People in an Ever-Changing World – Hubert Joly and Hortense le Gentil

The Inspiring Conversations Series featured a discussion about the importance of purpose and alignment with guest speakers Hubert Joly, former chairman & CEO of Best Buy, and Hortense le Gentil, author of Aligned: Connecting Your True Self with the Leader You’re Meant to Be. This virtual event was led by Tom Schreier, Founding Director of the Inspired Leadership Initiative. Through this discussion, Joly and le Gentil demonstrated ways in which leaders can lead with purpose, foster change, and embrace human connection.

In the beginning of the discussion, le Gentil explained the three major stages of her life. The first stage took place years ago when she worked with a leader who thought he had all the answers. As a result of this type of leadership, workers did not feel respected and did not experience a sense of belonging. The second stage occurred when she founded her own company in the steel industry, working in partnership with engineers. Le Gentil described this as a wake-up moment, where both her employees and she learned to respect and learn from each other. The third stage occurred when le Gentil realized, through coaching a client who was a CEO, the importance of deep-listening to people. 

Next, McKinsey explained one of the most important aspects of business he learned throughout his career: The purpose of a company is not to make money; Money is just an imperative. Success in business comes from three imperatives: the people imperative (having good people that are well-trained and can do a great job), the business imperative (having customers who are happy), and financial performance. For example, as the CEO of Best Buy, McKinsey worked to “release human magic,” satisfying the people imperative. By doing so, he created an environment in which other people could be efficient and effective.

In the next topic of the discussion, both McKinsey and le Gentil conveyed that purpose and human connection constitute the very heart of business. McKinsey explained that a good leader leads with all body parts: head, heart, guts, eyes, ears, and soul. He emphasized the importance of the soul, for although expertise and experience are important for a company’s success, we should not be afraid to be whole people, to tell stories, make mistakes, and live. McKinsey and le Gentil explained: When a person strives for perfection and invulnerability, they undergo a loss of humanity as well, for the heart of business lies in pure purpose and real people. With 2020’s life-altering events due to the pandemic, a person would be blind to not see their workers as people with a family they had to take care of. This further emphasized the importance of human-centric leadership.

In the next part of the conversation, McKinsey and le Gentil emphasized the importance of spirituality and alignment in the quest for this human-centric leadership. Through alignment, an individual makes sure to align with themselves, to know what they are doing before going forward with a vision or a plan. McKinsey explained that, since human-centric leadership focuses on relationships, he visited stores to understand the front lines and dissolve any boundaries or disconnect by listening to his employees. Le Gentil echoed this thought through explaining that the key to human connection is through deep-listening: Listening that is free of noise, and filled with empathy.

In the Q&A portion of the virtual event, McKinsey and le Gentil touched on several subjects, including the role of a business leader in politics. Again, McKinsey and le Gentil echoed the importance of people. McKinsey explained that whenever the company is called to participate in political questions, he asks, “Is this political question connected to our business and our people?” If it is (such as the travel ban as well as the racial injustice and the killing of George Floyd), he immediately addressed it.

At the end of the discussion, McKinsey mentioned to students to aim to learn and develop talents in order to become a good leader, for the ultimate purpose of a career is not money, but to intersect what the world needs, what you are passionate about, and what you are good at (japanese concept of ikigai). Le Gentil agreed with her final statement: “Authorize yourself to be who you want to be.”


  • The purpose of a company is not to make money; money is just an imperative. Success in business comes from three imperatives: the people imperative (having good people that are well-trained and can do a great job), the business imperative (having customers who are happy), and financial performance. (6:25)
  • We have to lead with all body parts: head, heart, guts, eyes, ears, and soul. The soul is so important. Although expertise and experience are important, we should not be afraid to be whole people, to tell stories and live. (11:10)
  • Everyone is a leader. Even when you are a student, or when you begin a job, you are a leader. You are the leader of your life and environment. In simply doing, you can influence others and yourself. (15:09)
  • Every once in a while, you should take time to realign and recenter yourself. List everything you should do better, from listening to exercising. Ask yourself this question: Did I truly do my best? (26:50)
  • Authorize yourself to be who you want to be. (59:12)

  • “And so my work was not being smart, but creating the environment in which others could be very effective.” (Hubert Joly, 8:13)
  • “I don’t think you can convince people. They really have to want to change. They have to be aware that something is wrong or something could be better.” (Hortense le Gentil, 8:56)
  • “If we are striving for perfection and [invulnerability], this creates an inhumane world, and we know the heart of business is to put purpose as the north star and people as the center of business.” (Hubert Joly, 19:37)
  • “Listening is not easy. We’re talking about deep-listening. How do you deep-listen? Be free of noise, of outside noise. Really be empathic with the person in front of you. Really want to listen, not judge.” (Hortense le Gentil, 37:32)
  • “One of our compatriots from the 17th century, Rene Descartes, is famous for having said ‘Cogito, ergo sum’, ‘I think therefore I am.’ Today, a better formula would be, ‘Ego vidi, ergo sum’, ‘I am seen therefore I am.’” (Hubert Joly, 38:44)