Leadership Lesson: Hubert Joly

May 19, 2021
  • Bob Chapman
  • Bob Chapman
    CEO & Chairman of Barry-Wehmiller
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"We need leaders who lead with all of their body parts: their brain, their heart, their soul, and their gut." – Hubert Joly

Over the last several years, I’ve found many kindred spirits as I’ve traveled the world spreading the message of Truly Human Leadership. I’ve always felt it important to shine a light on these voices who align with our values.

I recently had the opportunity to connect with Hubert Joly, former CEO of Best Buy. He has recently published a new book, The Heart of Business: Leadership Principles for the Next Era of Capitalism.

He and I have had similar journeys to the way we approach business and leadership. Coming from the retail industry, Hubert Joly has a very distinctive voice and perspective that leaders would do well to heed.

In a recent interview on McKinsey.com, this is how he described the purpose or need for his book:

The world is clearly facing a multifaceted crisis, whether it’s the health crisis, economic crisis, social-justice crisis, the environment, and so forth. And what’s the definition of madness? Doing the same thing and hoping for a different outcome. For 40 years, we’ve been following a model that was based on two sources of inspiration: [conservative economist] Milton Friedman’s primacy of shareholders and Bob McNamara’s 1 [principle of] use your brain to get to the right answer, and then tell people what to do. Clearly, this has gotten us into trouble. And so I felt—before the COVID-19 crisis, of course, but even more so now—that we need an urgent refoundation of business and capitalism around purpose and humanity. To find new ways for all of us to lead so that we can create a better future, a more sustainable future.

This new way of thinking – where the intersection of people, purpose and performance work for the benefit of all – is counterintuitive to the ways we, as business leaders, have been taught to think about success and profit.

Though there are many bright spots of caring leadership in the world, it is still the exception, not the norm. Caring has been left out of the equation so long in business leadership, we see it as a novelty or a “shift” when companies decide to reaffirm their humanity.

And that’s what it comes down to, business reconnecting with humanity.

Joly goes on to describe two ways we can start to do just that:

One is to rethink our view of work. Work is sometimes seen as a curse, as something we do so that we can do something else that’s more fun. I have a different view. I love the Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran, who said, “Work is love made visible.” Work can be part of our calling, part of our search for meaning, why we exist. And I think in the heart of every individual, there’s a desire to do good things in the world. The second thing is how we think about companies. Do we see them as money-producing machines? Or do we see them as human organizations made of individuals working together in pursuit of a goal? And in most people’s lives, their greatest desire is not how much money they’re going to make, or [how quickly] they make VP [vice president] or something like this, it’s the Golden Rule. If you can create this environment where there’s connection of purpose and people can be themselves, then magic happens.

A few years ago, I called for a “Human Revolution” as an antidote to the ills caused by business in the last several decades. The evolution of profit as purpose. The reality is, we can balance economic value with human value, where everyone benefits.

The Human Revolution is about organizational leadership reconnecting with their own humanity and recognizing the humanity of those they lead. Recognizing that the people within their span of care are not numbers on a spreadsheet that are part of the calculations that equal profit and loss, but someone’s precious children and should be treated accordingly. Recognizing that the people within their span of care are not just functions, but whole beings who are capable of so much more than the role they are pigeonholed into.

Besides being the right thing to do, this paradigm shift when it comes to how we view business can have a much larger impact than we can imagine.

On our journey at Barry-Wehmiller, we’ve found that people are capable of doing amazing things if we just give them the environment in which they can discover, develop, share, and be appreciated for their gifts.

When we treat people with respect and dignity and create opportunities through which they can realize their potential and be appreciated for it is how we, in business, can truly change the world and create a more sustainable future.

As Hubert Joly goes on to say:

At the end of the day, a company is a human organization made of individuals working together in pursuit of a goal. These individuals produce value for all stakeholders. They are the source, not simply a resource.

Business often is like Frankenstein’s monster. We put together random pieces that we think will create the perfect organism. We artificially animate it and it is powerful and strong, but ultimately has no soul. It is not truly human. And the results are devastating.

Have you sacrificed humanity in your company to create a “well-oiled machine” that creates profit value for shareholders, regardless of its effect on the people within or the community outside?

If you were to explain the ROI of caring to your board or shareholders, it would be having teammates that are healthier because they feel valued and understood by their leaders and teammates. When they go home to their loved ones, they share joy and fulfillment instead of the stress and bitterness of feeling unappreciated and insignificant.

Thankfully, a leader like Hubert Joly understands that adopting a philosophy like Truly Human Leadership is the “best buy” a company can make.


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