The Heart of Business with Hubert Joly

September 20, 2021

This is the third and final article in my look at the experiences of Hubert Joly, the former CEO of Best Buy, and his new book, The Heart of Business: Leadership Principles for the Next Era of Capitalism. I’ve stated before that this is one of the best books on leadership that I’ve read this year. Hubert goes far beyond the standard, rehashed talking points, and provides a lot of brilliant insight that gets to the true heart of business like nothing else. And that’s what I want to share in the last of this series — key takeaways that I believe reflect the foundations and fundamentals of the heart of business.

Having a Coach Is Absolutely Essential

To paraphrase, as iron sharpens iron, so shall one person sharpen another. Forget the hard-nosed attitude about going it alone. Fellowship with your accomplished peers is one of the most empowering interactions you’ll have in your professional career. Some call them mentors, I like to call them coaches. These are the people whose character, opinion, insight, and accomplishments you respect. They know how to tell you what you need to know in a way that makes you understand and act.


In one of his personal breakthrough moments, Joly describes how he realized the importance of having a coach after initially thinking something must be wrong if someone needs a coach in business. He recalls the turning point when he, who liked to play tennis, realized that every professional tennis player in the entire world had a coach. So does every soccer player. So does every NFL team. You get the point. So did Joly when the realization came to his mind:

Who are we as leaders to say we don’t need a coach? Are we the only trade where we don’t need a coach?”

Constantly Improve Yourself

Leaders are forward-moving people. They’re disciplined, determined, and have the self-awareness and humility to identify where they need to improve. They also elicit feedback from their coaches and team members and are receptive to it. An outside perspective can be extremely helpful for shining light on our blind spots and provide an accurate glimpse into how we’re engaging with teammates. 

Joly discusses why leaders must be their organization’s example of someone on a lifelong journey to creating the best version of themselves when he recalls meeting the father of executive coaching, Marshal Goldsmith. Joly was three months into his time at Best Buy when he brought Marshal in to interview the Best Buy Team for feedback about Joly. Why? Because he knew in order to turn the company around, everyone needed to be the best version of themselves, including him. After getting their perspectives, he began improving and then followed up with the team a few months later to gauge his progress.

Not only did Joly improve himself, but his willingness to be vulnerable helped to create a culture and environment where people were willing to help each other. His request for feedback and resulting action created validation and built trust. And it did something else — it let other executives know that there was no expectation of perfection, which he goes on to describe as “Such a disease.” And if you’ve ever worked in an environment where the pursuit for perfection crept in, you can probably call specific examples of how it was more indicative of organizational sickness more than a place where morale is high and goals are achieved.

There are a lot of different ways to get and give feedback. I like to use a 360 assessment called the Flippen Profile. It’s a complex, statistically valid 360-degree assessment that pinpoints behavioral characteristics and future behavior and performance. The instrument combines a user’s self-assessment with six 360 assessments by colleagues, integrating all perspectives into a proprietary report that catalyzes employee growth.

Success Is Only Possible Through Teamwork

The Last Dance is a popular miniseries that looked at Michael Jordan’s career, focusing on his last championship season with the Bulls. In doing so, it becomes clear very quickly that as amazing of a player as Jordan was, he was on a team with other phenomenal players (and an incredible coach) who, together, were exponentially greater than any of them, Jordan included, could’ve possibly been as individuals. In other words, MJ didn’t do everything himself.

Joly touches on this when he says that while Best Buy had a group of A-players, they had work ahead of them to become an A-team. They found that approaching the issue head-on and holding quarterly meetings specifically focused on improving team effectiveness was incredibly helpful. One of the actions taken as a result of the meeting was to empower people further down in the organization to make decisions so that effectiveness at all levels could be maximized. Despite some initial grumbles upon implementation of the meetings, they actually found them to be tremendously valuable for unlocking their potential.

There are many ways for teams to break down organizational barriers and reach their true potential. One book I’ve found to be extremely valuable is The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Pat Lencioni. Not only is the information solid, but there are tools and a Team Effectiveness Exercise that can help achieve the same outcomes Joly described.

Managing Is Not One-Size-Fits-All

A few years ago, I was asked to help a company that was having trouble with scaling its operations. During my initial due diligence, I spoke to a young and clearly frazzled middle manager who compared his weekly team meetings to herding cats. Not that they were up and roaming around, but that’s how he perceived their attention and focus. People were disengaged and he didn’t feel the majority of the team was mentally present during the meetings. Or, rather, as I came to learn, his meetings.

I asked him what the meetings were like — nine people sitting in a conference room for 45 minutes and he was the only person who spoke. I asked if anyone else had been tasked with sharing status updates. He said no. I asked if the meeting was a two-way conversation, he said no — he used the time to communicate directives from above. I asked if he met with everyone individually for one-on-one coaching. He said no, he finished every weekly group meeting by asking if anyone had any concerns or questions, which there rarely were. Yet, to his surprise, the team just wasn’t operating at peak performance.

From the description of that situation, you can probably identify several issues that were holding them back. So would Joly, and as he says:

A company is a human organization made of individuals working together. We all have individual needs.” You can’t create that winning A-team until you have winning A-players, and you won’t have those until and unless you work with everyone individually and give them the specific, personal coaching they need to succeed. As he goes on to say, “...individualized weekly coaching... in a company of more than 100,000 people was one of the key drivers of the acceleration of our performance.”

Passion Drives Performance, Not Money

You’ve undoubtedly heard the saying, “Do something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Notice that it doesn’t say anything about money? That’s because there’s another saying about that — money can’t buy happiness. It also isn’t a motivator for high performance. In fact, according to Joly, financial incentive can actually negatively impact performance because it removes creativity.

The real key to inspiring people to do their best is to create an environment where “human magic” is unleashed. Not because anyone is vying for money, but because the work is their creative passion. Joly helped to create such an environment at Best Buy by eliminating bonuses for salespeople. At first, that might seem like a bad move, but Joly described how the bonus was more of a source of anxiety than a motivator. They simply added the bonus to the standard compensation so everyone could worry less about hitting their bonus and focus more on contributing to the company’s mission.

Stressful Times Require Exemplary Management

As I’ve said many times, having a zero-stress life is a dead person’s dream — they’re the only ones who don’t get stressed out. For the rest of us, it’s part of everyday life. It doesn’t matter if you’re bankrupt or a billionaire, everyone gets their share. And it’s especially true for leaders and CEOs. It’s impossible for it not to be. There’s a lot of inherent pressure that comes with heading up a team or steering an organization that provides the livelihood for tens, hundreds, or even thousands of people. 

In his book, Joly says that managers need to pause and reflect during times of stress, especially when the world’s events affect the team. Again, there’s no better example of that than the pandemic. It’s a perfect time to revisit your fundamentals. Ask yourself what kind of leader you want to be and what value you can provide to your team. And, most importantly, make sure to take care of yourself. Sometimes people think leaders simply don’t get stressed or aren’t allowed to feel stress. That’s untrue. Leaders are people too, and we all need to take care of ourselves. As Joly says:

“Whether it is physical exercise, meditation, journaling, having a personal board of directors, a mentor, a sponsor, spiritual director – you choose but be kind to yourself and take care of yourself. I think that is really important. In these times in particular.”

Managing and minimizing my own stress is something that I do every day, and I believe you should, too. If you really want to get past the basics of stress management and learn a comprehensive, industrial-strength approach to dealing with stress, I highly recommend the book The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer. Not only do I recommend it to all my clients, colleagues, and friends, but I’ve read it numerous times and still find myself going back to it. He provides a lot of in-depth insight and wisdom for quieting the inner negative, self-critical voice which tends to make us feel stressed out!

Adapt or Die

The world changes, and progressive leaders who are on the front lines need to adapt to changes in, well, everything. There’s no better example of that than the pandemic. Many businesses were simply unable to operate in their office locations as they had before. They had to adapt extremely quickly to not just get ahead, but survive.

And even if we didn’t have a pandemic, time still brings on changes. Joly describes that what he learned in business school or McKinsey is largely outdated. Times, expectations, culture, and people are different and leaders need to lead with purpose and humanity.

This is another reason I believe that having a coach, or even a network of coaches, is so invaluable. As talented as we all are, it’s impossible to observe and know everything that’s happening or coming. Sharing and receiving ideas from others helps you stay aware not just of the challenge to which you must adapt, but also tactics for doing so.

Love What You Do and Who You Do It With

Earlier, I mentioned the importance of doing work that you love and are passionate about. In my experience, there’s a lot of truth to that idea but it’s missing one essential component — you also have to love the people you work with.

Joly led Best Buy right up until and in the middle of the pandemic. Before leaving, he sent one final email to everyone where his last words to everyone were, “I love you,” drawing on inspiration from Khalil Gibran who said, “Work is love made visible.” Genuinely connecting with other people and building relationships is fundamental for success in business and life.

I hope you’ll check out Joly’s book and find it to be as much of a practical tool as I do for building a better future for your organization and yourself. Each chapter concludes with a series of reflection questions that will help you put the concepts into practice. It’s also nice that all proceeds for the sale of the book go to the Best Buy Teen Tech Centers.

Do you want to realign your company so that your people and your customers are at the heart of your mission, values, and action? First, recognize your employees as the keystone of success. Then, contact me for a free consultation. I’ll help you determine the current status of your organization and provide clear insight and direction to help you reach the next level.