Social Impact Authors: How & Why Author Hortense le Gentil Is Helping To Change Our World

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You are good enough — stop comparing yourself to everyone else. Stop thinking about all the people who are smarter than you. When I was young, I always felt like I was different, and I had a hard time finding a community where I belonged. I think this was in large part because I was constantly competing with others.

As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Hortense le Gentil.

Hortense le Gentil is a world-renowned executive leadership coach, speaker, and author. She guides CEOs and senior executives on their journey from hero leaders to human leaders. Hortense has 30 years of experience in business, working across industries — including media consulting and advertising — and as an entrepreneur. She was a 2021 nominee for the Thinkers 50 Coaching and Mentoring Awards and has been ranked #5 on the Global Gurus list by World Management Global Gurus. She is a certified Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder CenteredTM coach and a member of MG100 Coaches. Author of Aligned: Connecting Your True Self with the Leader You’re Meant to Be (2019), and The Unlocked Leader: Dare to Free Your Own Voice, Lead with Empathy, and Shine Your Light in the World (2023), Hortense is a contributor to Harvard Business Review and, and has been featured in Forbes, Fast Company, Inc., and Business Insider. She is based in New York.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I was born and raised in France. I grew up in a loving family, surrounded by horses.

One thing that really shaped me is that my father raised horses. At a young age, I remember walking in a field, holding my father’s hand, and I ran to go see the horses. I must have only been three or four years old, and I just ran into the middle of a group of horses. I remember my father was afraid, but the horses were playful and gentle with me. It was amazing.

I think this story shows the depth and power of empathy in my life. From a very young age, I talked to the horses. I then became a competitive showjumper, which was a big part of my development as a young person.

I took care of horses, I dreamt about horses, I competed with horses. This really helped shape who I became.

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

The book that immediately comes to mind is The Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. I read it about 20 years ago, but nevertheless, it really shaped my life’s journey.

Through this book I began my discovery of spirituality, which took me to India. I discovered there was another way to go than what I was used to.

What first struck me from Yogananda’s story was how his yogi master guided him toward knowledge, confidence, and wisdom. This broadened my horizons to include non-traditional forms of learning and spirituality. Also, his sense of purpose profoundly inspired me. What if I, too, could find my own sense of mission in life? I was so inspired that I decided to find a yogi master aligned with Paramahansa Yogananda’s spirit and journey — not an easy task in Paris. I asked around and researched for months until I found the right guide. Krishna Patel introduced me to Indian philosophy, spirituality, and meditation, and my work with him helped me reconnect with myself and find a sense of purpose. At the same time, I realized that I’d done and learned more than I thought during my journey. And I realized that sharing what I’d learned could help others, which led me to coaching. And it all started with a story in a book that struck a chord deep inside me.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I was first starting my career, I worked at an advertising agency and spent some time working in media and consulting. But what I really wanted was to be the art director! I spent so much time and energy explaining to everyone in the agency that I wanted to do that. I was always with the creative team, writing songs, and doing everything I could to try and be part of that team. But while I had fun doing that, it was a mistake to think that I wanted to be an art director. My real passion was writing.

So, I learned something about myself that helped inform my career. Creativity is incredibly important, but you need to find the right outlet for it in your life.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

My book is a guide to help leaders uncover and liberate who they truly are. It’s designed to help people understand their mindtraps, what is holding them back from achieving greatness, and to empower them to write their own story. I want to encourage people to take a starring role in that story, not just be a passive actor.

Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

Throughout the book, I share stories that bring the messages to life, spanning business and popular culture — from Marie Kondo to Ralph Lauren, Steve Jobs to Adele, and even Ted Lasso. These stories deepen the transformation, while facts, case studies, and research help support the framework. I’ll highlight a story that speaks to me:

When she was 13 years old and living in Greece, entrepreneur and author Arianna Huffington came across a picture of Cambridge University in England. She was so taken that she decided that she had to be a student there. When she told her friends and her father, they all told her it was a ridiculous idea. First, she was a girl, and this was the 1960s. In any case, surely it was too expensive. Not to mention she lived in Greece and had no connections. How could she ever make it to one of the most prestigious universities in the world? No way.

Had she let that collective clamor worm its way into her mind, her life would have been very different. But Arianna was determined, and so was her mother, who decided to investigate whether there was any way to make her daughter’s dream come true. A few years later, at age 16, Arianna moved to England to attend Cambridge on a scholarship, where she later became the first woman president of the university’s famous Cambridge Society debate club, before becoming a successful entrepreneur and writer. Her mother’s unwavering support played a critical role in her success. “I don’t think that anything I’ve done in my life would have been possible without my mother,” she told writer Sir Ken Robinson, a specialist in education and creativity. “My mother gave me that safe place, that sense that she would be there no matter what happened, whether I succeeded or failed. She gave me what I am hoping to be able to give my daughters, which is a sense that I could aim for the stars combined with the knowledge that if I didn’t reach them, she wouldn’t love me any less.” She decided to listen to her mother’s voice. Even more importantly, she listened to the inner voice of her own passion, which gave her what she needed to ignore the nay-sayers.

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

I remember very clearly talking to the assistant of a CEO of a large company I was coaching in France. She asked me, “I would love to learn from you! Where can I find you?” Well at the time I was living in Paris, where the culture around coaching is very private — I did not even have a website!

At that moment I told myself that I had to do something — it’s not just about unlocking CEOs but helping everyone reach their goals and become the person they need to be.

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

A client of mine, Blake, suffered from imposter syndrome. When I met him, he was a successful entrepreneur who’d left his corporate job several years earlier to start a company that offered bespoke workspace solutions. He was full of innovative ideas but struggled to convince his business partner. He systematically deferred to his partner’s opinion.

Blake was convinced that becoming a successful leader required graduating from a top university, being hyper-analytical, and showing no emotion. This was the direct and indirect message he’d absorbed from a young age. Throughout his childhood, his father had hammered into him how important academic results and prestigious degrees were. Unaware of how much his family’s opinion had influenced him, he then noticed only the evidence that supported that view. Famous business leaders who were his role models fit that profile. So did many of his former colleagues. Unsurprisingly, by the time I met him, he was convinced that this was not an opinion, but an absolute truth. The problem was that Blake was none of these things: he’d been a mediocre student, and his strengths were vision, creativity, and human relationships, rather than analytics. Because he didn’t fit the profile of a stereotypical leader, Blake feared he would never succeed by himself. So, he’d partnered with a hyper-analytical, much older and more confident graduate from a prestigious university who fit his idea of a successful leader, but was no longer the partner he needed. Unaware of the mindtrap that sabotaged his self-confidence, he couldn’t see that he stood in his own way.

During our conversations, he realized that he’d positioned himself as a “child” with his older business partner, which influenced his behavior not only with him but also with everyone else in the company. As he realized their respective visions for the business were incompatible, he eventually decided that it was time to part ways and lead the company alone, according to his own vision.

After parting ways with his business partner, Blake mobilized his team behind the innovative vision he’d created for the business in the workspace sector. He hired collaborators aligned with his values and vision. Freed from self-doubt, he was able to fully unleash his own creativity and communicate far more clearly what he wanted to create and why, which focused and fired up his team. This collective energy and clear purpose have underpinned the company’s success. He subsequently started a second company, where he deployed the same values and leadership approach.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

The first thing is education. Stop telling people that you are superior based upon your degree or where you went to school, or that you need to be a hero! Each person has a unique voice and a valuable perspective. Don’t try to be somebody else just because of the perceived prestige of their background — the world needs you, not a copy of someone else.

We need to teach people how to be vulnerable, how to be empathetic. This is our responsibility — each of us — in schools, universities, business, and enterprise. How can we better connect with people? How can we help people meditate and practice mindfulness?

And finally, focusing on helping people learn how to listen. To really listen to others. This would help unlock so many people from the mindtraps that are holding them back.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Real leadership is about caring and inspiring others. Your team, your colleagues, your organization. Leadership is about being someone people can trust and want to follow. In order to do this, you have to connect with people and be human — not try to be a superhero.

How can leaders be human? Listen, be empathetic, and empower people. Give everyone a place at the table — that’s what a leader should do. Be someone who cares.

As Theodore Roosevelt said, “No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why?

  1. You are good enough — stop comparing yourself to everyone else. Stop thinking about all the people who are smarter than you. When I was young, I always felt like I was different, and I had a hard time finding a community where I belonged. I think this was in large part because I was constantly competing with others.
  2. The world needs you — you are the right person for what you want to do. Think about all the wonderful things you bring to the table. You will find your own way to accomplish great things and make a difference in others’ lives. Your voice matters.
  3. Listen to your intuition. When I was starting out in my career, I had great ideas, but people around me said I wasn’t being rational, or those ideas weren’t possible. But then others began to respect and consider my ideas. So, as I got older, I learned to follow my own intuition. I found my own way.
  4. Everything is possible. When you don’t feel aligned, things feel impossible — so make a change! Keep the faith; you can change your own life. Stop listening to other people and listen to your own voice.
  5. You are going to fail. And it is OK to fail! Failure is a gift in many ways. You will survive, learn from it, and keep going, wiser than before.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” — Oscar Wilde.

This quote is so relevant and so true. There is only one you, and this is true for everyone. Everyone has unique talent. So, it is important to remember that and listen to your own voice as you find your way.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

The first person that comes to mind is Oprah! Her journey is amazing. I don’t know her personally, but I have followed her story and all the good she does in the world. We are aligned in our ideas, and it would be wonderful to meet this incredible woman who has accomplished so much by inspiring others to be better versions of themselves.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

My website and on LinkedIn!

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Social Impact Authors: How & Why Author Hortense le Gentil Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.