Release Your True Self With Hortense le Gentil
Many live their lives out of alignment with their true self. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to face yourself and change into the person you were always meant to be. In this episode we talk about transformations and alignment as Tony Martignetti interviews executive leadership coach Hortense le Gentil. Hortense tells her story of seeking freedom, getting into coaching and helping others achieve their alignment with their true selves. Learn more and be inspired by her story by tuning in.
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Release Your True Self With Hortense le Gentil
It is my honor to introduce you to my guest, Hortense le Gentil. She is a Global Executive Leadership Coach and the author of the widely acclaimed book Aligned: Connecting Your True Self with the Leader You're Meant to Be. It's an amazing book. She works with CEOs and other senior executives around the world to help them lead with authenticity by finding and closing the gap between the leader they are and want to be. Her thought leadership has been featured in Harvard Business Review, Business Insider, Fast Company and Forbes. She is a member of 100 Coaches and a certified stakeholder-centered coach of Marshall Goldsmith. She was one of the 50 coaches in the world selected for the 2021 Thinkers50 Coaching and Mentoring Award and has been named Top 30 Global Gurus in 2020 and 2021 by world management Global Gurus. She lives in New York City with her husband and I am thrilled to welcome her to the show.
Thank you, Tony, for having me.
I'm so thrilled to have you on. First of all, when I first read your book, I felt like I had found a kindred spirit. I loved everything you wrote. It was aligned with a lot of the things that I think about. Thank you so much for writing the book. It's a treasure.
Thank you so much. It goes directly to my heart.
I'm looking forward to this episode to understand what brought you to make this impact you're making in the world. The way we do that on the show is we do through what's called flashpoints. These are points in your journey that have revealed your gifts into the world. As you're telling your story, I'd love to have us pause along the way and see what's showing up. With that, I'd like to turn it over to you and you can start wherever you'd like and share what you're called to share.
I think I would love to begin at the beginning because there are two things that have shaped me. The first one is, I grew up in a very loving and traditional family. Traditions are good, but you don't mess with traditions. To me, you have to enter in a box. In that box, I felt like I needed oxygen. I couldn't breathe. This box is too small for me. I didn't fit in it, but I had to break free to find my own path and to find the exit. My motto at that time, it's still my motto. I was always saying, “Let me live my life.”
I give a hard time to my parents, so that's true because I was that person, “Let me live my life.” It's not like everybody should do it. No, I don't feel like that. I think it shaped me a lot to find other ways not to stay there and to take for granted, which I was supposed to take for granted but in a very nice way because I was in a very loving family. I grew up surrounded by horses because my father and my grandfather race horses. I love how my father always tells a story.
What is America? America is the dream. In America, you can do what you want. It's freedom.
I don't remember if it was true, but maybe 3 or 4 years old when I was very young. He held my hand and we were in the middle of the field with the horses and I was there with my dad, very proud. At one point, I let go of his hand. He was scared because I was running in the middle of the horses. I was surprised. You can imagine this little girl running. It could be dangerous, but he looked at me. He couldn't do anything because he was there and it was too late. It was in the middle of the field and the horses came to me, around me, smelled me and played with me.
They were right there in the middle and what I did was talk to them and play with them. In fact, they didn't hurt me and didn't even try. We were like friends. This is always what I love to do. I used to be a competitor in horse competitions and show jumping. It was the same. My best friend was my horse. I slept and talked with my horse and we connected. This is when, where and how I learn to increase my empathy because with horses, what do you do? They don't speak. If you don't communicate with them, to me, nothing happens.
Either to be in the middle of the field and make them come to you or to understand when you are a showjumper, to understand and feel your horse. What you have to do is listen and observe. Everything is in their body, in their eyes. Everything is there and you can understand if your horse is in a bad mood or good mood and what's going to happen, you can know. I think I learned a lot there. It was an important moment for me.
The fact that you brought horses into this is amazing because I had spent some time in a place in New Mexico or with horses. I learned a lot about how they lead their leadership. It has taught us a lot. They've been around on the planet for millions of years of learning that we've gotten from them. Their presence alone when we're around them, they interact with us, even though we can't talk to them. They interact with us in our presence. It's powerful what you brought into this.
It's also like when you talked about your connection with tradition. Something about your story of a tradition also connects with the horses because you are respecting tradition, but you're rebelling against tradition. There's a wildness to horses that you want to see them run and go wild, but they also know when to stay calm and to connect with their herd. Something about that I see in your story is beautiful and powerful. As you started to move through your journey, this is again when you were in France. You lived in Paris, but you also lived in Normandy?
It's near Normandy.
What was it that drove you into your journey beyond leaving the country or moving from where you were as a child to your next adventure? What were the things that propelled you?
I had to find something new. The connection with the US is very simple. As I said before, you look for answers. When you are racing in France and everything, what is America? America is the dream. In America, you can do what you want. It's freedom. I wanted to discover America and so I did everything that I could. Here I am now. I studied in Boston at Northeastern University. It was not very common at that time because now, it's very good because every school has an exchange to twenty universities in the US. It's good, but at that time it was not.
I discovered the US. I loved it and I came back to Paris. Let's say that what I want to share is something very important. I think it's something that when my pivot moment was because I got married. I was living in Paris and I have two wonderful children and people can call that a mid-life crisis, but it was not. Outside was perfect. Perfect couple with children living in Paris, perfect job and it’s hard. I was a work. I was fighting inside of me. Why? I knew that I was not aligned. I knew it. It’s brought two-part of what was fighting.
At one point, I thought, “I need to speak to someone.” I was looking for a therapist. The first one, he told me, “Do you have time to work on you?” I said, “Not that much.” He said, “Okay.” I came back home. Believe it or not, I got sick. In two weeks, I lost 10 kilos. I was lying in my bed for three months. I thought, “Okay,” because the mind is stronger than the body. The mind can rest very long, but the body, at one point, says stop and because I was not aligned with what happened. I got sick. I was exhausted for no apparent reason because of these fights. I think I am good fighter, so I rested for a long time.
What happened is I said, “I have time now to reflect.” I took that time to reflect, to think about it and I made a decision. That decision was that I had to stop everything and rebuild everything to get aligned to live the life that I wanted to live. I believed in it. It was close to my values, to who I was or who I wanted to be. I took this decision. It was a hard decision. I quit my job and I left my marriage. I took my two kids and it was the first day of my life.
It was the first day of my life because it helped everything to the person that I am now, that I needed to be and meant to be. It was something great. Do I regret it? No. Was I never? Yes. Was I afraid? Yes, very afraid, but I knew inside of me that it was the right thing to do. A lot of people didn't understand, but I knew deeply, profoundly that I had to do that. It was the first day of the rest of my life to change everything, move everything. It's all been everything to who I am now. I think it's something very important.
There's something about this, which is having the courage to take that move, that step that addresses those hard truths inside of you that, for most people, it's hard to move in that direction to start answering those lingering hard questions out there. They stay stuck in this place of like, “Maybe it's time for me to continue to stay here and continue to tough it out and figure out how to adapt to the situation that I'm in.” Instead, you decided to have the courage to seek out the answers and to answer those questions for yourself than to move in a direction that most people would say like, “What are you doing?” You said, “I have to. It's the only life that I want for me.”
When you travel or have a difficult journey sometimes, you're looking for answers.
It was difficult because I didn't know what I wanted to do. I knew that I had some vision of it, but I was not sure, so I took the same day after day. In my bedroom, I placed a white canvas and I said, “Wide page, what story do I want to write on it?” Each time I thought, “I like that,” I painted a picture of the world or something like that.
I'd love to know what happened next now that you had this realization, you'd come to this place. What would the next flashpoint that you had that moved you into that next chapter of your life, now that you've come to these realizations started making these hard choices?
The first thing was I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I began by being an entrepreneur for ten years. The most important moment was when a friend of mine came to me and said, “Everyone is asking you a question, do you love to help people? Why don't you become a coach?” I was an industrial entrepreneur. I said, “No, I don't want to be a coach. I don't know what a coach but I’m okay to help your friend.” He talked to me for him. I’d want to hear about that. I said, “Let's try.” I was looking for another word for a coach. By the way, if you another word, I’ll take it. I can’t define it yet.
I always tell I didn't quit anything and did that over my job. I said, “Let's try it. Let's put the suit of coach on myself and let's see what will happen,” because I am a big believer because now I understand that when it's for you, it's easy. Things are going to happen. When it's not for you, the door closes. It's hard. Maybe it's the way you do it that is not good, but very often, there is a sign. I decided, “If it's for me and if it's my next step, we’ll see, but In my way, I learned.” I stay aligned in my way. Not the way that others are doing. Let's see what's happened. I was there, you can imagine. I was preparing for it for the first time. I was feeling nervous.
I was in my car in Paris and I was preparing myself, trying to concentrate. I said, “Let's go now.” I went to the office and saw this other friend that I didn't know. I said, “Okay.” We were in this office and I remember this all my life. I was trying to wear this new suit. I was listening to him and trying to help him. At one point, I felt that I understood like a flash, like an a-ha moment that I could help him. It was my calling, in fact. Physically, even my body. It's very hard to explain how my body was feeling. Even my body was telling me, “You are in the right place. You are exactly where you should be.”
I always remember that moment. At that moment, I think, “That's why,” because each time something happens in my life, I would think, “Why did this happen to me? Why is that?” At one point, I understood that, “Stop asking why. You will see. One day, you would understand.” Even where. At that moment, I knew everything had meaning because when you travel like that or have a difficult journey sometimes, you're looking for answers. I was looking all my life for answers or I was fascinated by neuroscience, psychology, spirituality and a lot of things like that, but I did it for myself because during the difficult moment, you try to find your way.
At that moment, I understood that professionally, everything that I did in corporate and as an entrepreneur shaped me to be here and helped. It was an entrepreneur and after CEOs, but here we are. From there, I said, “I have to move on again.” I changed again and I said, “Don't go too fast. You've got to have more clients to come.” For China, we’re doing both of them and very fast, after three months, I was walking with this person. He gave me another client who gave me another client. In six months, I had six clients. I said, “I cannot do everything. I have to think about it.” The story began and the rest is history after.
Even the way you described it, too, there is this element of, I always talk about the courage to follow your spark. When you start to have the courage to follow the things that light you up, things become easier. They flow, but when you fight that spark, things are hard and they become labor-intensive and you feel limited. You're holding yourself back. You're not aligned. When you started to see that, “All those things that I did before coming to this that I was like interested in, I can bring them all together. I can harness the strength of all that. When I do, I can light myself up, become sparked up and it aligns me with the work that I'm doing now.”
I think that's what's cool about hearing your story. It's energizing to hear that. Now that this has become your way, I have to ask. Were there things along the way where you felt like now that you've found your “calling” that you felt like imposter syndrome set in or things that you're like stumbling points along the way that you experienced or you still experience?
We're on a journey. The doors opened very fast and after that, I met Mr. Marshall Goldsmith and he introduced me and asked me to be part of 100 Coaches. Everything went fast after. Even now, sometimes I tell my husband, “Are you sure what I'm doing is good?” When I'm coaching people, I have no doubt. It's like with the horses. In fact, it’s the same story. I was in the middle and the horses came to me. It's the same for my clients. I didn't think they would come to me. For me, it's very natural. I worked a lot on, again, meditation, empathy and everything in my life shaped me.
I continue to work a lot because I believe in that and I did. We need it when we are trying because the first thing is to understand what the person in front of you doesn't tell you. It's the same with the horses. When I'm here and I coach, I have no doubt. It's after when I see all those people. I said, “It's what I do, in fact.” When I listen to somebody who would tell me nice things because I have very nice feedback, I’m very lucky to have very nice feedback. I'm happy. I'm happy to help and I want to do more and to spread the word more. There was a book for that. The next book is going to be also for that. Sometimes I say, “Who am I to do that?”
This is where the human element of this is amazing. Our presence is what is our gift, but we often forget that our gifts can be something we forget about often. We forget about that brilliance that we bring into the room because of that. We quickly move to this comparison trap of like, “Who am I to be doing all this stuff? What am I doing?” You step right into your arena with the horses, the people who you serve and you've realized that it's you being you in your element. That's what brings you back to life, to who you are into serving.
I don't have any doubt about that. After all, I am human, like everyone. My coach, my spiritual leader, always told me, “You cannot see who you are.” I said, “No, I cannot see for sure.” This is true.
I know we've covered a lot of ground, but I wanted to ask, what have you learned about yourself through your journey that you want to share with people that would be helpful for them as they read? What are the things that you've learned about yourself?
Listen to your heart, to yourself. Don't be afraid to be yourself.
Listen to your heart and to yourself. Don't be afraid to be yourself. Anyone is already taken, so pick yourself and it makes a difference. I know it can be difficult and we need the courage to do it because sometimes we have to move on from things to be to ourselves. Don't be afraid because when you burn this door, behind this door, it's a mess and this is your way. You would find your power, your calling and your talents. You can develop, evolve and everything is changing. Acceptance. This is what I learned from the beginning and listened to your heart and your instinct.
There's something about that when you talk about the door. Oftentimes, people say like, “I’m lacking potential.” There's a reason why we say that because we have to have the key to unlocking that door and opening up to that thing that's on the other side that we often do not see because the door is shut. We have to figure out what door it is that we're keeping shut and open it up and see what's on the other side. When we do, it is an amazing place to be.
I don't know if you read the article. When I wrote an article in the HBR, I was talking about that. It’s unlocking your leadership about the human that you are and it’s that. The next book talks about that also, how you unlock yourself.
I read every article you put out. I can't wait to read your next book that will be coming out too. As we're coming close to the end, I wanted to ask one last question that I ask everyone. I always find it very interesting to hear what people say. That is what is. What are 1 or 2 books that have had an impact on you and why?
The first one is, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. It’s obvious why because I read this book. The story's nice. It was a teacher of my children. When she knew my marriage, she said, “You should read this book.” I bought this book. I love it because I understood that I was not alone to be afraid. It was okay to be afraid and we can change it. We can modify it. We can move from victim to acting, to create, to be who we are. It’s helped me a lot.
Certain books come to you when it’s the right time. They become very transformative at that moment. The person who gives it to you is sometimes. You’ll always remember that person who gives you that book.
I want to say something that I very often command in my coaching, to go to a library or the bookstore for no reason. You go there and see what books you want to turn and look at. It's like the horses. If you do it like that, it's going to talk to you and say, “I should read this book,” and you will find something in it. This is great. The second book I would say, What Do You Say After You Say Hello? By Dr. Eric Berne. It's about transactional analysis. It's how you are shaped by your environment, your education, everything when you are young. How you can move from that and change it, modify it and move forward.
I don't know if you're aware about the transactional analysis, but the same story. It was the same moment in my life. I did participate in their training program. Their training program was supposed to be in marketing. I don't remember anything about marketing, but I remember this teacher talking about transactional analysis. I said, “I want to know more about it.” She told me, “You should read this book,” so I read this book and this book is amazing. I am sure you are familiar with the fact that we are a child, adults and the virus.
This book has a state of my grasp yet, so I'm going to grab it now. I feel like I read a ton of books, but that one sounds fantastic. I'm going to pick that up and add it to my list. I can't thank you enough for all of the insights and stories and the warmth you brought to the fire we've created at the show. Thank you so much for joining me. This is amazing. Before we let you go and make your impact on the world, I want to make sure people know where they can find you. What's the best place for people to learn more about your work?
Thank you. It’s such a pleasure. I'm so thrilled to have everyone join us in this conversation. It's an honor and a pleasure. Thank you and that's a wrap.
Thank you very much. Take care, Tony.
- Aligned: Connecting Your True Self with the Leader You're Meant to Be
- Marshall Goldsmith
- 100 Coaches
- Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway
- What Do You Say After You Say Hello?
- LinkedIn – Hortense le Gentil
About Hortense le Gentil
Hortense le Gentil is passionate about helping business leaders reach greater professional and personal success by aligning their personal values and professional activities.
She is the author of Aligned: Connecting Your True Self with the Leader You’re Meant to Be. She works with decision-makers around the world to help them lead with authenticity by finding and closing the gaps between the leader they are and the leader they want to be. She is dedicated to helping CEOs, C-level executives,and entrepreneurs become self-aware and more aligned personally and professionally, leading to better workplace environments and better employee wellbeing—and, consequently, increased productivity and satisfaction. Her custom-made, in-depth coaching method explores her clients’ personal identity and helps them align their professional activity with their working environment.
Hortense’s coaching is informed by her 30 years in business, working across a number of industries—including media consulting, advertising, technological innovation and entrepreneurship.
She is a certified Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder CenteredTM coach and part of MG100 Coaches, Marshall Goldsmith’s Pay It Forward project.
She is #13 World’s Management Thought Leader -Global Gurus Top 30, 2020 and have received in 2019, a Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Top Coaches in the World Award.