Insights from HBR Live: Leaders Who Make a Difference


The first edition of HBR Live, our one-day virtual conference on April 8, explored the power of leadership during a truly transformative era. The event drew attendees from more than 75 countries to meet, interact, and hear from more than a dozen speakers, including CEOs, editors, professors, and a poet. Here are some of the most salient observations from a program full of insight.

Ajay Banga Thumbnail

We need to make employees feel we’re here for them by bringing our ‘decency quotient’ to work—not just our IQ and our EQ, but our DQ.”  Ajay Banga, Executive Chairman and Former CEO, Mastercard

Mary Barra Thumbnail“Think about a dense urban environment: no one enjoys when a delivery van is double- or triple-parked and blocking the street by someone who’s just trying to do their job and keep the city running. If we can improve the living experience and solve these issues, that’s how you move forward.”
Mary Barra, Chairman and CEO, General Motors

Marcus Buckingham ThumbnailIf you’ve got people in a changing world, and you’ve boxed them in—that feels super-unsafe. The more explicit you can be in saying to your people, ‘We’re in a new real world by now, and that’s fine,’ the more resilient your team will be.” Marcus Buckingham, Head of Research, People + Performance, ADP Research Institute 

Prosperity that’s inclusive is prosperity that has a future. We believe that as long as we position client impact, purpose, and our people at the heart of our strategy, we will be able to come together for the greater good and unite to form new things—new things that will truly make an impact that matters.”  Kwasi Mitchell, Chief Purpose Officer, Deloitte HBR Live presenting sponsor

Vernā Myers Thumbnail“We need leaders who are proximate: close enough to listen to the lived and painful reality. We need leaders who are courageous, to talk and be empathetic and provide support. You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to show up.”
Vernā Myers, Vice President of Inclusion Strategy, Netflix

Albert Bourla Thumbnail

“Our problems are never that we’re aiming too high and we miss. Our problems are when we aim too low and we hit.”   Albert Bourla, Chairman and CEO, Pfizer

Rasmus Hougaard ThumbnailLeadership starts in the mind. It’s our thoughts that create our behavior, our behavior that creates our habits, and our habits that create our culture. So we as leaders need to develop our minds in a very clear way.”
Rasmus Hougaard, Founder and Managing Director, Potential Project

Rebecca Henderson ThumbnailDeath is not the worst thing. Failure to live is the problem. Bad things happen in many lives; life is suffering. Life is also amazing. We have to live our lives as if we were—we are—songs the universe is singing.”  Rebecca Henderson, John and Natty McArthur University Professor, Harvard Business School

“The ethos of business is evolving, with a greater emphasis now placed on diversity, inclusion, and fair treatment of employees and high levels of trust, integrity, and responsiveness key to client relationships. For that to continue to evolve requires leadership with intent from our business leaders. It is not just possible, but desirable and indeed beneficial for businesses to uphold and embrace these core values while maintaining their mandates.” Brian Conroy, Executive Vice President and Director of North America, IDA Ireland, HBR Live breakout session sponsor

Marvin Ellison Thumbnail“We took a look around the communities in which we operate and asked ourselves a basic question: What can we do as a public company to support our community, and not be so dependent on everything coming from state and local government? There was a pretty obvious need to support unique small businesses.” Marvin Ellison, President and CEO, Lowe’s

Nick Craig Thumbnail“Purpose is the unique gift you bring to the world: something you bring that no one else brings. What are the one or two things that only you can do? If you were to really show up, what would happen? What is it that has deep meaning to you that will make the difference?Nick Craig, President and Founder, Core Leadership Institute

Joey Wat Thumbnail“In all countries, we can find common ground and do the right thing if we focus on common sense. Common sense is one of the best virtues of mankind. Our customers see us as part of their communities, because that’s how we see ourselves as well.”  Joey Wat, CEO, Yum China

Larry Fink Thumbnail“Organizations with more diverse employee bases generally have better outcomes that better reflect the society where they work and have better connectivity with the society where they work…Conscious capitalism can only occur if you have consciousness within your employee base and your organization.”
Larry Fink, Founder, Chairman, and CEO, BlackRock

Jennifer Aaker ThumbnailLeaders with a sense of humor are 27% more motivating and admired, and their employees are 15% more engaged. Their teams are more than twice as likely to solve a challenge. And they make more money…A client may pay 18% more for a bad dad joke.” Dr. Jennifer Aaker, General Atlantic Professor, Stanford Graduate School of Business

Naomi Bagdonas Thumbnail“Humor matters more than ever. We’ve never been more disconnected. When strangers laugh together before a conversation, that laughter quickens the path to trust and connection.” Naomi Bagdonas, Lecturer and Executive Coach, Stanford Graduate School of Business

Alexandra Kephart Thumbnail“You can’t prevent failure. A lot of factors are out of your control. What’s key is having phenomenal people around us who can make decisions quickly. We need to be ready, so when there are changes, we can react to them. Don’t worry about failure, but about continually learning, so you can move forward.Anne Wojcicki, CEO and Co-Founder, 23andMe

Adi Ignatius Thumbnail“The role of business leaders has changed in the past few years. Employees want to work for a company that shares their values and that makes those values clear. Customers similarly want to buy from companies that stand for more than just making money. It’s a more complicated environment, but also one in which enlightened leaders can potentially contribute to a greater good. It’s what we expect now from our executives.”  Adi Ignatius, Editor in Chief, Harvard Business Review

There’s nothing more empowering to teams than having the freedom to work their own way and change those operations as they grow. That should be the standard. But for that to happen, they need the tools to build solutions that fit their exact needs. That’s where no-code/low-code comes in—it will change how organizations run.” Or Hadar,, HBR Live breakout session sponsor

“We encourage our leaders to be centers of gravity for ideas, communication, and innovation — “magnets” for building a culture of agility, optimism and possibility. Our leaders take ideas and make them accessible and compelling. Their diverse talents, voices, backgrounds and perspectives allow them to be catalysts for change.” Michael Moskowitz, Chairman & CEO, Panasonic Corporation of North America, HBR Live breakout session sponsor

HBR commissioned Kara Jackson, 2019 National Youth Poet Laureate, to write a poem for HBR Live, “Pursuing Profits and Purpose,” which she performed during the event. Visit Jackson’s website to see more of her work.

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