Editor’s note: Veteran entrepreneur and investor Donald Thompson writes a weekly column about management and leadership as well as diversity and other important issues for WRAL TechWire. His columns are published on Wednesdays.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – In movies and television, the embodiment of business prowess often centers on the big speech at a defining moment – an attorney delivering a stunning closing argument or Mad Men’s Don Draper bringing hardened business leaders to tears with an epic line or slogan. Yet as executives, we know that greatness is usually created in small moments that later deliver oversized value. 

Last week, I wrote about my experience as an on-air commentator on the PBS NC public affairs television program Black Issues Forum. The team – led by Deborah Holt Noel – operated as a finely-tuned unit, particularly as it got to the final few minutes, then seconds, until airtime. What I saw unfold was world-class collaboration. The crew made it look easy, because they were so good at bringing the high-stress set to peak performance, which resulted in a great show. 

The PBS team delivered because they took a complex series of operations and turned them into smaller, manageable units that could be completed efficiently. What we need to do as leaders is to reconsider the parameters of excellence, especially when the idea of accomplishment has been tied so closely to big wins that take a long time to unfold. 

Instead, I would like you to think about the successes you can have in smaller chunks of time, from five to 15 minutes, particularly when it comes to mentorship, learning and networking. 

Live & in nervous living color: How TV teamwork delivers examples for leaders to follow


As a leader, I am hungry for knowledge. In my role as a board member, this trait helps me focus on understanding how the business operates and guiding its executive team on long-term strategic planning. In coaching, I use my expertise in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) to help executives evolve their leadership styles to meet the aspirations of a new generation of employees and managers. I get to have conversations with many different people and take some bit of knowledge away from these interactions. 

In earlier moments of my career, I treasured the minutes I could huddle with people who knew and had experienced more than I had. Often, I learned as much in these brief exchanges as I had reading the latest management or leadership books. 

Now that I have rising leaders looking to me to gain a deeper understanding of their roles and talents, I keep these lessons in mind. Often, I end formal meetings five minutes early to deliberately make space for mentorship or to discuss the challenge in front of us in relation to our company’s overall goals and objectives. 

These five-minute mentorship sprints help orient the team around our collective aspirations and give them a window into how I make decisions as a leader. More importantly, they build winning knowledge over time in ways that don’t require any of us to carve additional hours out of already tight schedules. 


My challenge – like every C-suite leader or board member – is managing time and responsibilities. While I can build five minutes into my day to counsel rising leaders, it may be more difficult to find an hour, whether that time is spent advising another leader or working out a difficult problem with a trusted advisor. 

People naturally default to the hour-long meeting, but what I have realized is that most people can spare (or find) 15 minutes to be helpful, especially if they are already part of your strategic network. So, when I run up against a problem, I consider who can help me drive through the roadblock, while also being considerate of the time factor we all face. 

This “15 minutes to excellence” rule has paid dividends, because a complex challenge I am having might be a walk in the park for an expert in that field. Something bedeviling me might be just another Tuesday for someone with the right experience to plow through the obstacle. When I ask someone in my network for counsel in a condensed 15-minute meeting, I have almost universally been pointed in a powerful direction, gaining value in the discussion and while being ultra-respectful of the person’s time. 


Outlining a fast path to success that cuts down on time commitments is essential for executives who are already spread thin. Another aspect of managing time is building a diverse network that can be utilized when you need these expert-driven insights, analysis or ideas. Your network is the supercharged engine that speeds you toward greatness. 

If you have been reading this column for a while, then you know how important I consider networking, especially for C-suite leaders. Empowering your network has actually grown more important as we have experienced a series of global challenges, from the COVID pandemic and supply chain issues through the great job reshuffling and inflation woes. 

As Rita Trehan, founder & CEO of Dare Worldwide, explains, “Leaders should…be mindful of their own networks and learn again to surround themselves with experts and people from all walks of life. The post-pandemic world has created an array of challenges – and with it the need for diverse connections.”

The tried-and-true saying, “your network is your net worth,” is truer now than ever before. However, “old school” networking was like collecting baseball cards as a kid – the more, the better (and you always wanted to have the all-star players). Today, networking is different because we have all realized the importance of culture, not only in our professional workplaces, but in our families, communities and, more broadly, across society. 

Instead of amassing a network, create it strategically. First and foremost, build a supportive network that reflects the diversity of the communities you serve. In my coaching practice and at The Diversity Movement, I counsel leaders to think about networking as a way to broaden their standards for quality and expectations for success. If your network is filled with diverse, highly talented individuals, then when you reach out to them for ideas, counsel or advice, you will know that what you hear has deep value. 

The fast path to greatness is lined with many, many smaller instances where you take a moment to think about how your team will benefit from mentorship and collective learning. Taking the pedal off the gas to appreciate these opportunities will have oversized value. Similarly, engaging with your strategically developed personal network in bite-sized chunks demonstrates that you appreciate both their expertise and time. 

The poet Carl Sandburg viewed time as the “coin of your life,” advising, “only you can determine how it will be spent.” However, he also cautioned that others could spend it for you. As an executive, you have witnessed Sandburg’s tale unfold in the workplace. Take the opportunity to role model a different outcome for your colleagues and teammates. 

About the Author

Donald Thompson is CEO and co-founder of The Diversity Movement, the creator of an employee-experience product suite that personalizes diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) through data, technology, and expert-curated content. The microlearning platform, “Microvideos by The Diversity Movement,” was recently named one of Fast Company’s2022 World Changing Ideas.” DEI Navigator is a “chief diversity officer in a box” subscription service that provides small- and mid-sized businesses with the tools, advising and content that leads to action and results. Donald is a thought leader on goal achievement, culture change and driving exponential growth. An entrepreneur, public speaker, author, podcaster, Certified Diversity Executive (CDE) and executive coach, Donald also serves as a board member for several organizations in marketing, healthcare, banking, technology and sports. His leadership memoir, Underestimated: A CEO’s Unlikely Path to Success, is available wherever books are sold. Connect or follow him on Linkedin to learn more.