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.

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RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – The challenge in creating culture-centric organizations is that executives are constantly searching for ways to balance empathy and economics. On one hand, there are the successive waves of large-scale factors that all leaders face, like inflation and pandemic-related issues. Simultaneously, C-suite executives are responding to the cultural transformation at their doorsteps, from demands by stakeholders to implement diversity programming to the challenges of recruiting and retaining top talent. 

For many executives, the outcome of this chaotic environment is continuous disruption and increased risk. Both hurt the bottom line. Given this level of turmoil, you may be asking yourself: “What can I do to right the ship for myself and my teams?” From my perspective based on thousands of touchpoints with C-suite leaders and board members centers on one word: “resilience.” 

I consider resilience to be one of the more underrated leadership traits, not because people can’t define it, but because building or creating workplace resilience via a diversity, equity and inclusion lens can be delicate and difficult. Sometimes when you compete, you get knocked down. When organizations and teams are resilient, they are able to help each other get back up and moving again. Whether you’re looking at resilience from a company perspective or individual level, it is focused on the health of the organization. 

Photo courtesy of Donald Thompson

Donald Thompson

“Resilience failures cost,” McKinsey’s Børge Brende and Bob Sternfels explain. “World Economic Forum research suggests that the impact of resilience (or lack of it) on annual GDP growth is 1 percent to 5 percent globally.” 

With so much on the line, resilience could be a key building block for a stronger workplace culture. From my perspective, resiliency may just determine success or failure across the entire organization – at the individual and collaborative levels, as well as for executives and their teams.


Organizations have distinct cultures. However, leaders set the tone for what’s acceptable, what’s excellent, what gets rewarded and amplified, as well as what will absolutely not be tolerated. All this effort is based on our collective understanding of how we will operate individually and on teams, since success is contingent on the collaboration, creativity and problem-solving at the heart of strong teamwork.

From my own experience, I’ve seen the amazing outcomes of people working together to win in the marketplace. Individual resilience and the ability to work effectively on teams creates a culture where people can expect to have their perspectives challenged and countered in a way that is empathetic and caring, but also creating an environment where the best idea wins. It starts by setting clear expectations about intention and objectives. 

There is another important result for employees – resilience makes it possible to be one’s full self at work. An environment built on trust, equity and belonging leads to a mix of ideas and informed opinions that is good for the organization.

When we build resilience into the fabric of how our organizations operate and succeed, our businesses reap the overwhelming benefits. We become more agile, innovative and collaborative, leading to better bottom-line results and a more enjoyable, dynamic work environment – one where people are expected and encouraged to contribute their best work, consistently.


I want to provide you with a useful roadmap to chart the path toward resilience. Give yourself an honest grade on each point, and then create opportunities to build on weaknesses and push strengths deeper into the organization.

Be patient

Diversity programming takes time. You can’t wallpaper over culture issues if you expect to make authentic change. The improvement journey is ongoing. 

Be a positive disruptor 

It is reasonable and helpful to create a bit of discomfort. Personal change and growth happens when we can empathetically and compassionately challenge what we think, as well as the ideas of those around us. 

Be comfortable with being uncomfortable

One of the biggest challenges is driving behavior change at an individual level. To be effective, it’s important to meet everyone where they are. You must be comfortable with being uncomfortable and helping others do the same.

Be a strategic thinker

Let’s be honest, we’re operating in a business world that runs on results. The ultimate goal is creating a stronger organization. As a leader, you need to connect the dots on how culture change drives better business results with quantitative and qualitative data.

Be open to learning what you don’t know

Study after study has revealed the loneliness felt by many in the C-suite. There are numerous networking opportunities for leaders, but the emotive nature of diversity, equity and inclusion work makes it difficult to find mentors, especially when you’re the one at the top. From this vantage, I recommend executive coaching, which provides a trusting and confidential environment for exploring these topics. 

Be visible

Collecting millions of data points, The Diversity Movement has shown that successful culture change begins with strong commitment by the C-suite. Serving as a role model for the behavior you want is essential.

Be an excellent communicator

If visibility is the first step toward resilience, then talking about your own experiences with culture change is just as important. A culture-centric leader will demonstrate their own vulnerability – a critical part of the resilient toolkit – even if it’s difficult to have uncomfortable conversations or reveal this part of your personality. 

Be a good collaborator 

If you’re a CEO or board member, you can’t expect your chief diversity officer or a diversity leader to carry the entire burden of culture change alone (an all-too-common occurrence at many organizations). Getting the C-suite leadership team working together toward culture-base programming will be more fruitful, while also providing a model for expectations company-wide.

Be a good coach

No one wants to work for a dictator under a command-and-control structure that thrives on fear. That may have worked one day, but not today. Diversity initiatives can be difficult, challenge long-held beliefs and lead to controversy. Yet avoiding culture change for these reasons will undercut your long-term success. Instead, rally your employees and teams by demonstrating how creating workplace excellence ties to overall business objectives. 

Be credible

There are many ways to establish credibility, but few are more significant than education. Organizations that are genuinely committed will invest in resources, including upskilling their DEI leaders through training programs

Building culture-centric organizations and helping executives become more culture-focused takes time and effort. Yet, the stakes are too high to delay, particularly when your stakeholders are demanding that you engage with the ideas and impulses in the broader culture. Remember: We are helping people become better at their jobs, but also more thoughtful members of society. Together, we can achieve great things if we put resilience at the heart of our efforts.  

About the Author 

Donald Thompson is CEO and co-founder of The Diversity Movement and author of Underestimated: A CEO’s Unlikely Path to Success. As an executive coach and board member, he focuses on goal achievement, culture change and driving exponential growth. Donald hosts the “High Octane Leadership in an Empathetic World” podcast and is an award-winning entrepreneur, keynote speaker and Certified Diversity Executive (CDE). Connect with or follow Donald on Linkedin to learn more.