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. Thompson of The Diversity Movement was named an Entrepreneur Of The Year 2023 Southeast Award winner

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RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Over the last several months, our team at The Diversity Movement worked through extensive research and testing to produce a new product – an assessment tool that analyzes cultural competency across executive leadership teams. The goal is to give clients the ability to assess how their teams interact across seven competency areas. 

As each team member grappled with ideas and inputs from a variety of viewpoints, including external partners, what I saw firsthand was the real benefit of their full collaboration. The lived experiences and background (ranging from digital learning and content experts to MBAs and PhDs) of each team member played a key role in fostering innovation.

Ironically, the assessment tool, called LeaderView, identifies collaboration as a driving force in establishing stronger teamwork across organizations. What our research demonstrated – along with what we saw in the innovation process – is that success isn’t a solitary endeavor. Accomplishment occurs at the intersection of teamwork and collaboration. 

Our ability in creating this leadership assessment tool was in itself a result of TDM’s belief in assembling formidable teams that drive innovation, push toward success and build lasting impact. As CEO, I had a front-row seat to witness the transformational potential of collaboration, particularly as a facet of effective leadership. 

Photo courtesy of Donald Thompson

Donald Thompson


Given that I have seen significant results at TDM built on a foundation of collaboration, it makes sense to urge other senior leaders to look at genuine teamwork as the jet fuel of overall effectiveness. I urge the executives I coach to think about collaboration from this viewpoint and have had many “lightbulb moments” with them about the benefits of deliberately creating an array of perspectives within teams. 

Another important aspect of the collaborative leadership advantage is that it opens teams and organizations to topics that many have historically shied away from, such as ambiguity and critique. Rather than view these ideas as negatives, an inclusive leader celebrates concepts that build psychologically safe workplaces. My teammates hear me say it all the time, “The best idea wins, no matter where it comes from.” 

At TDM, we have created a space where team members find the freedom to pose questions, embrace ambiguity and bring their whole selves to work. A new idea may still face pushback, but every contribution is valued and every voice is heard. 


I’m not arguing that this is an easy path, but the following steps will help executives unlock the power of collaboration. Here are some practical and applicable tips: 

  • Promote Inclusive Decision-Making: Inclusive decision-making is at the heart of collaborative leadership. Make it a standard practice to involve your team in decisions whenever possible. This approach leads to more effective outcomes, while also fostering a stronger sense of community. Inclusivity creates an environment where everyone feels a greater sense of ownership and belonging.
  • Embrace Diverse Perspectives: The best solutions often arise when different experiences and knowledge intersect. Encourage your team to collaborate by recognizing the value of their diverse backgrounds. At TDM, we have purposely put together teams across subject matter expertise and lived experience, which results in more thoughtful and effective solutions. A leader can address concerns and fears the team might have by actively inviting questions and providing opportunities for them to share opinions.
  • Model Vulnerability: Collaboration and openness go hand-in-hand. Strong collaborators seek help when needed. At the executive level, a leader who demonstrates their own vulnerability sets an example for others across the organization. For an example, you might take a look at Greg Ng, CEO at Brooks Bell, who frequently shares his empathy and vulnerability via LinkedIn in a way designed to help other leaders who are thinking through similar ideas. Displays of self-awareness may not be easy for some executives, but it is an essential building block for trust. 
  • Build Authentic Communication and Healthy Conflict: In a collaborative environment, communication is the lifeblood. Create a space where team members can openly express their thoughts, concerns and feedback without fear of judgment or repercussions. Encourage candid discussions where diverse viewpoints are heard and explored based on their merits. Team members who feel they can openly share ideas will ultimately be more creative and open to innovative outcomes. 


By actively fostering an inclusive culture, celebrating teamwork and building opportunities for collaboration, senior business leaders can unlock a competitive advantage. There are a multitude of benefits, from increased innovation to the real-world consequences of happy employees serving as ambassadors for the brand in their communities. At TDM, we call this unlocking workplace excellence – and the benefit is that the good vibes employees feel at work via employee resource groups (ERGs), strong teams and meaningful contributions then leads to more dynamic families and communities.

There was a time when the heroic individual performer took centerstage. Today, though, executives see that the future is defined by cohesive, diverse teams working toward collective benefit. Sure, everyone loves a star, but it’s the power of teams that have a profound impact on the world. 

About the Author 

Donald Thompson, EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2023 Southeast Award winner, founded The Diversity Movement to change the world. As TDM CEO, he has guided work with hundreds of clients and through millions of data touch points. TDM’s global recognition centers on tying DEI initiatives to business objectives. Recognized by Inc., Fast Company and Forbes, Thompson is author of Underestimated: A CEO’s Unlikely Path to Success, hosts the podcast “High Octane Leadership in an Empathetic World” and has published widely on leadership and the executive mindset. As a leadership and executive coach, Thompson has created a culture-centric ethos for winning in the marketplace by balancing empathy and economics. 


Follow him on LinkedIn for updates on news, events and his podcast, or contact him at info@donaldthompson.com for executive coaching, speaking engagements or DEI-related content. To further explore DEI content and issues impacting your work and life, visit TDM Library, a multimedia resource hub that gives leaders a trusted source of DEI content.