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 – Success stories often begin with the notion of a singular heroic achievement or a brilliant lightbulb moment. While we enjoy these tales, one of the first things leaders realize is that teamwork is the true engine of organizations and the foundation of success. 

At The Diversity Movement, we believe in the idea that great teams make greater companies so much that we have developed a leadership team assessment tool that identifies individual and team-based cultural competency. LeaderView, spearheaded by Jackie Ferguson and Andy DeRoin, enables executive teams to assess themselves and one another, which provides a way for them to work more cohesively toward collective accomplishments

Photo courtesy of Donald Thompson

Donald Thompson

It’s true that talented individuals are crucial for success, but if there is a “secret sauce” when it comes to leadership, our research and our LeaderView engagements show the potential for greatness remains unfulfilled unless there is cohesive teamwork as well. Particularly for the CEO, the ability to unify diverse personalities into a strong group might well be the differentiator between success and failure.

As a senior leader who specializes in growing companies from the initial idea to the first million dollars in revenue, I readily admit that creating team synergy is no small feat. Even when it seems (on the surface) that people are pulling toward the same goal, creating strong teams is a complex challenge. While I usually talk about inclusive leadership from the viewpoint of the leader building this skill to benefit the entire organization, it is important to recognize its value for the executive leadership team or board of directors.


Inclusive leadership is like super glue cementing great teams. The inherent focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at the center of inclusive leadership brings out diverse perspectives and all the talents within a team. 

What I find incredibly significant – and also somewhat subtle – is the power of inclusive leadership to both create an environment of belonging that opens conversations, as well as build a culture where senior leaders operate respectfully when there are challenges, ideas that need critique and division leaders must be held accountable. This feedback loop, within a psychologically safe space, can be difficult to build, but must begin with inclusive leadership and cultural competency. 

At the executive level, collaborative leaders also realize the importance of a unified team for effective decision-making and upholding core values, which are tied back to overall goals and aspirations. This shared vision then enables executive teams to work better together and serve as role models for their own teams. 


Becoming an inclusive leader might feel uncomfortable, because many executives have been taught or socialized to exude an outsized persona. To build collaborative skills, though, the focus must shift to creating a culture of safety, particularly when expressing ideas. Here are several tips for building these skills: 

– Empower Your Team: Get input from key stakeholders when establishing milestones and goals. Empowering team members in the decision-making process enhances effectiveness and cultivates a stronger sense of unity.

– Value Diverse Perspectives: The power of teams is in leveraging different lived experiences and bringing collective knowledge to current problems. Create space for the team to address questions and concerns. 

– Effective Feedback: Create honest, authentic feedback tools to create a stronger, more unified team. These interactions should center on collective goals and aspirations. 

– Be a Role Model: Asking for help might be difficult for some senior leaders who have constantly been the source of clarification for their teams. Shifting your perspective to inclusive leadership, however, will build psychological safety and trust. Not only will this improve communication, but it will establish space for healthy conflict. Candid discussions are an essential aspect of strong teams. 

Let’s be frank – everyone enjoys the heroic moment, yet few of these feats are achieved alone, even when it seems that way on first glance. A great sprinter, for example, might run alone, but has had a lifetime of coaches. And, the best actor isn’t successful without a team of writers, cinematographers, support staffers and a director overseeing the action.

Like winners across occupations, inclusive leaders recognize the power of teams and find value in creating an environment where team members can thrive based on their unique contributions. We achieve collective missions based on the power of our teams. This is the difference between greatness and everything else. 

About the Author 

Donald Thompson, EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2023 SE Award winner, founded The Diversity Movement to fundamentally transform the modern workplace through diversity-led culture change. TDM was recently acquired by Workplace Options, which brings holistic wellbeing services to more than 79 million people in more than 200 countries and territories across the globe. 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.