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 – If there’s one thing people universally love, it is an underdog story. At this time of year, almost every weekend we see the classic David versus Goliath tale unfold on the football field or the basketball court. Bouncing back, adapting or even thriving in the face of adversity is at the heart of our holiday classics, from Rudolph’s shiny red nose to George Bailey’s “Wonderful Life.”
Maybe it’s all that holiday music or the belt-loosening after too much turkey dinner, but when I think back over the last year, my nomination for business word of the year is “resilience.” From nearly every vantage point, 2023 has revolved around the emotional, psychological and physical fortitude to withstand challenges, mounting stress and traumatic events.
Yet, it’s the “snap back and rebound” aspect of resilience that keeps me looking to the future with optimism and determination that a better, more verdant world is just around the corner. My version of resilience is contingent on learning and growing from experiences, rather than being overwhelmed by them. And, I hope my positive mindset helps you deal with the many changes we’ve lived through and continue to grapple with.
A YEAR OF RESILIENCE
Last week, I was a guest on “Diversity: Beyond the Checkbox,” a podcast hosted by The Diversity Movement Co-founder Jackie Ferguson. Of course, one of the main points we discussed was the Workplace Options acquisition of TDM and how that took place within the larger context of a world that has faced contentious political rhetoric around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).
The story I told was of a tiny upstart – more or less beginning as a collective side hustle – that turned into a passion project with the daunting aspiration of transforming business workplaces based on diversity-led products and consulting. That small team committed to an idea, then worked to turn that idea into reality.
We knew we had something when we acquired 10 clients. Before long, that initial group bloomed to more than 100. But, it was rebounding from adversity and responding to naysayers that kept us moving toward progress. As CEO, I was also “Chief Resilience Officer,” setting the pace and tempo for TDM as it carved out a place in the business landscape.
Everyone at TDM shares an entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to overcoming adversity – the very essence of resilience. Like the title of my leadership memoir – Underestimated: A CEO’s Unlikely Path to Success – this is a team of people who have been knocked around, but keep bouncing back to pursue their dreams. I call us the “DEI Avengers,” because while we all have individual powers, it is our collective action that enables us to “punch above our weight” and create authentic workplace excellence. We have directly impacted the lives of thousands of people.
If we had a time machine and visited past eras, a big surprise for most senior executives would be how central empathy is for today’s leaders. Back then, entrepreneurship was equated with drive and achievement, not aligning successes with compassion, well-being or belonging. Now, we are watching the transition from “command-and-control” leadership to a new DEI-centered understanding of how the human side of business is essential for bottom line success.
Leadership now extends beyond profit margins to encompass people, profit and the planet. The individuals in our workplaces demand this perspective and, in turn, we are demanding it of our institutions. This transaction – more or less on the verge of being an expectation or main tenet of the social contract – is at the heart of resiliency.
Entrepreneurial leaders are tasked with not only meeting financial metrics, but also creating a workplace that values individuality, fosters growth and contributes positively to the planet. This is why WPO’s acquisition made such good sense. They are the largest independent well-being provider in the world with 80 million users. Integrating DEI into the everyday workplace experience stands to have a transformational impact across the globe.
As I explained to Jackie, if you don’t get the people side right, there’s no way you can meet your financial targets. If you have a retention problem, it hurts the bottom line. A morale challenge can sink productivity and destroy company culture. If you don’t have the right level of diversity in your organization, innovation suffers. As a leader, you don’t lower standards – even if you have just begun your DEI journey – but you have to think about the melding of people, profit and planet if you want to build sustainable success.
BEACON OF LIGHT
Given my optimism, and the fact that 99.9% of businesses in the U.S. are small businesses, I view entrepreneurs as beacons of light, using their innate resilience as a guide for helping others and inspiring change. Despite the many challenges and triumphs, we still have the power to shape the future.
Resilience is at the core of this better world. We see it all around – a culture fortified by resilience gives employees the ability to bring their whole selves to work. It creates a workplace steeped in trust, equality and belonging. Resilience demands that employees embrace well-being and belonging. This authenticity forms the bedrock of true diversity and inclusion that transcends demographics to embrace all forms of equality.
As a result, a resilient workforce thrives on many, varied perspectives, which sets the stage for agility, innovation and collaboration. Resilience stands as a strategic advantage that shapes the culture of successful organizations and fosters a workplace where each employee thrives.
2023 has been a year of challenges and 2024 is poised to top it. The journey is rarely a straight line, but the obstacles that test us also make us more determined. No matter what happens, we must face the challenges head on. As senior leaders, we must continue to inspire our teams and emerge stronger on the other side.
This is the future I envision.
In celebration of the holiday season, you can order Underestimated: A CEO’s Unlikely Path to Success using the code HOLIDAYS25 to receive a 25% discount on the award-winning leadership memoir, including shipping. Visit https://thediversitymovement.com/underestimated/ for more information.
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 email@example.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.