DeLinda Forsythe's new book, Inspiring Generational Leadership: Your Guide to Design a Conscious Culture, begins with a powerful opening statement: "Doing well and doing good need not and should not be mutually exclusive."
Forsythe is the founder of Innovative Commercial Environments (ICE), a furniture contract company she began from a spare bedroom in 2006. It now has more than two-dozen employees and has enjoyed unprecedented success in its industry. Forsythe was herself surprised by how successful the company has been, so she set out to understand what has caused that success. She came to realize she was unconsciously employing the ideas of conscious capitalism as well as intuitively adopting certain principles that resonated with her largely Millennial staff. In Inspiring Generational Leadership, she shares the story of how ICE has successfully built its business using these principles and concepts, as well as its role in the community, and interviews she conducted with other business leaders who share her mindset.
In the beginning, Forsythe simply set out to create a work environment that did not "hijack your soul." She had been in bad work environments herself and did not want that for her own company and employees. Instead, she wanted her business to be a force for good in the world and of inspiration for her employees. What she has created is a workplace she describes as a "wellspring of happiness" where people treat each other like family and respect one another while sharing a mutual goal. She argues that if other businesses do not adapt to the values of conscious capitalism, they are destined to struggle because the Millennial workforce's values reflect those of conscious capitalism. Forsythe draws upon the work of other authors, including Conscious Capitalism by John Mackey and Raj Sisodia, who state: "The authentic truest purpose of business is to elevate humanity and create value for all stakeholders."
Without going into the theory of conscious capitalism here, I'll state that Forsythe creates a compelling and eye-opening argument for why conscious capitalism works, illustrated with numerous examples from ICE's history. The book is divided into thirteen chapters that focus on the key practices that have allowed ICE to become such a success. Among those topics are: Begin with the End in Mind: Mentorship, Embrace Workplace Family, Create Raving Fans, Vulnerability in the Workplace, and Fostering Community.
Forsythe speaks in depth about her relationships with her coworkers, especially Alysse Cooper, one of her first hires who has been groomed to succeed her. She shares how staff meetings are run to make them both fun and productive. She discusses the challenges she has faced during the coronavirus pandemic and how communication with staff during this time and the strong bonds employees had already formed kept them motivated to succeed in the face of crisis.
One of my favorite things about the book is the focus on the importance of sharing mistakes at work. Forsythe has created a safe environment for such sharing, stating, "Any mistake is acceptable but it's never acceptable to conceal it; that could very well be grounds for termination. In an effort to promote self-forgiveness, in all circumstances we encourage each other to forgive their teammates. Sometimes our biggest challenge is forgiving ourselves for letting our team down. Sometimes tears are shed, but they're a sign of how much the employee cares."
Other eye-opening practices at ICE range from having an employee book club with built-in incentives to focusing on mission statements in ways that are more than just paying lip service to them. Together, the employees created a list of shared workplace values that are regularly emphasized. The company's role in the community is also discussed through its charitable practices, as well as Forsythe's own networking with other business leaders in the San Diego area to create a better community. She discusses the importance of treating all employees as equal because "Everyone's work and voice are equal and relevant." Perhaps most importantly, she encourages employees to be themselves and she strives to be authentic herself: "showing up as the authentic person you are creates a safe workplace for creativity to thrive."
The book's title about generational leadership is explained in Forsythe's awareness of how what we do today affects future generations. She states: "As we positively influence our work teammates, we are laying the groundwork to positively affect the emotional well-being of our employees' children and even descendants, ultimately imprinting thousands of people. The potential ramifications of this ripple effect when viewed through a more eternal lens are expansive!" This perspective keeps her always conscious that business goes beyond making a profit to creating a personal legacy and shaping future generations. Ultimately, Forsythe wants that shaping to extend beyond her own workplace to countless others, which is why she has written this book, hoping it will inspire other business leaders to create work environments where everyone can succeed. She challenges other leaders to "lead through enlightened leadership skills, which include kindness, empathy, and a generous spirit."
I cannot recall the last time I read a business or leadership book that really encompassed everything in such a focused and inspiring way as Forsythe has done in Inspiring Generational Leadership. While some of what she advocates may at first seem too good to be true, I encourage you to try to apply Forsythe's advice in small chunks, never losing sight of the big picture. Your employees will thank you for it, and in time, I believe you will thank Forsythe for the new conscious path for business she is helping to lead.
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