Inspiring generational leadership with DeLinda Forsythe at Innovative Commercial Environments

Every company contains a mixture of generations. Leaders often feel frustrated in finding alignment with different thinking from generation Z, Y, X, and to the Baby Boomers in today’s workforce. Great leaders know the power of inspiring generational leadership that creates unity. Today’s guest is DeLinda Forsythe, CEO and founder at Innovative Commercial Environments (ICE). Inc Magazine has ranked her company seven times on the Inc 5000 list since 2013. ICE is San Diego’s most creative office and hospitality furniture dealership headquartered in Sorrento Valley. DeLinda shares her expertise on inspiring generational leadership. We look at the common and uncommon approaches you have to understand in today’s world of many generations. The art of inspiring generational leadership will help you be a better leader.

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DeLinda Forsythe: The Transcript

About: DeLinda has thrived in the contract furniture industry for 30 plus years. By far the most rewarding portion of those years has been since opening ICE in 2006. The impetus for ICE was her son’s acceptance into Georgetown University. As a single mother with few financial options to help him achieve his educational goals, DeLinda was forced to try entrepreneurship. It was a leap of faith that proved fortuitous with annual growth of 20-40% far exceeding the industry average of 3-8%. This growth has earned ICE the opportunity to be noted as a Top 100 Fastest Growing Company in San Diego 2013-2017 and being ranked by Inc Magazine in the top 5000 Fastest Growing Companies in the US 2014-2018.

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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

DeLinda Forsythe: The millennials, which is the majority of our workforce. And by 2025, they will consist of 75% of the workforce. Millennials are kind of infatuated with this idea of entrepreneurship, but you know, most cannot take on the financial or the emotional risks involved with being an entrepreneur. So if you can bring that intrapreneurial spirit. Within an organization and they can feel like they’re entrepreneurs without those financial or emotional risks. That’s, that’s the corporate culture that you want to create within an organization. And it’s actually, you know, it leads to tremendous financial success.

Intro: Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs, the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?

Gene Hammett: Today we talk about putting your people first when you make sure your employees are taken care of, it really is a game changer and it unlocks opportunity inside the organization that you’re just not aware of until you actually do it. Now, are there people out there that are looking to take advantage of the system? Absolutely. Hopefully, you didn’t hire those kinds of people. Hopefully, you understood that your culture was a very important piece to the dynamics of the business, serving your clients and actually to the bottom line, when you do that, you have the right people, but you as a leader, have to step up and take care of those people. This whole episode is about taking care of employees. I’m with DeLinda Forsythe, that she is the founder CEO, and really, Inside innovative commercial environments. They go by ICE and they’ve been on the Inc list. Seven times. What we talk about today is about the importance of people feeling taken care of and feeling safe, making sure that you are helping them develop the right mindset for success inside the organization. She talks about the entrepreneurial mindset. But it may be a little bit different for you. I’ve seen power with this entrepreneurial mindset. So I really feel like you could learn something from DeLinda talking about this today. We go through all the aspects that she has in our short time together to help you understand why putting people first and taking care of your employees is really the important piece to leadership.

When you think about your own journey as a leader, make sure that you keep tuning in to these episodes. If you have any questions about what your next step is, you know, there’s gotta be a better way then make sure you check out some of the resources we have at If you want to have a conversation with me, I’d love to connect with you. Just go to start your journey and you’ll be able to register for time with me. It costs you nothing. And if you really want to expand yourself and be an extraordinary leader. Then make sure you go to Start your journey. Now here’s the interview with DeLinda.

Hi, DeLinda. How are you?

DeLinda Forsythe: Excellent. How are you today, Gene?

Gene Hammett: I am fantastic. Excited to have you on the podcast.

DeLinda Forsythe: Thank you. It’s wonderful to be here. I appreciate this opportunity.

Gene Hammett: Well, I want to kick this off, give the audience a little context around who you are. , ICE is innovative commercial environment. You’ve been on the Inc list. Seven times. You’ve had a tremendous run of growth. You’ve had a difficult year, with COVID and everything. When we tell, when you describe what you do, everyone will understand why you’ve had a difficult year. So go ahead and tell us about ICE.

DeLinda Forsythe: Well, I started ICE in 2006 from a spare bedroom and my goal was as a single mother to help my son achieve his education, educational aspirations. And I knew that was going to be really hard as a single mom. So fast forward to 2020, we have been on the Inc 5000, 7 times only 1.5% of US corporations have been on the INC seven times and add as an office and hospitality furniture dealership. There’s no other competitors on that list in 2020 was particularly hard for us because nobody was coming into the office and nobody was really buying office furniture. Yet we still maintained incredible resiliency and stability in 2020, early in the year. Soon as COVID hit. We established a new goal of zero layoffs. And we knew that was going to be really hard. We knew that keeping our workplace family, which is one of our five core values, keeping our workplace family together was going to be really tough and less. We embraced what was going on with very clearheaded and attacked this year with a. An idea that it wasn’t about being on the Inc 5,000 again, cause that was probably not going to happen, but keeping our family together. And that was our definition of success in 2020 with zero layoffs. And at the end of the year, we accomplished that. We all, we all stayed together.

Gene Hammett: Fantastic. I’m sure that when people talk about offices and you sell office furniture and you do a lot of things around that, they realize that you had a tough year with your team. The fact that you’re still together is a testament to strong leadership. I remember in the early days of COVID, I think it was, I was collecting a lot of articles about, you know, companies that were really. Putting people first, because I felt like it was going to be something. I look back to it. I need to look back to that again because I think Mark Cuban was one of those. It’s like, you know, short-term thinking has to lay people off and, and, and try to preserve everything. If you can hold on to everything, I’m not saying it was it, you know, profitability-wise, it wouldn’t have been the best choice for you to keep the people. But you had a value of the company and you’ve kept with it. And I think that’s going to change the way they engage with you and probably rallied to help you through this period. Is that fair to say?

DeLinda Forsythe: Absolutely. Absolutely. In 2019, I started trying to understand why we have been on the Inc 5000, 7 times. And it led me to a book, conscious capitalism, and it was co-written by Raj Sisodia and John Mackey. And they aspire to that. The conscious business enterprises aspire to four principles of conscious leadership, conscious culture. They value all stakeholders, which means their employees are as important as their customers. And they espouse a higher purpose. That is about elevating humanity. It’s not as much about profit and in 2019, I don’t know if you know this, but the, CEO round table redefines the purpose of an organization as not being about profit, but about all shale shareholders and they call it stakeholder capitalism. So when we were looking at this in 2019, I started looking at this and in 2020, when COVID hit, we were looking at how to really engage those principles of being a conscious business enterprise. And that’s when that’s when we really were so lucky that we had, we had already developed a very robust culture, a conscious culture so that when we were all working remote, we could keep that culture going.

It was, it wasn’t like we had to create something. It was already created. It was, this is about keeping us together, keeping the team together, keeping our culture strong, keeping engagement. And in a lot of, you know, COVID was very disruptive. To the entire globe and to our organization. And I’m not going to downplay that it was a tough year, but we got through it because we got through it as a team, as a family, as a tribe. And we didn’t. No, we put the team first wasn’t about profit first. It was about the team first and that, you know, that short-term thinking about, oh, you gotta lay people off. I mean, I know some of my competitors, like within weeks they laid off 25% of their staff. They didn’t know where it was going yet. That was their first solution. Not their last was their first thing. And we, we did it. Like, looking at our work, increasing profitability, reducing mistakes, staying on top of invoicing, every single department, we got our PPP loan. Every single department contributed to the financial stability of the company.

And we, I know, I believe in that entrepreneurial spirit and that’s one of our five core values. And everybody needed to when they came to the office, see your name on that, on that door, that your responsible for keeping everybody employed. You’re an entrepreneur.

Gene Hammett: How many employees do you have DeLinda?

DeLinda Forsythe: We have, I think it’s 22 now.

Gene Hammett: You don’t, you mentioned this entrepreneur spirit. I’ve talked about it before, but I think everyone has a little bit of nuance to that definition. If you think about a group of 22 people moving together and really encouraging this entrepreneurial spirit, what does that mean for you as the leader of this company?

DeLinda Forsythe: That’s a great question. Gene and entrepreneurial spirit is actually what we call it. Intrepreneurial mindset. It’s I in intrepreneurial mindset. And that’s a system that allows an employee to act like an entrepreneur. Within an organization it’s avoiding the financial responsibilities of ownership, but feeling like an independent entrepreneurs and intrepreneurs, they’re self-motivated, they are action-oriented people who have leadership skills and they think outside the box and we really encourage that at iCE and in 2020, that value took center stage, you know, the millennials, which is the majority of our workforce. And by 2025, they will consist of 75% of the workforce. Millennials are kind of infatuated with this idea of entrepreneurship, but you know, most cannot take on the financial or the emotional risk involved with being an entrepreneur. So if you can bring that intrapreneurial spirit within an organization and they can feel like they’re entrepreneurs without those financial or emotional risks, that’s, that’s the corporate culture that you want to create within an organization. And it’s actually, you know, it leads to tremendous financial success too. ,

I, I mentioned that Raj Sisodia was a coauthor of the conscious capitalism book. Well, prior to that book, he wrote the firms of endearment and he has this great chart. I’ll have to share it with you, Gene that shows that firms of endearment-conscious capitalists are 14 times more profitable. Then the S and P 500. So if you’re just looking to be profitable, put your employees first lead with this type of spirit, and you will actually be more financially profitable and more stable. And we’ve seen that 14 years now, almost 15 years that we’ve been in business this year in September. It’ll be 15 years.

Gene Hammett: You’re, you’re probably not as familiar with my work as I have because I’ve done so many of these interviews and I’ve spoken on the stage about this. My next book, after the trap of success, will be about this whole concept of having employees feel like owners, even if they don’t have a financial stake. And that feeling of ownership is the core of everything that I see is how people engage and get work done. , when you think of the leader that you’ve become. DeLinda I know you’ve written a book recently and it’s coming out a little later this summer. What’s the one big idea inside that book that you’ve seen that has really connected with the people and allowed you to be the leader that you are today.

DeLinda Forsythe: It is leading millennials. It’s this focus on this intergenerational leadership model and that everybody is a leader, it doesn’t matter what your title is. Titles are irrelevant and millennials really don’t care about titles. They care about that. You care about them, that they want to reach their potential that they want. And you know what, and Gene, this is kind of, some CEOs might think that this is a downside. Some employees will want to leave and start their own businesses. And that’s actually a good thing because I. I want people to understand and to be able to attain this American dream that I’ve had, that I’ve been able to attain. So the key takeaway of the book is this engaging all generations. And especially now with millennials, because like I said earlier, they’re going to be 75%. Of the workforce in just a few short years, if you don’t know how to lead millennials, I’m a boomer. And the way we were led, it does not work with this generation and the generation coming behind them.

That gen Z, which started entering the workplace in 2019, that’s really the key takeaway. And that my book is inspiring. Generational leadership, your guide to design a conscious culture. So inspiring generational leadership. And it’s not just to inspire somebody to be the president of your company or to lead your company, but every position. They’re inspired to lead, to bring out new ideas, to be okay with failing, to be okay with saying something kind of dumb, you know, I mean, I say dumb stuff all the time and it’s all right. And I think sometimes I. I don’t think I consciously do this, but I will think I’ll all have a stream of consciousness where I haven’t really thought it through, but I say it in front of everybody and some of it doesn’t stick and some are like, wow, why’d you say that if that’s, you know, that’s not really how I think, or I don’t think that’s a great leadership idea at all. And we bought it back and forth. We debate it. And when I say things that aren’t. Not the best, not necessarily the best ideas, then it gives them the opportunity. Like, well, let me try an idea that may not stick and there’s a safety idea around that our higher purpose is creating space to transcend the ordinary.

And what we do as an organization is we create physical spaces for our customers, for their employees to feel. Engaged at where they feel it’s a physical space for them to trans transcend the ordinary and great collaborative spaces and great spaces to their, where they want to go to that work. Especially now when, after COVID you want to create a physical space where your employees want to go to that workplace, but we also create a very safe, emotional space for our employees. For them to show up where they feel safe. And that’s really important. Especially as a woman, I never had a safe, emotional space as a woman, especially a single woman with a child. And now you’re almost like you had to hide that, that you had these other obligations. Well, we don’t do that in ICE. We workaround, we’ve been working remotely for at least seven years. Right. And that was around. We set that up because of one employee needed to work remotely. And from there we realized that, Hey, this works, let’s just keep doing it.

So it was like, it was kind of an easy transition for us last year. So I think the one key takeaway from the book inspiring generational leadership, your guide to design a conscious culture is this idea of intergenerational non-hierarchical leadership, where everybody has the freedom to, to lead with freedom, to bring these ideas, and that it’s safe. It’s very inclusive we’re going to.

Commentary: Hold on. DeLinda, just talked about creating emotional space for your employees. A lot of leaders don’t think about this emotional space, but let me take you back to some research done by Google. Many years ago, Google was researching what makes the best teams. And they were looking at all the different factors and they were really coming up with not a whole lot to grab onto. But when they finally were able to figure out what makes the best teams, it’s a sense of psychological safety, which has giving them the space to give feedback without fear of judgment, giving them a place to grow and giving them a place to be nurtured and give them a place to engage with each other and healthy. The psychological safety is something that you want to keep your eyes on and really create moments inside your leadership, where you can actually do that. And you want them to create more than just moments. You want to make it a part of who you are as an organization. You want people to be able to share with you. Without fear of real retaliation that failure’s okay. And a sense of psychological safety is an important factor to make sure you’re intentional. About, as you grow into the leader, your team deserves back to DeLinda.

Gene Hammett: DeLinda, You said something that everyone is a leader. No, I just got off the call. , I do a workshop with a lot of, , companies around developing leaders instead of organizations. And I’ve said this before, and I get some resistance behind this, but when you treat your employees, like everyone’s a leader, no matter what the title is, what would we see inside of your conversations in your meetings?

DeLinda Forsythe: Well, let me tell you about our staff meetings. I get really emotional when I talk about our staff meetings. Ooh, it’s going to be hard for me to get through.

Gene Hammett: I feel like some of the goods coming

DeLinda Forsythe: Yeah, well, I think so. Maybe, maybe if I can get it out, it’s something that will come is our staff meetings are really, really fun. And I talk about our staff meetings extensively in my book, because I think that’s where you really submit your corporate culture. And in our staff meetings and they just keep evolving and changing and they’re just, they’re great. I think most organizations that’s like, Ugh, staff meeting. How, how painful is that going to be? Where we’re there? It’s an anticipatory at ICE because we get to share ideas. And even we, we even bring our introverts out in our staff meetings where we, everybody has to. Share, not every meeting, every meeting has it different agenda and a different point in all of that. But this particular meeting that I’m going to talk about is kind of like an ICE moment and like, what was something great that happened to you? And everybody has to share. This great thing that happened to them and ICE so that you build it, a culture of gratitude and appreciation.

Let’s focus on something good. And let’s, let’s let an encourage everybody to find their voice and to share their voice and to share their story. So we bring up the introverts on that particular day, where they share their, you know, their ICE moment. Last year we had share your COVID moment. Which we had some really humorous really humorous stories, but, but back to this staff meeting, that’s where we build a collective attitude of gratitude and appreciation. And we’ll, we I’ll tell you my greatest moment on all these staff meetings that we’ve had for the last 10 years was when an employee was sharing, how another employee. But found their mistakes and how appreciative they were of finding their mistakes, finding their failures. That, that we have developed this culture where we celebrate the stakes, who does that? That’s, you know, I had this vision when I started the company, that it would be a safe place for women to work at a safe place that women could achieve whatever they wanted, that they really could become the president of the company lead this company, whatever position you want. You had an opportunity at ICE to achieve that simply because of hard work and a great attitude and a great mindset and will help develop your skills.

Most of the employees that came to ICE had minimal workplace skills and we developed them and we coached them. So what I love about, about the work you’re doing Jean as an executive coach, it’s so important, you know, we’ve got an attitude of coach. Within our organization, we coach our people to be their best. And we do this for a lot of reasons. And it’s not just leadership at work. It’s leadership in the community. It’s leadership. As a parent, we have a lot of young parents that are coaching the next great generation of workers in the workforce, the US workforce. And when these employees come home and they feel empowered and they feel good about themselves. They’re better parents. They’re better spouses. They’re, they’re kinder because they’ve been treated with respect. So I would say our staff meetings are kind of a, a great, a great way to create that. And one last thing is a few years ago, we had, it was a Thanksgiving staff meeting and everybody had to go around and say, what they’re grateful for. And my husband who had been with MetLife for 36 years, regional compliance, working with the worst of the people, you know, just people that were kind of like the Bernie Madoffs and that’s, that’s what he had to work within compliance. And he came to ICE and he brought all these, you know, these, fortune 100 leadership concepts into the company and we’re going around and we’re doing this gratitude exercise.

And he had only been with the company for maybe a month and everybody is talking about what they’re grateful for and they’re crying. And we kind of do that in our staff meetings. We get very emotional and we can’t help ourselves, but every single person isn’t, it gets to him. And he’s saying what? He’s grateful for at ICE and he starts choking up this New Yorker, you know, that was there at nine 11. When the buildings were falling down, he’s getting choked up.

Gene Hammett: No DeLinda you share all this with me and really makes me think about how important that your people are to you. But this is no, this is not just in your organization. This is really across all fast-growth companies that I’ve seen. They truly care about the people you’ve shared some incredible stories and examples of this. I appreciate you being here on the podcast.

DeLinda Forsythe: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Gene and I, and I hope my ideas and thoughts and words will make people understand how valuable people are and the opportunity that business has to elevate humanity. Thank you so much.

Gene Hammett: I want to wrap up this and we’ll give you my take on DeLinda’s, you know, view of what’s going on inside for a company that creates this consistent growth. Even though hard times and it may challenge what you think leadership is because most people think leadership is managing the work, getting it done, but here’s the reality of it.

Great leaders know that the work gets done. By building up the people, making that safe space for them creating a place of transparency, where they feel heard, appreciated. You want to be that kind of leader. If you feel like there’s some skill gaps, if you feel like there’s things that you just don’t quite have a grasp on and want to make sure you know, that you can reach out to me, I’d love to help you. All you have to do is go to You can click on the button that says start your journey, which is really about you stepping up and saying, I want to be an extraordinary leader. If you feel like it’s right for you, I’d love to talk to you and get to know you. If it’s a fit, I’ll invite you to work with me.

In one of my programs, you might want to join my one-on-one. You might want to join the group program where we have. Go racing Porsches. And we do a lot of fun stuff together, but I want to start with that conversation. Just go to start your journey. When you think about leadership, you think about growth.

Think of Growth Think Tank as always lead with courage. Will see you next time.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.




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