“Stay with the feminine leadership principles of collaboration, empathy, strategy, long-term planning, and people first.” with Manpreet Dhillon and Akemi Sue Fisher

Listen to the champions on your team, garner their trust and stay with the feminine leadership principles — collaboration, empathy, strategy, long-term planning, and people first. People stay for their leaders who are authentic, genuine and care about their team members. Self-care will allow you to genuinely have the emotional capacity to care for your team members. As […]

Listen to the champions on your team, garner their trust and stay with the feminine leadership principles — collaboration, empathy, strategy, long-term planning, and people first. People stay for their leaders who are authentic, genuine and care about their team members. Self-care will allow you to genuinely have the emotional capacity to care for your team members.

As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Manpreet Dhillon. Manpreet Dhillon is the Founder and CEO of veza community — a diversity and inclusion consulting firm dedicated to elevating women of culturally diverse backgrounds by creating systemic change. Through coaching and consulting, veza community helps organizations create inclusive workplaces that allow culturally diverse women to thrive as leaders. With over 15 years of leadership, human resources and community development expertise, Manpreet has worked with notable organizations including UN affiliate: Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, City of Vancouver, University of British Columbia, Blenz Coffee, 7-Eleven, as well as a host of tech and biotech companies, Canadian political parties, and non-profit organizations. Her mission is to grow diversity in organizations by enhancing the leadership skills of culturally diverse women. Manpreet has over 10,000 hours of coaching experience, focusing on individuals with leadership potential from team leads to C-suite executives. She has served on a variety of boards and held positions as Board Member of the British Columbia Institute of Technology Alumni Board of Directors. She was also a past Board Member of Royal Roads University and has served on various arts and health boards. Manpreet is a contributing author to Forbes, twice contributing author to Chicken Soup for the Soul, and a contributing author to the best selling Amazon book — 365 Days to the Soul. She received her Master’s in Organizational Management, is a certified personal and business coach, and is a certified human resource professional.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I came to this career path based on my personal experience. I have been in roles where I noticed there was no person of color in upper management and other times I was in positions where people would wait for the man to arrive because they felt I had no authority (even though I was one of the executives for the organization). These experiences happened a few times. However, it was not until I held a round table of ethnic women that I was able to put into words what was actually happening regarding this invisible glass ceiling. It was through this roundtable discussion that my company Veza Community was born. This discussion crystallized how important it is to have a diversity of thought around the boardroom table especially culturally diverse women (women of color). If you don’t have diversity around the boardroom, you risk having ‘group think’ which is the perspective of people with similar experiences, cultures, and backgrounds, therefore having almost a singular view to an opportunity or problem.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I would have to say it was leading the trade mission to Croatia with a small group of women entrepreneurs. It started as a trip with friends, which quickly turned into a cross-cultural exchange between Canadian and Croatian women entrepreneurs and leaders. It was so powerful in many ways. I helped one woman grow her business by $1 million in trade through the strategies and partnerships made on this trade mission trip. The actual trade mission revealed how the struggles and challenges for women of different cultures are quite similar as they strive to support their families and dreams. The power of connection between women really allows for magic to happen. There is this synergy that happens and cannot be duplicated even if we tried. The trade mission showed that it is through women leaders we can bring more of the nurturing, empathy and connection into the world — especially into the business world.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

This wasn’t necessarily a mistake, but it was a lesson in tact and how to give back constructive criticism. Early in my career, I started volunteering at this not-for-profit, and after spending two days with them, I decided to email the founder of the organization a five-page email detailing everything I felt was lacking in how they were running the company. Upon reflection it was brutal honesty and I have since learnt diplomacy when offering constructive feedback. The funny thing about this experience is after a couple of months from sending this email, is that the organization reached out to me and asked that I implement the changes I suggested. This email is the cornerstone to my career elevating, as it is how I established all my connections; it positioned me as a community leader in the arts & culture (which was a new experience for me), and it laid the foundation for the growth of my career and business.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Our company stands out because we focus on the leadership development of women with culturally diverse backgrounds. No other company focuses on the immigrant, migrant and first-generation experience while taking into account the family and ethnic culture of an individual and its impact on the organization’s culture. Many of the projects and clients we work with people come to us thinking that they want help with leadership but quickly realize how much the cultures they grew up in (society, family, ancestors, etc.) actually impacts their leadership style, interactions with teams and how they feel about themselves. Also, it is through this work we are diminishing racism and promoting multiculturalism, as people understand themselves better, and therefore they understand others better. They have more compassion and can empathize more with others they come across at work and in their personal life.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We recently launched a digital marketing program for immigrant women, and it is bringing us so much joy. It is really powerful to see underemployed women thriving personally while learning a new skill set. The women are acquiringa expertise that supports building their personal brand and confidence while at the same time expanding their job search by gaining more marketable skills. One of the most significant barriers for their employment is the lack of North American work experience, so through the paid internship program, they can gain this experience as well.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

As a team leader, it is essential to be aware of your strengths and weaknesses and play towards your strengths as this allows you to be more productive and less stressed. If you’re aware of your weaknesses, you can hire the right team members (in which this area is their strength) and be productive as a company playing to each member’s strength. For example, you may be exceptional at creative thinking and lack detail. In this scenario, it would be great to hire someone who loves detail, and therefore you can focus on creative thinking and brainstorming. When we focus on the strengths of each team member (including yourself as the leader), it gives us the ample opportunity to shine and creates a team that thrives.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Listen to the champions on your team, garner their trust and stay with the feminine leadership principles — collaboration, empathy, strategy, long-term planning, and people first. People stay for their leaders who are authentic, genuine and care about their team members. Self-care will allow you to genuinely have the emotional capacity to care for your team members.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are so many people who have helped me along the way either through championing me, opening the door for opportunities, having discussions around areas of growth for me, and at times making me uncomfortable with the blunt truth about what is holding me back in my success. It is so uncomfortable listening to someone tell you what they see your shortcomings being — especially when you regard them very highly. I tend to want to please people so when someone is telling me where I need to improve; I see that as a deficiency in myself and how I couldn’t please them (I know this isn’t true, but again this is how the mind impacts our success). In this one discussion with one of my advisors, he was telling me which areas I needed to grow into, and I was squirming in my seat while my mind was telling me all the reasons why I suck and then he tells me to breathe. As soon as I took a few deep breaths and became present with the conversation, he went on to tell me how my shortcoming was one of my greatest strengths and how to leverage it moving forward. It was such a powerful moment in being present, listening from the heart and getting out of our own way to see a new perspective.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

We are constantly doing pro-bono work with women who can’t afford our coaching programs, and we launched the digital marketing program to support the economic empowerment of all women.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

5 Leadership Lessons:

Don’t promise if you can’t deliver:

As a leader, people expect you to keep your word as that is where there is integrity. It is important to stay true to your word and find a way to deliver if you promised it. I promised someone a role in my organization when the funds weren’t in place. I had to have an honest conversation that the organization’s financial position wasn’t where we thought it would be at that time, I had failed in securing funding, and I wasn’t able to provide her what I said I was going to. It was a humbling conversation of accepting my mistake.

Transparency especially when things aren’t good:

People want honesty and appreciate transparency, as they want to help as well. The times I struggled alone, I was really alone, yet the times that I shared the struggles, people rose up to the occasion to help and provide solutions.

Learn to follow as it makes you a better leader:

There was a time in my life I chose to follow as I needed to understand what frustrations people can have with leaders. I took a role that was lower pay than I was used to and it was a role where I was doing assistant work in an area that wasn’t my strength. It taught me resilience, perseverance, and how to be a better leader as I learned from others and it made me understand fully what my strengths were.


I have burnt out a few times in my career as I didn’t focus on self-care. I focused on what I thought was success and really harmed myself in the process.

Leading to my last lesson, determine what is success for you:

Success may not be what you grew up believing it was. Success can be great relationships, excellent health, happiness, and career success. Only you can decide what that is for you.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The movement I would love to inspire is to have more women feel confident in their own skin, bodies, and minds as they put their names forward for the decision making roles, committees, and boards. A world where women don’t hold themselves back because they are not the way they want to look in terms of their appearance and instead they accept themselves as a whole. Essentially the movement is about self-love, confidence, acceptance and the feeling you belong in the world.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite life lesson quote is “power is in the mind if you think you can or think you can’t you are right.” The mind is so powerful in making or breaking our dreams. Our patterns and beliefs can impact our path, choices, and decisions. Therefore it is so important to stand guard to the thoughts of self-sabotage and combat them with thoughts of infinite possibilities and that these possibilities could be in your favor. The power of the mind means anything is truly possible — whether you think you can or can’t.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I would love to meet Oprah. I feel she has great resilience and ambition. She is excellent at building community and creating movements through inspiring people to be better. If I was able to do 10 percent of what she did in this world, I know that we would create a world where more women of culturally diverse backgrounds are stepping into their power and have the voice they need to be at any table.

Thank you so much for joining us!

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