Meet Resilience Expert and Champion of Women’s Rights, Komal Minhas.

Komal Minhas is an internationally respected resilience expert, host, interviewer, investor and champion of women and women’s rights. Featured on Oprah’s Super Soul 100 list, Komal has interviewed inspiring people including Michelle Obama and Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, and is the founder and host of the successful podcast Lessons Learned, featuring soulful conversations about resilience. Komal also just launched an online shop of inspirational uplifting prints, perfect for home or office.

My first job ever was… working the concession stand at our local hockey arena! I wasn’t allowed to work — as a first-generation Canadian, education was a major priority — but I secretly got this job so I could save up to go on a class trip to Europe in 9th grade. Of course my parents found out, but it all worked out in the end.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… my entrepreneurial spirit didn’t fit the traditional workplace mould. My business has become a creative vessel for me, and a space for me to make an impact, create wealth for myself and my team, educate and tell powerful stories. It’s my dream job!

My proudest accomplishment is… having my parents in the stadium the day I interviewed Michelle Obama in 2019. It was one of the best moments of my life to see their pride after holding space for such a powerful conversation with the former First Lady.

My boldest move to date was… pitching Michelle Obama directly at a meet and greet to interview her as part of her stadium tour. She took my hands and said, ‘this is destiny.’ It took 10 months, and lots of no’s for it to finally happen. That was my boldest moment!

I surprise people when I tell them… I am actually more of an introvert than an extrovert! I really love my down time!

My best advice to people starting out in business is… take your time. The start-up world is full of stories of ‘overnight’ successes, but they are few and far between. Do what you need to take your time as you build and do it in a way that makes sense to you financially.

My biggest setback was… being diagnosed with cancer and a neurological illness in the same 10-months. Recovery took a few years during my 20s. 

I overcame it by… listening to my body and taking recovery day-by-day. When you face mortality at such an early age, you come to appreciate life in different ways. That experience led me to having a strong focus on purpose and impact and finding a way to create a business that could help me maximize both things well.

The best thing about being an entrepreneur is… employing others and leading them in a mindful, empathetic way.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… sleep.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… how hard this journey of entrepreneurship really is and how much my support system helps me get through hard days.

The one thing I wish I knew when starting my business is… it takes time to find product-market fit and each failure is actually a powerful step forward towards something that will work and hopefully scale.

I stay inspired by… my friends, and making new friends who challenge me and show me what is possible in my own life.

The future excites me because… so much can happen!

What does it mean to lead in a crisis?

What makes someone an expert in a crisis? Is it years of experience? Lived experiences? Training? Following examples from others? All of the above?

I’m no expert, let me start there. It’s been really difficult building a new company, one that went into a pandemic driven lockdown before we were 18 months old. One that can’t “pivot” to online services. I’m trying to grow, sustain, and just survive all at the same time. And in that, maybe inspire. This past weekend I was on the phone with a good friend of mine who has successfully founded and run a number of startups and he asked me a question that stopped me from pacing in my slippers in my living room. He asked,

“What is your leadership approach right now?”

The answer wasn’t immediately clear to me, so I paused. I responded that I typically work from a place of collaboration. As an entrepreneur who has always struggled with authority, I’m not a fan of top-down leadership. I love a good consensus-building session. My friend clarified his question. “What about trust? Where does trust fall into your leadership approach? Where is trust from and for your team today?”

With the latest lockdown measures in Toronto (started on November 23rd), The Workaround has had to temporarily close our doors. Shared space / meeting rooms and event spaces are ordered closed. Revenue is down between 55-90%. Childcare can be open but not without parents working on-site. Even if I could open, limited capacity is far worse from a business perspective, because it means a trickle of income but the same fixed costs (PPE, cleaning, hydro, rent). Laying off my staff, even temporarily, means reduced income for them in month 10 of a pandemic. No scenario is optimal. There is no easy win. It’s all lose-lose.

I’ve yet to see the playbook for what great business leadership looks like in a global pandemic. As I sat down to write the “we’re closing again” email, anxiety overwhelmed me. Should I fight? Pivot quickly? Find a way to keep revenue growing? All orders of government are advising we don’t meet indoors with people not from our own household, where meeting spaces are closed, where the loudest message is to work from home if at all possible. It doesn’t mean I get to stop working (or take a break!) but simply have to find another way to keep the purpose and vision of The Workaround alive. To support working parenthood. While I am closed because we are following public health guidelines. Even when it doesn’t make business sense. The politicalization of COVID has made it even more difficult for small business owners to make strategic decisions. Taking a position comes at a cost.

“Whether you’re a team lead at a large organization or a small business owner or a freelancer with a range of clients, trust has to be central to how we work.”

Why even bother taking a position? Because as my friend suggested, leading is about more than keeping the lights on. It’s about trust. I can’t think of another example when I’d be arguing the government should close my company down temporarily (with funding!), but this is one of them. Forcing business owners to figure out alternative strategies to stay economically afloat during a public health emergency isn’t fair. My definition of trust includes modelling people over profits (that’s a joke by the way; no profits for brick and mortar during a pandemic), that I truly want my staff team around for the long-haul. I want the business to survive and their jobs to remain there and to know that when tested, I will do what I can to keep them and our members well.

I need them to trust me. 

Whether you’re a team lead at a large organization or a small business owner or a freelancer with a range of clients, trust has to be central to how we work. How we approach times of stress. It also has to be central to reporting to shareholders. If stakeholders can’t trust that we are leading the organization from a place of integrity, we put the company in both reputational and fiduciary risk.

Is this what leadership looks like in a crisis? Perhaps. It’s probably survival more than trust if I’m honest. Vulnerability even. One thing you can do today is to take the time to think about how you can build up, and break trust with your team by the big and small decisions you make. Even when it doesn’t seem like the call you’re making is a demonstration of your leadership, it is. You know this. If you’re not sure how to navigate leadership in a crisis, there are many, many amazing women-led organizations who can help. My advice is simple: curate and honour trust. 

Trust that customers will return, even if they are hesitant today.

Trust that stress shows itself in many ways, and when the crisis ends some of the stress does too.

Trust that taking care of yourself and your family, team, and loved ones so that you can be equipped to run your company and excel at your work is the right call.

Trust that we’ve done these hard things before, and we can do it again.

Trust this will end.

How Patricia McLeod turned corporate governance into a full-time job — even though she didn’t fit the typical board member profile.

By Hailey Eisen 

The advice that Patricia McLeod likes to give — “Pick things you’re good at, because if you love what you’re doing enough you’ll find a path forward” — sums up her own journey over the past five years.  

Patricia spent 23 years as a lawyer and executive in Calgary and Vancouver before making an unusual career pivot. Armed with an Executive MBA, plus years of legal, privacy, compliance and corporate responsibility experience, Patricia began to expand on her volunteer experience. She took board positions with organizations focusing on community and economic development, arts, innovation, and vulnerable women and families. 

In 2015, she began to feel that her board work was more strategic than her job. The variety of challenges and opportunities was exciting. Patricia wondered if she could turn governance into her full-time career. She asked a handful of women directors for their opinions. 

Their responses were not reassuring. “I ended up with a long list of reasons why I wasn’t likely to be successful in corporate governance,” she says. “They weren’t being negative, they were just coming from a different place — C-Suite executives who’d been specifically tapped for their board positions.” 

As it was pointed out, Patricia wasn’t even 50, had never been a CEO, and wasn’t ready to retire. Plus, she had no experience in the oil and gas sector — a bit of a problem for someone wanting to serve on boards in Calgary. “I remember thinking: They’re right, but where am I in the board world? I’m the gap.”

Nevertheless, Patricia was undaunted. 

Within six months, she secured her first paid governance position and within 18 months, she was appointed as Chair of the Board of Calgary Co-op, one of the largest retail cooperatives in North America with annual revenues of around $1.2 billion and 440,000 member-owners. In two years, she resigned from her general counsel role, had a full portfolio of board positions and was making more money than she’d earned in her previous job. 

“I’m not a pioneer on boards because I’m a woman. Women on boards is now a much more well-known and supported concept. But I’m a pioneer because I treat my board work as a profession,” Patricia says. 

And following her passion has made her happy. 

“With board work, you’re doing strategy, leadership, issues management — all of which is so motivating to me,” she says. “And it’s a balancing act, like being a consultant.” 

Today, Patricia sits on a wide cross-section of boards, including Calgary Co-op, the Beverage Container Management Board, Alberta Innovates, and the Calgary Film Centre.

 “I’ve learned to describe myself not by what I do, but by how I can transfer my skills.” 

She says her prior board roles with First Air and Air Inuit proved especially satisfying. Based in Quebec and Ontario, the airlines operate passenger, charter and cargo services in Nunavik and Nunavut. “This was the first time they’d opened up the organization to non-Inuit board members, and there was a great deal of learning on both sides,” Patricia says. During her term, First Air merged with another Inuit-owned airline and Patricia brought her experience in governance, legal and relationship-building to the merger process. “It was one of the most valuable experiences I’ve ever had.”  

But with no airline experience (or experience in many of the industries in which she now serves on boards), Patricia has had to market herself differently. “I’ve learned to describe myself not by what I do, but by how I can transfer my skills. For example, I worked in utilities, a highly regulated, high-hazard industry, which transferred nicely to the aviation industry.”

Patricia says she’s also needed a lot of self-confidence in applying for board positions — “for every ten interviews you’ll get one position” — and taking on a wide range of roles. She also needed to be willing to put her name forward for board leadership opportunities. She credits her Executive MBA with giving her the confidence to make the leap into governance and the success she’s having as a leader. 

With an undergraduate degree in business, a law degree, and years of work, Patricia went back to school in 2009 to earn her EMBA at Smith School of Business. “I knew I was a strong lawyer but felt the MBA would give me the business credibility I was lacking.” With two young daughters at home and a full-time job, Patricia joined the EMBA program from Calgary, with the strong support of her company. 

“The program not only helped me rethink the language of business writing, which was really important for me coming from a law background, it also put a huge emphasis on group work and leadership,” she recalls. “I literally use the skills from that program on a daily basis, when I’m chairing boards and leading groups, public speaking, leaning into difficult decisions and facing down big issues.” 

Completing the EMBA, she says, made her courageous enough to step into governance and gave her the skills to feel comfortable doing so. But first, it gave her the confidence to put her hand up at AltaLink, where she worked, to take on different roles beyond her existing scope. 

“Sometimes in an established career you are seen in a certain way, and you have to jar people out of that. You have to raise your hand and step outside of your comfort zone.” 

And staying just beyond her comfort zone is what keeps Patricia engaged. “It reinvigorates me, this board work,” she says. “I was recently offered a prestigious role back in legal, and while I was tempted, I decided to be brave and continue on the path I’m on.”