Earlier this week Deepavali was celebrated with much revelry and gaiety in Malaysia.
This year, with our new government, there seemed to be a greater sense of buoyancy about the merriments. We were inundated with poignant and thoughtful advertisements, Rajnikanth movies on the telly, and even our Health Minister got some action by posting a message in Tamil.
Malaysians of Indian origin joined the 1.2 billion other Hindus around the globe to party!
This year was even more celebratory for my family, as both my wife’s and my birthdays flanked the two days of Deepavali. I am just now recovering from eating too much murukku and mutton curry.
What can we learn from Deepavali, aside from our universal love for good food?
Deepavali or Diwali is the Festival of Lights observed in many parts of the world, including Fiji, Guyana, India, Mauritius, Myanmar, Nepal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and even the Sindh Province in Pakistan.
It signifies the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair. Symbolically, lights are lit outside homes, around temples, and other buildings in the communities where it is observed.
The etymology of Deepavali varies from place to place.
But one of the most commonly held beliefs is that it is celebrated in honour of the return of Lord Rama, his wife Sita, and brother Lakshmana, together with Hanuman to Ayodhya after King Ravana was defeated.
To rejoice their return from Lanka where they had triumphed over evil, and to illuminate their path home, villagers lit ‘Diyas’ or oil lamps made from clay, with a cotton wick dipped in ghee.
Every year, the festival passes with people celebrating change and happiness. For most, it is a week-long festival with partying that involves lots of food, drink, new clothes, exchanging of gifts, and much joy with their families.
But can we glean some ideas on how the tenets of this festival can be transliterated into our work-life?
Personally the biggest learning for me, every year during Deepavali, is to remind myself about how I must behave as a leader. I must not become like the defeated King Ravana.
King Ravana was a master tactician. But despite the strategies he engaged, and the enormous amount of military knowledge, and soldiers at his disposal, he lost this war.
And, this is purely attributed to his leadership style.
He was reportedly an egotistical maniac whose leadership brand was fear. King Ravana operated on the assumption that he was always right. He made his own rules, used people thoughtlessly, and disregarded common courtesies of war.
He was the epitome of a leader who never allowed anyone to give feedback.
If you want to be an accomplished leader, you must learn to accommodate alternate views. You have to become welcoming, and open-minded. And, have the humility to consider the views of each member of your team. This also means you must be willing to admit your short-comings, and be prepared to work on rectifying them.
So, please remember that even if you are hugely talented, technically; but if you lack the ability to empathise with your team, you will ultimately fail in any leadership role.
This is the primary lesson for everyone, if you aspire to achieve excellent personal results.
The second thing is to surround yourself with people who believe in you.
Hanuman, the monkey god, was a great disciple of Lord Rama, and part of his crew. But Hanuman struggled to realise his full potential. It is another character, Jambavan, in the Ramayana, who counsels Hanuman to realise his tremendous potential as a warrior, and leader. He makes him understand his massive abilities, and encourages him to fly across the sea to search for Sita, in Lanka.
Personally for you, it is vital that you surround yourself with empowering people, who will inspire, and help you connect with your full potential. Drop people who disempower you, for people who truly recognise your talents.
My third reminder from Deepavali is the value of being purpose driven in any endeavor.
When Lord Rama went to Lanka to avenge the kidnap of his wife Sita, he had no army. He only had his brother Lakshmana, together with Hanuman, and a cadre of monkeys.
But, he was able to defeat King Ravana’s professional warriors, because his fleet of monkeys led by his devotee Hanuman was fuelled by purpose.
When you are purposeful, you become thoughtfully strategic. This is how the amateur taskforce beat the highly skilled combatants.
I have learnt that if you empower your team to make decisions, and if they are connected with purpose, they will be able to achieve even seemingly impossible tasks.
While this festive season, like others, offer us an opportunity to connect with family and friends, and also offer us lessons for living; they are equally useful for the workplace.
Happy Deepavali, to all who celebrate!
Shankar R. Santhiram is managing consultant and executive leadership coach at EQTD Consulting. He is also the author of the national bestseller “So, You Want To Get Promoted?”