Diwali gift from America–
5 days, 5 Leadership Lessons

diwaliBy Ed Cohen & Pris Nelson

During our 7 years in India, we always looked forward to Diwali or Deepavali as most call it. It’s the biggest celebration of the year. Deepavali means “row of lights” hence it is known as the festival of lights.

Weeks before, lights go up, the streets are adorned with decorations and the stores stock up to tempt shoppers with sales as everyone rushes to choose new clothes, sweets to share, and the perfect gifts for each other. During the 5-days of Deepavali, do not not plan to get much sleep because there are fireworks going off constantly…all night long. In fact, that’s our only complaint about this wonderful and amazing festival. The toll those crackers have on the air quality is horrendous. It would be so much better if people would bang pots and pans for the noise and light candles to keep the air breathable. Just a suggestion <smile>.

Diwali dates back to ancient times. Some believe it started as a harvest festival similar to how Thanksgiving is celebrated in America. Others say it was the celebration of the marriage between Lord Krisha and the Goddess Lakshmi. And others say it’s celebrated in remembrance of Lord Ram’s victorious entry into Ayodhya. Whatever its origin, it has evolved into a nationwide celebration across India (and many other parts of the world).

diwali group

In celebration and in honour of our Indian friends who are leaders around the world, we share our Diwali gift– 5 leadership lessons for the 5 days of Diwali.

Lesson #1: Inclusive Leaders Build Trust Faster.

When leaders are truly inclusive, members of their teams feel there is greater equity. They trust the leader, are more engaged and more motivated.

Diwali may have its roots in Hinduism, but where we were, everyone celebrated it. It truly is an inclusive festival.

Lesson 2: Leaders have a Plan to Make each Day Count.

Leaders need a plan if the vision they put forth is actually going to become a reality. This ensures progress, keeps the process moving towards the goals and allows everyone to know what to do and when. Otherwise the vision is really just a dream.

Each day of Diwali has a different meaning and different traditions to follow. That’s its plan.

Lesson #3: Values-based Leaders do the Right Things, Right.

valuesIt’s not enough just to have core values nicely laid out on a poster. Leaders need to be reminded of the meaning of each value and they need to understand the principles behind them. Then they need to be measured on how often others observe them demonstrating those principles and behaviours.

At its core, Diwali reminds everyone to live a life full of moral values and principles.

Lesson #4: Leaders Light the Way.

diwali praLeaders need to show their people the path to success by helping them individually understand their role and how they are measured. Concentrating on developing their people “lights the path” allowing them to develop and achieve mastery. It’s equally important that leaders coach their people on collaborative relationship skills.

During Diwali, the bright lights signify the hope of finding light though darkness, achieving mastering from inexperience, and nurturing relationships.

Lesson #5: Leaders enjoy the Journey.

Leaders who build great teams know that having fun while working and creating an environment where team members enjoy spending time with each other increases productivity and decreases errors. People collaborate more because they truly care about each other when they have fun together. Imagine being on a team where everyone, even the newest members feel welcome.

Diwali brings together families, extended families, friends, and strangers. From the first year we arrived in India, we were invited to Diwali parties and gatherings. Even though we were just acquaintances we were invited and we felt totally welcome. It only took a few minutes before we felt like we were part of the circle. That was an amazing experience.