5 Employee Engagement tips from the Baahubali Saga





Baahubali 2: The Conclusion has been making waves at the box office. Everyone wanted to know why Kattappa killed Amarendra Baahubali. A story of intrigue, ambition, greed, love, loyalty and everything in between.

Like all good stories, there are nuggets of wisdom embedded in there that leaders can put to good use. So here are five employee engagement tips from the story. (Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen the movie, and are planning on seeing it, you might want to skip this post for now and come back later once you have seen the visual treat)

Communication matters: Rajmata Sivagami sends an emissary to the kingdom of Kuntala, to deliver the marriage proposal for Bhallala Deva. However, the emissary delivers the message in an insulting manner and an insulted Devasena rejects the proposal. And then it all begins.

One could reasonably expect that if the message had been delivered right and the proposal accepted, maybe the story would have played out very differently. At the workplace however we don’t want teams clashing and insults being exchanged just because the message was delivered the wrong way! Communicating the right message, in the right way is crucial to getting people onboard with your objective!

 Have a finger on the team pulse: The kingdom of Kuntala is attacked by Pindaris, a dacoit-like army. Amarendra, with the help of Devasena’s maternal uncle, Kumara Varma, is able to nullify the attack and save Kuntala. Amarendra reveals who he is, tries to allay the fears of Sivagami’s rage and convinces Devasena to come with him to Mahismati as his future bride.

 Upon reaching Mahismati, the misunderstanding comes to light. When Sivagami delivers an ultimatum to Amarendra that he must either chose the throne or Devasena, he chooses Devasena. Bhallala Deva is crowned king however during the coronation ceremony the people of Mahismati calls out and asks Amarendra not to accept the new designation.

When top leadership is out of touch with ground realities, their actions could lead to widespread disengagement. The diktat might be accepted by the teams without any obvious complaints in the short term, but it has serious implications in the long term (as Bhallala Deva found out eventually)

Understand (and respect) the true motivations of your team members:  Bhallala Deva notices that, to the people, Amarendra is their king, and hatches a plot with his father Bijjaladeva to convince Sivagami that Amarendra is trying to assassinate him. Sivagami, convinced that Bhallala Deva’s life is under threat and open action would result in factions and civil war, orders Kattappa to assassinate Amarendra. Kattappa, bound by his word to serve the Queen, lures Amarendra by feigning he is in trouble, and then stabs him in the back and kills him.

 Years on Mahendra Baahubali decides to avenge his father’s death by raising his own army with the help of Kattappa. Bijjala Deva tries to brainwash Kattappa reminding him of his forefather’s pledge of their allegiance to protect and defend the throne of Mahismati and their duty to be loyal to the king. Kattappa reminds him that Sivagami had declared Mahendra Baahubali king before her death 25 years ago. 

 A truly engaged employee will be motivated to do the right thing irrespective of who the ‘boss’ is. Having said that, the reality is that some people will be motivated to work with a particular person (and will follow him out of the organization when s/he leaves), others are motivated to work for perks or the culture or the challenge or the compensation or even just a fancy title on the visiting card even if the actual role holds little merit. The list is pretty long.

Changing intrinsic motivation is the biggest challenge faced by people managers. Changing it to ‘True North’ (as Stephen Covey would put it) is a function of several variables like the right company values, supportive work culture and an environment that supports meritocracy and team-work.  Leaders constantly grapple with the need to give into short term extrinsic motivators in order to deliver results, but those results might not be the ones that are best for organizational success in the long run.

True engagement matters: Bhallala Deva and Mahendra Baahubali both have armies. Bhallala treats them like slaves, barking orders and making them toil. Mahendra on the other hand took the pain to understand the problems his men faced. He used to participate in their lives – both professional and personal and formed a bond.

 Bhallala Deva had much more soldiers in his army than Mahendra, and still was overcome by the untrained but highly motivated bunch. And that motivation came from the man leading them.  

 While work is an integral part of a person’s life, its not the only part. It is impossible for a person to be optimally engaged at his work while something in his personal life is bothering him. Good managers are clued into what is happening in their team member’s lives. While not necessarily getting involved in personal affairs of a team member, lending a patient ear and sage advice can go a long way towards improving the motivation levels of the employee at work.

Keep your personal feelings and ego outside the door: Rajmata Sivagami forces Amarendra to choose between the throne and his love. Bhallal treated his soliders like slaves because he believed he knew what was best. Even though Bhallal knew that the people supported Baahubali to be the king, his personal greed and ego blinded him.

 Emotions and feelings are integral to us as human beings but they make for very bad basis when it comes to decision making. Good leaders are those who can keep their personal egos and feelings out of the picture and base their decisions on objective inputs and data. And it’s always easier to explain the rationale of a particular decision to others when it is based on objective facts rather than gut-feel and emotions. ‘Because I told you so…’ is never a good way to motivate your team to deliver results.

References and Acknowledgements: 

Movie plot description text mostly taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baahubali_2:_The_Conclusion

Leader Image source Wikimedia. 

If you like this post you might also like to read these mini-books:

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