Venture capitalist and inspirational speaker Kamal Sarma on the art and science of human connection
I met Kamal Sarma a couple of years ago at a seminar for women empowerment, a seminar that was especially designed for women from the migrant community in Australia. There was something about him, something very different from the various other speakers I had heard in the past. His uncanny ability to hold the attention of the audience (a roomful of women!) and the simplicity of his presentation was impressive. At the time I knew very little about him, except the fact that he was married to one of the executive members of the organising committee. What I didn’t know was that he was a renowned author and keynote speaker who has travelled the globe transforming leaders, teams and companies.
This article about Kamal Sarma, the man, the monk, the venture capitalist and keynote speaker. Born in the East Indian state of Assam, Kamal came to Australia when he was four. He returned to India when he was 13 to live in an ashram and he spent 6 years there. On completion of his education in Australia, Kamal worked in the corporate sector holding executive positions in reputed companies like McKinsey & Company, Eli Lilly and AMP Capital Investors. While life was cruising along, the death of his first-born daughter turned his life on its head. It seemed the defining moment in his life. He went into deep throes of depression and struggled to come in terms with the huge vacuum that had been created. But Kamal decided to fill this void with his calling and not with addictions that people generally get drawn into. And thus his journey of life began….
Kamal is an experienced speaker, trainer and the author of three books, Mental Resilience: The Power of Clarity—How to develop the focus of a warrior and the peace of a monk, which became an international best seller; The Leadership Leap—(Un)Learning how to Lead, featured on Google talks; and his most recent one, WinWin Conversations: The Art and Science of Human Connection.
When asked about his core philosophy, Kamal said, “My core belief is that we are missing connections in our lives. This is what creates the biggest challenges in our life. The three things we need to feel are connection to self, connection to others and connection to purpose.” Elaborating on this, he continued, “If we don’t feel connected to ourselves, we seem to always be looking for something outside of our selves. We are taught how to speak but we are not taught how to connect. We think about our careers and our jobs, but very rarely do we think about our calling and purpose. I think the more connected we feel to our purpose the more meaning our lives will have.”
Kamal is a believer of inspiration rather than motivation. According to him, “Motivation comes and goes, inspiration grows and grows.” In today’s fast paced work environment, developing and amplifying the right mindset and skills is of great importance. And as the founder and director of Rezilium, a strategic leadership firm, Kamal delivers customised strategies and presentations for a range of industries. He specialises in helping teams solve current challenges, before shifting them into a new level of performance. Kamal was recognised for his peace work between the Chinese and Tibetans in 2008. Kamal has also co-founded two venture capital businesses in the IT and biotech sectors and currently is a Chair of Amicus Digital and the RUOK Thinktank.
RUOK is a suicide prevention charity in Australia, reminding people that having meaningful conversations with mates and loved ones could save lives. In Australia, around six people take their lives every day. “Unfortunately,” Kamal states, “this statistic does not take into account all the people who attempt suicide. RUOK is about making sure we all stay connected to one another.” The work one does and the daily demands that life imposes on us social beings can take its toll. When asked who he draws his inspiration from, Kamal answered, “Yes, it is true you can get exhausted and you need a diet of inspiration. I have loved seeing my kids grow up. I don’t think I would have any idea on how to be a father if I hadn’t gone on my own leadership journey.” He continues to get as much advice as possible from his mentors. One of them is 91 years old.
“I feel grateful I have these people in my life who guide me and help me keep my spark alive,” says Kamal. He has been particularly inspired by the Vietnamese Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh, who is also an activist. Kamal says he is guided by his wisdom on living a life of peace. He is also inspired by the teachings about life and the mind of Ayya Khemma, a Jewish Buddhist nun who has set up refuges for women around the world.
The apple doesn’t fall form the tree—Kailash Sarma, Kamal’s son is no less inspirational than his father. As a 15-year-old, he has started his very own, ‘Academy of Speakers’, where he uses the skills of public speaking to enhance the confidence in the youth, especially from the indigenous and refugee communities. “My dad is my role model. When he came from India, he did not know how to speak English very well. He became very nervous and shy and many people would make fun of his accent. He really struggled at work and at university. He’s been able to teach me many things that have helped me regain my confidence after I got bullied at school,” says Kailash with pride.
Launching the ‘Academy of Speakers’ has been the most satisfying moment for Kailash. He tackled every obstacle that came up without getting demoralised. “There were a lot of people who would make fun of me and put me down for trying to start Academy of Speakers when I was only 15,” says Kailash. But after conducting the first program, when the participants went up to him, talking about the confidence they had gained from the program that enabled them to put their hand up to try for leadership positions, he knew all the hard work was worth its while.
Kailash is very different from any other youngster of his age. The one person he would like to meet is Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, because he looks like he is having fun in his life while also working on his vision. When asked what gave him the utmost satisfaction, he said, “Learning about things that they do not teach you at school. Recently I have been reading about Entrepreneurialism, Innovation and Finding your Passion. At school, they don’t teach me about things I’m passionate and interested in such as starting a business, how to deal with failure and how to think differently.” He further enjoys incorporating these into his programs or when he is speaking in front of audiences.
Recently, Kailash gave a TEDx Talk on the ‘3 Keys to finding your passion’, where he spoke about what causes one pain, not what one loves to do and how one needs to find a purpose bigger than oneself. Kailash was able to connect and engage with his audience. Kailash is particularly inspired by the stories he hears about and from refugees and the challenges that they have had to overcome. He wants to ensure they have the ability to share these stories with the rest of the world. “My pet project is to help refugees and indigenous kids build their confidence and to share their stories on an international scale. To do that, we are going to be run programs free of charge for this community. We are in the process of finding sponsors to help us do this,” says a determined Kailash. For a boy so young, he has his future chalked out—going global with Academy of Speakers, in particular with a startup in Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai and Guwahati.
To young readers, Kailash says, “People will use fear to manipulate you. They will say you are not good enough, not working hard enough and you are too young. I believe if you find what you are passionate about, you have no choice but to succeed. I used to try to motivate myself with things that I wasn’t passionate about, however when I figured out what I was passionate about I realised that I worked harder, and it didn’t feel like hard work”. “And if you are a parent,” he continues, “telling your child to work hard is good, however if you can help your children find their passion, they will work hard themselves.”
Kamal’s advice to The Indian Sun readers is, “I think it is important to disconnect from our last century thinking. So many people update their phones whenever there is as new software update but so many of us are still using outdated mental models to navigate our lives. If you look around the world today much of the conflict in families and nations are due to models of thinking that were dreamed up when most of the world thought that the earth was the centre of the universe.”
Though Kamal says he grew up feeling he did not fit anywhere, for he was called an Indian in Australia and an Australian in India, “I think they are both amazing countries—one for its ancient traditions and the other for its youthfulness and equality. I think if we as a community can extract and share our insights, we can truly add value to this planet,” he concludes positively.
Kamal Sarma TEDx Talk: https://bit.ly/2LSpQna | Kailash Sarma TEDx Talk: https://bit.ly/2FaJVok