Reflecting on the leadership insights of Shamil Thakrar, Head Babu of Dishoom

As we know, when leaders act their employees react, for good or for bad. A leader’s actions become symbolic when they really resonate with the audience. A symbolic act will remain in the audience’s memory and will become a part of their understanding of who that leader is. Be it Mark Zuckerberg wearing a hoodie to an investors meeting, or Emma Gonzalez falling silent for 6 minutes during her March for Our Lives speech, these symbolic acts live in the minds of others and become folklore understanding of what that leader stands for.

When leaders are genuine and true in their actions, they show what is in their Core. By showing this, they are inviting others in and showing them that it is OK to be themselves too. But what about a symbolic act that challenges colliding cultures? What about taking action to break down those cultural barriers and to bring people together? That’s a fine line to walk.

At Dishoom, the teams are proudly made up of many diverse groups; groups that cross many boundaries but that work together in one space. Shamil shared a story with us which illustrates how respecting those differences can bring teams together.

Shamil is a Hindu, and Dishoom’s Head Chef, Naved Nasir, is a Muslim. As a Muslim, Naved fasts for Ramadan – and now, each year, Shamil joins Naved for one day in that fast. During the month of Ramadan, they organise a special Iftar (the meal that breaks the day-long fast at sunset) to which all staff, regardless of their religious beliefs and whether they have fasted or not, are invited to attend. They also organise a similar event for the Hindu festival of Janmastmi, when Naved fasts with Shamil.

Shamil reflects on these actions, which he humbly refuses to call symbolic, as simple acts of respect between colleagues, but it was the reaction of the wider team which had the most impact on Shamil. A young Muslim chef said to Shamil, “I can’t believe that you, my employer, who isn’t a Muslim, would fast with us – that’s amazing. I feel welcome here. I feel like I can be me.

Contributor: Shamil Thakrar

Read more of Shamil's leadership insights in our Blog