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7 Questions on Leadership with Devakanni Subramanian

Name: Devakanni Subramanian

Title: CEO

Organisation: SpellBee International

Devakanni Subramanian, CEO of SpellBee International and Programme Director for HS4A in India, has pioneered an English language development initiative.

Under her leadership, the programme has reached over 1 million students across 4,000 schools, demonstrating its effectiveness and impact.

With a commitment to academic excellence, she has invested in disseminating research findings to educators in schools and colleges. In addition to catering to students, she is also crafting specialized programmes for parents, enhancing awareness in the educational community.

Building on the programme's success in over 20 states in India and select provinces in Sri Lanka and Qatar, Devakanni is keen to collaborate with developing nations, leveraging her proven expertise to make a global impact.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Devakanni's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

Navigating the delicate balance between being a compassionate individual and an efficient, cost-saving professional is profoundly challenging.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

From the onset of my career at 19, serving as a marketing executive and trainer, I identified gaps in leadership and witnessed firsthand the challenges faced by management. Instead of being a passive observer, I proactively stepped in to fill those gaps, volunteering my expertise without the expectation of additional remuneration.

My leadership acumen was primarily shaped by hands-on experience, diligent study of management literature, and securing mentorships where I dedicated significant time to their projects in exchange for invaluable guidance.

Having mentors in diverse areas – from management to social work to spirituality – provided me with a holistic view and multifaceted growth. Concurrently, I took it upon myself to guide the younger generation, ensuring they grew into competent and eager leaders.

This not only strengthened our organization's foundation but also streamlined my leadership journey, positioning me as a standout among my peers. Through these combined efforts, I built a robust support system, making my ascent in leadership more seamless and impactful.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

While each day isn't set in stone, I operate within a structured weekly, monthly, and yearly rhythm. Here’s a glimpse into how I balance professional commitments, personal growth, and self-care:

Start of Day

- Engage in exercises, pranayama or yoga, and kriya to center myself.

- Reading: 10 pages from a management or spiritual development book on most of the days

9:30 - 10:00 AM: Morning team meeting to discuss vital updates and ensure everyone is aligned.

10:30 - 11:00 AM: Dedicate time to manage and respond to emails.

11:00 AM or 3:00 PM: Schedule meetings with national clients.

11.45 AM: Cook a meal or set right one part my house or a dept meeting with office people( varies depending on the location i am in)

6:00 PM: Host international client meetings.

Evening Routine

- Wind down by listening to a podcast or diving into research related to my work.

- 7:00 PM: A final check on emails, ensuring everything is in order before the day concludes.

9-10.30 DO some research or learning with whatever I am handling currently.

**Yearly Highlights**

- Silent Retreat: Twice a year, I retreat into silence for 3-6 days for deep introspection.

- Scheduled Trips: Whether it’s for staff bonding, leadership retreats, family vacations, or personal learning, I carve out distinct times in the year for travel.

- Client Visits: Three months of the year are allocated for client interactions, either virtually or in person.

**Special Occasions**

On the occasion of a book release or significant events in my inner circle, I prioritize these moments, sometimes dedicating days or even weeks.

Throughout the year, whether it's hiking, trekking, or simple walks, fitness remains a cornerstone. My schedule reflects a blend of discipline and adaptability, encapsulating both my professional aspirations and personal well-being.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

Managing emotions under pressure is pivotal. Despite holding authority, it's crucial to address issues with grace and remain unaffected by others' emotional tones.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

Thirukkural, written by Thiruvalluvar in the Tamil language, offers numerous two-line verses that provide insights into business, leadership, and life. Whenever I face a challenge, this 2,000-year-old book serves as a beacon, guiding me through.

While there are over 1,000 kurals in the collection, I often reference my top 100 for inspiration and leadership direction.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

Prepare now, for the awaited day arrives the moment you're ready.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

In my journey with SpellBee International, I designed a curriculum for English language development that became the benchmark for over 1,000 schools in the last 13 years. As the architect of this success, I recognized leadership potential and meticulously cultivated 15 individuals into department leaders.

With a decade of mentorship under my guidance, they transformed, becoming not just assets but the very pillars of the organization, reflecting my vision and dedication as a leader.

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