Aiming for excellence: Attributes that lend a cutting edge to students

— D.B.N. Murthy

While one is in pursuit of excellence there is no scope for compromise. “Dream it big,” is what a teacher/superior has to remind his students / staff members around him. But this cannot happen by mere platitudes. He has to support them fully and create an environment where excellence is a way of life. In such a place, shoddy work has no place. Motivated students / staff members themselves would reject any such compromise knowing fully that there is no room for short cuts or shoddy work.

What is generally not appreciated is the fact that a student/staff member can rise above his / her own self-imposed limits. The school / college management should provide the motivation and an environment where success is rewarded, and more importantly, failures are not held over some one as a black mark. Such a person too needs to be given a pat on the back for making sincere and serious efforts to achieve the goal. Otherwise, disenchantment might set in and that person may not have the desire to try harder since he is not sure of the success. If the sailing is smooth then achieving a goal may not be so tough. What is important is for the team of students/staff members to work purposely towards the goal set under trying and difficult circumstances. When the chips are down the students/staff members need moral and emotional support from not only their peers but their teachers/superiors too.

To make a student/staff member rise above his own limitations, real or imagined, is not easy. He has to be convinced that it is possible to do so and should be shown how he can do it. The tools for such an improvement have to be provided and training shall be given to apply these. That is not all – there has to be an incentive for trying to achieve a better performance. Constant encouragement is needed to see that the person carries on bravely despite setbacks and failures. The colleagues in any class/office should have a helpful attitude so that the person, trying to excel himself/herself, is neither isolated nor becomes a butt of ridicule, or in extreme cases, ostracism. The person who has succeeded after a string of failures is a happy and satisfied man. A mere pat on the back for a job well done is sufficient to encourage a person though monetary, gift in cash or kind or an increment, and promotion as an indication of management’s appreciation and recognition that can serve as a powerful motivator not only for that individual but for others is welcome.

Each student/staff member has a potential waiting to be tapped. Every opportunity should be given to the bright students/staff members to take up additional responsibilities, such as student/office leadership, so that he can continue to accept challenges rather than engage himself in a running battle with his colleagues who might impede his progress.

Human beings crave for attention and recognition, whether it is at school / college/office, home, sports field, art or business. It is not always possible to reward an achiever by monetary incentive. All that person wants is recognition by the superior, and his colleagues, that he is a valuable member of the team contributing his best. While a teacher/superior may be quick to reprimand his student(s)/staff member(s) for anything that goes wrong, he is stingy with praises. Praising a student/staff member in front of others is a tremendous ego booster. The trend is to encourage multi-tasking.

Development of leadership qualities should be given attention in order to recognise a talented person who could provide the much-needed leadership to a group of people. A leader is always on the lookout for anyone who has the potential to blossom into a leader of men. Thus, no effort should be spared to give the much-needed impetus for leadership development, which is seen as an opportunity for better performance.

An ordinary person/student/staff member who is directly entering into IT business has to cope with the burgeoning use of computers practically in every walk of life. For instance, PCs have made deep inroads into Indian homes. Thanks to the E Mail, cyber chat and others, very few students/staff members would like to be left behind in using computers for their studies/work. With the click of a mouse, he can access the website of any top notch educational institute anywhere in the world to seek details of courses offered and make on-line application. He can access any airline / train schedule and book a ticket for himself. If one knows the PNR number one can find out one’s rail reservation status in seconds instead of phoning lines, which are always busy or commute long distance to the railway reservation counters. With the internet banking, a customer has a choice – not to go to the bank but carry out all the transactions – credit, debit, status of account et al from the comfort of one’s home. Gone are the days where one had to issue cheques and stand in a line to pay electricity, water, and telephone bills. Banking through the electronic way, like the ECS, has saved much of the hassles. For some customers, such a change is too drastic and they will need more time mentally to get used to the ‘paper-less’ way. Students/staff members should become Internet savvy at the earliest.

Communication is an art as well as science. One might know all the rules for good communication but fail to use these properly. Some are born teachers/lecturers/communicators whose very body language impresses the students/subordinates. A formal or an informal meeting, preferably in small groups of about twenty persons, serves as a good platform to communicate, up and down. The teacher/superior may make a briefing and throw the meeting open for comments, criticisms and suggestions. He can then communicate with his superiors after getting a direct feedback. In a department, the teacher / lecturer/head of the department may have structured meetings with his students/staff members on a weekly/monthly schedule. In fact, some of these meetings could be held in a conference/office room or even outside to make such meetings meaningful and in a relaxed environment free from the daily routine pressures.

Each teacher/superior has to develop his / her own style of communication with the students/staff members concerned. Without a proper communication the goals of the department cannot be appreciated by everyone. Complex matters can be understood only when there is a one-to-one communication. The more time is spent on communication the better for improved understanding, cooperation and efficiency.

Students/staff members would like to know what is happening before a notice is put up or they get such information from the grapevine. Communication is a way of impressing upon the students/staff members in an institution that the management cares for them and that they are treated as partners in progress. Such sharing of information, through a good communication system, is a sure way of bringing students/staff members together for the common good. This is certainly a confidence - building measure as far as the students/staff members are concerned. Thus communication serves as a powerful motivator for everyone to give his or her best. That is because the individuals think they are partners in the institution they are working for and they too have a stake in the well being of the organisation. Every student/staff member is expected to do something positive that would enhance the prestige of the educational institution he / she is studying/working.

The more responsibility a student/staff member gets, the better it is for his self-development as well for building confidence in his ability as a multi-dimension person. An educational institution has to plan the career development of each student/staff member. Rotation of jobs and developing multi-skills are assuming greater importance in view of an open market economy.

The trend is to have smaller viable units, which are lean and strong. This means each student/staff member, a potential employee, is trained to handle a variety of jobs to increase flexibility. Students/staff members who get such an exposure of the future workplace would be grateful for such advanced information.

It is said, “Man can move mountains,” in a metaphorical sense that a highly motivated person could do wonders. Each individual has set his / her own standard for performance depending upon that person’s self interest. But a change in attitude is possible if the individual is convinced that what is good for the organization is also good for him/her.

It would be helpful if students/staff members learn a few simple statistical tools that would prove useful to them during their studies/work/career. For example, one of the problem solving technique is ‘fishbone’ diagram that is nothing but ‘cause-and-effect’. From this one could put down on a piece of paper/blackboard what could be all the possible reasons for any problem – for instance poor attendance at school/college/work. From the diagram, which could be drawn after discussion in a group after a ‘brainstorming’ session, with everyone contributing to the discussions, it is possible to pinpoint the major as well as minor causes that result in poor attendance. This is known as ‘Pareto Analysis’ that is ‘Major-Minor Factor’ or the ’80-20’rule. This would enable the group to recommend possible solutions to overcome the problem under discussion. Another simple tool is the chart, a visual representation that helps better understanding.

We need students/staff members who are highly motivated to excel in whatever profession they would chose as career. Ethics is an important aspect of anyone’s work culture. That person has to maintain high standards of ethics that would create a role model for others. Thanks to liberalisation and globalisation, one has to compete with the best to get a coveted position in a prestigious organisation. A pleasing personality that could vibe with the other team members has an edge over another who prefers to work alone. Leadership is an aspect that is receiving more and more attention as a dynamic leader, be it sports, education, office or business could make a big difference to the fortunes of an organisation. Innovation is the buzzword that is appreciated by an employer. Such gifted individuals could inspire others to excel in their endeavours.

To aim for excellence in one’s chosen field should be the topmost priority. It needs highly motivated individuals who would put in their best towards that target they have set themselves by their own free will. But he/she would not do anything unethical or undercut others or harm others in his/her quest to achieve something big. In this fast changing world, with new innovations emerging almost regularly, a person has to keep track of these developments and upgrade his/her knowledge and skills. Continuing education / certification would be highly desirable so as not to be left behind by younger smarter ones who would enter the educational institutions and later on industry / business sector. A culture of continuous improvement in each and every person’s domain of study or work is what an organisation needs to stay competitive and serve as a benchmark.

About the Author
D B N Murthy is an Electrical / Telecommunication engineer. He has worked in Indian Telephone Industries Ltd., Bangalore and Philips India Ltd., Pune as Quality Manager. He is a life member of various organizations such as Indian Statistical Institute and Quality Circles of India and a Fellow Member of Institution of Electronics & Telecommunication Engineers.

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