Relentless Pursuit of Excellence

“You have been dealt with a set of cards, don’t go looking for a joker,” said Arjun Malhotra at a one of the IIT Alumni meets.

Back in 2001, I stumbled upon my Guru during my quest for understanding foundational philosophy. When I asked him what he thought the purpose of life is, he said, “The purpose of life is to be excellent at everything you do.” When I asked him, how would I know what is excellent from my perspective, he said I would know it when I surrender myself. The force of achieving excellence (which is control-centric) and letting-go (which is like giving up control) seem to be opposing. The quest of achieving the balance defines our individual success.

Beyond my spiritual Guru’s teachings, I have picked up few simple lessons from leaders in professional and personal life in my relentless pursuit of excellence.

  • Always say we did it and not I did it,” said manager on my first job where I was leading a team on various process improvement projects. In his 4E leadership model, Jack Welch, one of the world’s most respected CEOs, highlights something similar. He too recognizes the importance of sharing credit with the team – even taking it one step further and suggesting that leaders both share credit and own blame.  Years later this is still the time-tested underpinning of successful teams that I have been associated with – both at for-profit and nonprofit organizations.
  • Be tough and fair,” said a manager under whom I first assumed an official managerial/leadership role. He kidded with me that the student has become a teacher today and advised in striking a balance between being objective and showing empathy. I have lived this philosophy by encouraging and supporting willing, capable, committed behavior and drawing a hard line on inefficiency and complacency.
  • The devil is in the details,” he said later when he gave me the reins of operations planning. Around the same time, another manager enlightened me with the knowledge of 7Ps – Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. The simple rule of thumb – “Make a Plan, Work the Plan“, helps you to be better prepared and to explain the deviation from plan. “Sometimes you got to create a simple model and view the business through a spreadsheet,” said a leader who not only wielded magic through his models but used it to drive results throughout his organization.
  • There is effort involved even when rowing in calm water,” said a manager who was leading transformation at a couple of business. He was quick to point out that being recognized as a “nice person” by the extended team doesn’t really matter if you are unable to get things done.
  • 95% practice, 5% theory,” said Pattabhi Jois the founder of Ashtanga Yoga. This philosophy is diligently followed by fellow Ashtanga yogis and yoginis both on and off the mat. Ashtanga Yoga is a method of Yoga which stresses on achieving excellence by training body and mind through constant practice. S.N. Goenka said in his Vipassana meditation classes, that one can achieve excellence through persistence and mindfulness.

“You have been dealt with a set of cards, don’t go looking for a joker,” said Arjun Malhotra at a one of the IIT Alumni meets. In the next 30 mins, he discussed how the decisions he made at various points in his career/personal life made him what he is today. Arjun Malhotra wrapped up his keynote by saying, “today I am on the stage not to give you “Gyan” but to ask you what I should do next,” highlighting that continuous learning is key in the path of excellence. The concept of self-cultivation implies that you take time to be introspective and become aware of qualities you want to improve upon in order to better yourself. Once you are aware, you make plan/action to embrace, internalize, review and revise.

The pursuit of excellence is a relentless goal to achieve a balance between intent and action based on continuous learning from outcomes. I will end this blog with a line that instills inspiration of excellence, a line which my father always refers to, a quote from Ulysses by Alfred Tennyson,

” To follow knowledge like a sinking star beyond the utmost bounds of human thought.”

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