Being a Star at the Workplace : Feature Article; V4 Issue 1

I think we all want to be stars and enjoy the limelight. One place we can be a star is at our workplace. I watched a movie last week and was in no doubt that what I had witnessed was some exemplary performance by the lead actor. I did not need a film critic or my friends who had also seen the movie to tell me that. That’s how superb acting is - easy to tell. How about superb performance at the workplace? Do we know when we see it? Perhaps, not so easily!

Signs of star performance

Who is a star performer at the workplace? Is it the person who contributes the most in a team or the person team members turn to for help? Let’s look at some tests we can run to find out.

Once I had a consultant, let’s call him Suhas, whose work I was very happy with. When I mentioned this to Suhas’ manager he said it was only expected because Suhas was a high performer. Later when I had some other consultants from the same firm working for us, they mentioned how much they admired Suhas and his work. I did not know it then, but what I had experienced was a star performer in action at the workplace. So, the first test is whether you are considered an excellent performer not only by your manager, but also by your peers and customers. I like to call this the ‘Acceptance by all test’. This test’s beauty is that it rules out those high producers whose tactics are such that while producing they harm the organization/team, thus negating any positive contribution that they make.

The second test is whether the person consistently exceeds expectations ie., not only exceeds expectations in one project or in a quarter but in all projects and in every quarter. This is the ‘Consistency test'. It helps rule out people who hit a century in a match but fail to accumulate a high average of runs. Indications? - Numerous and not one off awards, honors, performance bonuses, patents, publication credits etc.

The final test is the ‘Productivity test’. It is not about whether he/she dreams, talks or plans well but whether he/she actually produces a lot compared to his peers. Is his/her contribution towards the organization and team’s success substantial? Simply put, does he/she make a mark?

I think we can safely say that if a person passes all of the above tests he/she be considered a star. However what makes stars shine brighter than others. Are they smarter? Do they relate to people better? Apparently it’s none of these.

Strategies for consistently delivering a stellar performance

Robert Kelley, a Carnegie Mellon professor has written a book called ‘How to be a Star at Work: Nine Breakthrough Strategies You Need to Succeed’. It is the result of 10 years of scientific investigation at companies like 3M and AT&T. Kelley examined how stars operate, searching for some differentiating factor between the ‘average’ worker and the ‘star’. His surprising conclusion was that there is no difference with regard to cognitive factors (IQ, creativity), personality (self-confidence, ambition) and social factors (interpersonal skills, leadership). Stars are just like you or me, but they use certain work strategies that can be learned.

Here are the strategies that Kelley identified. While at a glance some of the strategies may seem commonplace, a star’s approach to them is different.

In addition to these I would say the following strategies will also help.

  1. Initiative: Average performers think initiative is doing one’s job well by figuring out better ways to do it, like using a tape recorder to take down a meeting’s minutes. For stars however that is not initiative but doing one’s job. For them Kelley says initiative means doing something above and beyond your job description, helping other people, taking some amount of calculated risks and seeing an activity through to completion. So, before you take on anything new, make sure that you're doing your assigned job well. Social initiatives like organizing the company picnic cannot be considered initiative. The initiatives that matter to your career are those that promote the company's core mission.
  2. Networking: Stars use networks to multiply their productivity. They figure out who can supply what ‘they don't know but need to know’ and cultivate relationships with those people. Stars’ approach to networking is different from average performers. They don’t consider the help their network can extend as their right and call someone they don't know well and simply demand help. Instead they help out a lot of people before asking anyone for help in return. For this you have to have expertise that people need but don't already have and be patient.
  3. Self Management: While average performers see self-management as time management, stars see it as managing not only one’s work but also one’s relationships with people and ones’ career over time. The average performer after finishing a project go to the boss and ask, "What do you want me to do next?" .The star starts looking around six months before a project is done and asks, " What assignment should I tackle next that would make me more valuable for the company/in the marketplace?" Stars select their next project before they finish the current one and then try to bag the ‘identified’ assignment. To manage yourself better, understand the company goals and align yourself with its core business, so that you contribute more directly to its larger purpose. You can’t become a star by changing who you are. So turn ‘how you work’ into an advantage. Continuously learn and never think you ‘know it all’. Stars recognize the value of seeking out strong mentors and peers. They are not afraid to ask for help and guidance.
  4. Organisation savvy: This means knowing whom to trust, whom to avoid, who make things happen in the organization and knowing how to navigate all of the competing interests within the organization. It means paying attention to conflicts. You can develop organization savvy by keeping your eyes open to what goes on in the organisation. Observe the stars and learn what works and what doesn't work in your environment.
  5. Getting the big picture: Average performers see the world only from their viewpoint. Star performers see things in a much bigger way. They adopt different perspectives that of competitors, customers, colleagues and boss etc. Though perspective comes partly from experience, it's something you can work on. After each project, ask yourself “What did I learn?” .Then seek out an assignment that will give you a different kind of experience - even if conventional wisdom says it's not a high profile job. Take process administration. People don't like to do it, because it's kind of boring. You are maintaining existing processes and not creating anything new. Most average performers think of it as drudgery that won't help them get ahead. But lots of stars do their time in process administration. It gives them a chance to see a lot of processes. They can apply the learning to create new and improved processes in the future.
  6. Followership: Followership means knowing that everyone can't always lead and that one has to help those in charge to do the best they can. If they think the leader is going off in the wrong direction, they know how to disagree without being disagreeable and without undermining the leader's authority with the team. To be a good follower, focus on the project's needs and on the leader's needs. Don't try to score a brownie point for yourself, instead try to make wins happen for the team. Also, being a good follower means figuring out what to do before being told, finding out how to do as much as you can without bothering your boss etc.
  7. Small ‘l’ leadership: This type of leadership is not about having a big vision or a charismatic personality but about the ability to bring people together to get things done. They do this by being knowledgeable, creating momentum, bringing energy to the job, creating energy in other people and paying attention to everyone who's involved. To be a small-l leader, start by understanding the people who are following you. Then do everything possible to build momentum. Make sure that meetings get called, that the agenda gets set, and that things don't slip through the cracks.
  8. Communication: Stars don’t over communicate, they communicate thoughtfully. They understand how powerful words can be. They know how to use the right message with the right audience at the right time. They do this by understanding the audience and using the language which will move them. Average performers don't listen well. As a result, they miss necessary insights on the business and about their own effectiveness which stars don’t.
  9. Team work: Stars look at teams differently from others. They say, "I've got only so much time. Do I absolutely need this team - or does this team absolutely need me - to make something important happen?" And once stars are on a team, they become very good team players- making sure that everyone on the team knows and buys into its goals, that the work gets distributed in a way that makes sense and that's fair to everyone, that the team actually gets the job done.
  10. Doing what you love: You can do a job well when you like what you are doing. Of course it may not be always possible due to economic considerations. How about then taking up something close to what you would love to do. Say you love to paint, but can’t make enough money out of it. Then try finding a job which gives you an opportunity to be creative.
  11. Putting in10,000 hours: Malcom Gladwell in his book ‘Outliers, The story of Success’ examined what the stars in business, science , sports and music have in common. His discovery? Every one of them had put in 10,000 hours of practice as compared to their peers who had the same talent as them. This means the more you do something, the better the chances of achieving extraordinary results in it.


And if you think implementing all the above strategies requires too much effort, then just consider the rewards enjoyed typically by star performers in organizations.

  • Others’ admiration: While the pride of doing a job well and better than others is rewarding in itself admiration from others is always welcome. Family is proud of the ‘Well done’ plaque displayed at home. Friends rejoice at your achievements.
  • Job security: Research shows that people at the top of any profession will always have a well-paying, secure job.
  • Monetary benefits: Stars get rewarded with higher performance bonus, higher salary increments associated with increase in responsibility levels etc.
  • Self confidence: Being patted on the back increases one’s confidence in one’s abilities. Ever felt self confident about something and experienced a sense of well being. Imagine feeling that most of the times at the workplace.
  • High work engagement: You won’t hear an “I don’t know what I am doing with my life,” complaint from stars. While they may not have a plan for the future, the stars usually feel they are in the right place just now.
  • More control: The stars enjoy more discretion in choosing their work. They get to pick the best projects, locations, departments and team members.


Now tell me who doesn’t want to be a star performer at the workplace? There is a star in each one of you. Make it shine!


  Kelley , R. E, ‘How to Be a Star at Work: Nine Breakthrough Strategies You Need to Succeed’,Times Books, 1998

  Webber, A, M, ‘Are You a Star at Work?’, Dec 18, 2007

  Raffoni ,M,‘Three Questions Executives Should Ask for the New Year’, January 4, 2010

  Gladwell , M,‘Outliers: The story of success’,2008,Penguin Group

Being and Effective Mentor : Feature Article, Nov'07

One of the important ways to develop your career is by having a good mentor. But did you know you can develop your career not only by being mentored, but by mentoring others. Now before you switch off from this subject thinking you are too junior in your company to be a mentor, do read further to find out more about mentoring. Then decide whether you can be a mentor and whether it is worthwhile being one!

Understanding mentoring

A mentor is one who offers knowledge, insight, perspective or wisdom that is especially useful to the other person. He is a career counselor, a coach, a guide, a motivator, a role model and a teacher.  A mentor’s role is to help the mentee reach his/her goals.

A mentee is a person being mentored by another person; especially one who makes an effort to assess, internalize and use effectively the knowledge, skills, insights, perspective or wisdom offered by the mentor.

A mentoring relationship is mentee-centered. The mentor listens, sometimes challenges, offers insights and encourages. The relationship needs reasonably frequent and consistent contact. Both partners contribute, change and grow. In an informal mentoring relationship someone takes an interest in us, or we in them. A formal mentoring relationship has an acknowledged commitment of time and energy for the purpose of guiding and sharing. Both types can be for specific projects or for extended time periods.

You need not be in a senior role in the company to become a mentor. Yes, being a mentor to somebody if you are just out of college is difficult, but if you have worked successfully for a couple of years you have the basic qualification required for being a mentor. However, all successful people do not necessarily make effective mentors; certain individuals are more effective in the role of developing others. Whether or not an individual is suited to the role of mentor may depend on his or her own stage of development and experience. So what else does it take to be a good mentor?


Characteristics of a good mentor

Some of the common characteristics of good mentors are:-

  1. Genuine interest in and commitment to others’ growth: Mentoring requires that you be sincerely interested in someone else’s growth and be willing to motivate and support others to learn and grow. A mentor can significantly influence another person’s life. Time and energy over a period of time is necessary for such a relationship. You must be able to devote the same to your mentee.

  2. Approachable and welcoming: A mentor should be easy to talk to so that the mentee can talk about anything with the mentor, not just a technical subject. And it is so much easier to talk to a person who is warm and encouraging. Establishing a good rapport with mentee is important for being approachable.

  3. Good listener: Your focus should be to LISTEN LISTEN LISTEN!! Listening carefully will help you understand the perspective of the mentee and this will in turn help you cater to the individual needs of each mentee.

  4. Gives advice without dictating actions: Help your mentees organize their own thoughts. Help with their focus. Help them think about what they can do to be successful, not what you did to be successful. Understand their problems and offer solutions. But be clear that any decisions made should be made by them. They have to figure things out for themselves.

  5. Encourages independence yet offers support: Encourage your mentee to be independent. Also offer support by sharing your knowledge and experience, including successes and failures. A good mentor should stick up for and look out for the best interests of the person being mentored. Being aware of resources and support systems within the company will aid you in the same

  6. Good role model through actions and words: Mentors must provide a good example of a successful career. They must demonstrate what they are advising. Having someone tell you what you should do carries much less weight than seeing someone act it out.

  7. Encourages and demonstrates confidence in mentee: A key characteristic of a good mentor is the "I-know-you-can-do-it’ attitude. As a mentor you must believe in your mentee’s capabilities and ability to succeed. This will also help build your mentee’s self-confidence. Offer constructive criticism as well as compliments to encourage him/her.

  8. Exhibits patience: People can't be expected to learn all at once. Remember that you didn't know everything all the time. So patience will help you push your mentees gently towards their goal achievement.

  9. Willing to admit they don't know everything: Individuals who are still willing and able to learn make good mentors. This also includes an ability to accept different points of view.

  10. Inspires trust: A mentor should respect the confidentiality of the mentoring relationship. The discussions held during the relationship is solely for the purpose of developing the mentee and not for any other purpose like finding out what the mentee thinks so that he/she can be manipulated to meet one’s ulterior motives.

So does it look like you have the making of good mentor? If yes, read further to find out why you should consider taking up the role of a mentor.


Benefits of being a mentor

According to research sponsored by AOL Time Warner Foundation and conducted by Pathfinder Research and Market Facts, 99% of people who mentor through formal mentoring programs recommend it to others.  A mentor once said, "I didn't know in advance how rewarding it was going to be, so I was worried about the responsibility of giving my time consistently.  The irony is that once I started doing it, I didn't want to miss a session."

While mentoring others does help in your career development they also provide you with many other benefits as listed below:-

How can anybody become a mentor?

OK now you are all charged up and want to be a mentor and it strikes you that you don’t know how to find your mentee. Start by looking around in your workplace. You are likely to find a candidate among your own team members. However, it is best that you do not mentor somebody who reports to you to avoid conflicts between work and mentoring goals. You can even identify somebody from another department since your mentee need not necessarily be from the same profession like Finance or Sales.
If you are known for your knowledge and expertise in the company, mentees will come looking for you. In that case examine your time commitments before committing to a mentoring relationship.

Your company may ask for volunteers to be mentors for the formal “mentoring” or in the case of junior people “buddy” programs. Go ahead and volunteer! Unlike formal mentoring programs, in informal mentoring relationships, you will have to take more initiative to maintain it and get the best out it.


Why do people become mentors? The answers vary. Some of us just want to be a positive influence on others, or give something to their community. And some of us were fortunate to have had a mentor and want to repay that by mentoring others. What ever is your reason for being a mentor, you will find it a rewarding experience. Nothing can beat the satisfaction of seeing somebody reach their goals and achieve their dreams in front of you.



  • Reh, F. J, “Mentors and Mentoring: What is a mentor?”, .
  • Reh, F. J, “Mentors and Mentoring: Being a Mentor”, .
  • “What characteristics does a good mentor have?”,,1607,7-193--82397--,00.html .
  • Saul, J, “Creating Mentoring Relationships”,
  • Megginson D and Clutterbuck D, 1995, “Mentoring in action”, Kogan Page Limited, London.

Ask the Expert: Aug '07

I have just become a manager of a set of people and I feel I need to make some changes in the way we work. Unfortunately I am facing a lot of resistance from my subordinates, although I have explained clearly the need for change.

There is a natural tendency for people to resist change even if the changes one wants to implement are essential. Once people adapt to an environment and are sure of their role within it, any change will threaten the needs (comfort, satisfactory relationships etc) that are met by the status quo ie. the way things are. Some ways to make change easier are:-

  • Give your subordinates some time to accept you as their manager. They are still getting used to you. Acceptance of you will lead to a greater acceptance of the changes you propose. Once you demonstrate your job capability, your ability to lead them and your genuine concern for their well being, they will accept you.
  • Anticipate your subordinates’ concerns and address them. Give them opportunities to express their feelings. Answer their questions completely. Assure your full support in all implementation plans.
  • Share your vision for the change and for your work group. Emphasize the benefits the change will bring to each of them.
  • Involve them in decisions whenever possible especially those which impact them directly. They need to own the change to be able to implement it effectively.


One keeps hearing about how continuous learning is important to do well in one’s career. How do I learn without attending training programs which are expensive and time consuming?

You are absolutely right! To grow in your career you must continuously learn and develop your skills and knowledge. The will to learn is important. If you are in continuous learning mode you can learn every month, every week and every day. There are several ways to learn apart from a training program. Some of them are:-

  • Learn on the job by soliciting feedback from others about your work, doing some self reflection of what you did right and wrong, discussing with other colleagues and observing their work
  • Read relevant books and articles. Subscribe to relevant magazines to be in touch with the latest in your industry.
  • Be part of online/offline groups that hold discussions on your area of work.
  • Take an online course which will work out more economical and give you flexibility of choosing the time you want to devote to learning.
  • Find someone inside or outside the company who has already mastered the new skills to act as a coach and clarify your doubts.
  • Exchange questions and experiences with a “learning partner”, someone who is learning the same skill. If you cannot find a learning partner in your group or company, look for groups on the Internet who are interested in the subject.

However for you to successfully learn relevant skills you must identify what you need to learn. Make sure the learning areas directly help in improving your work related skills. Then develop a learning plan that includes what you need to learn, learning resources you will use, a schedule of learning activities and measures of learning achievement.


I know my top management is capable and have employees’ best interests at heart. But then why don’t they communicate important developments to employees. We have to rely on the grapevine to get company updates.  

While it is top management’s responsibility to communicate adequately with employees, don’t let that stop you from approaching them and clarifying any concerns that you have. When you meet them explain your concern positively. Try and understand their perspective on issues just as you want them to understand yours. If they say they will clarify later, ask for their commitment on the same and follow up on the same if you don’t hear from them.  

Mostly top management does not communicate for one of the following reasons:-

  • Certain developments may not be final and communicating it too soon may have a negative impact.
  • If there is bad news, they don’t want to alarm the employees by giving it immediately without having first formed a strategy to address the problem.
  • Overloading employee with information is not good. So, they have to be choosy about what to communicate and in the process topics you are interested in may get left out.
  • Some information by its very nature may not be for public consumption eg., financials of a private company. If you ask them they will explain it to you, but it will not be circulated to everybody to avoid leakage to outsiders etc.

Often information gets distorted through rumours. So, discount any rumours you have heard. You should definitely highlight your concern to top management directly. It’s likely that your manager will also be able to clarify. You may want to ask him/her first.

And, read carefully information about the company that is available to you - company highlights sent on emails and in newsletters, company news in media etc. Often one tends to read it hurriedly thinking it does not affect me.