ECE Illinois - Professor Rao

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N. Narayana Rao

The 1998 Boss of the Year Award
and 1999 Speech

In 1998, Professor Rao received the Boss of the Year Award from the Secretariat,
the association of the secretarial staff of the University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign.



The criteria for the Award are the following:

  1. Perform his/her duties well and enthusiastically support UIUC and its programs;

  2. Routinely show consideration and support of others -- staff, colleagues, students, and visitors to office/campus;

  3. Perform courtesies beyond his/her daily responsibilities; and

  4. Exhibit other qualities that exemplify good leadership and organizational abilities.

In order to facilitate unbiased evaluations of each nomination letter, the nominee is always referred to as he or she, and not by name. Mention of department names or colleges is also not allowed.


It is customary for the outgoing Boss of the Year to say a few words at the Luncheon of the Secretariat, when the new Boss of the Year recipient is announced. Accordingly, Professor Rao delivered the speech on October 20, 1999, the text of which follows.

Speech for Secretariat Luncheon
N. Narayana Rao
October 20, 1999

You know, all my life I have been giving lectures to students in my classes, but I am not used to delivering speeches to audiences like you here. On top of it, I have this foreign accent. If it is my class, I can at least impress them on my knowledge of subject matter. But here, it is different. As the time approached, I started getting cold feet, because I didn't know what to say and how to put together a speech. At first, I thought I would retire and leave town so that I didn't have to do it. It almost happened, but a turn of events forced me not to retire. So back to square one.

Then I thought I would repeat my performance at the surprise 65th birthday dinner for one of my colleagues recently, where I gave the shortest speech of all the speakers. Speaker after speaker went to the podium and spent several minutes each saying all kinds of things about the colleague. At the end, the MC asked if anyone else would come to the podium and say a few words. So, I go there and tell them: You know, my wife always complains that when guests come to our house I don't talk much, and that is not nice. This is actually true, and in our circle of friends, I am known to be a man of few words. So, true to that, tonight I am going to say just two words about Bill, the first word is "perfect" and the second word is "gentleman," and I walked away. So, I thought I would simply say two words, the first word being "thank" and the second word being "you," and walk away. After sitting on the idea for a few days, I didn't feel good about it, because that would have qualified me to be the quietest boss but not necessarily the best boss. So, back to square one.

As I was struggling to figure out my next bright idea, this e-mail comes along from this guy in Texas, who keeps sending endless e-mails about teaching and all that. This particular e-mail had to do with "Habits of Highly Effective Teachers." I immediately said to myself "aha," and figured out that I would simply take his list of habits and convert it to "Habits of Highly Effective Bosses or Administrators," amounting to plagiarism. But that was OK, because I was in a bind. Anyway, the list goes like this:

1. Know what you're talking about. This applies to everything we do, not just teaching or administering.

2. Teach and lead by example. So, administer and lead by example.

3. Respect your students. Converts to: Respect your employees

4. Motivate your students. Change to: Motivate your employees.

5. Construct a set of instructional objectives for each of your courses.

At this point, it was getting complicated, and I gave up. Back to square one.

Then I contemplated, may be I should prepare a list of "Habits of Highly Ineffective Bosses," but I decided not to proceed with it, because I thought it will make a good project to take up after retirement and I wouldn't want to leak any of it in advance of the book. Back to square one and more scratching of head.

As days passed by, I was getting very frustrated. Finally, something happened and everything clicked and here I am like a pro. It was last Friday that things fell into place. I guess last Saturday was the so-called Bosses' Day. Whoever decided to designate a Saturday as Bosses' Day should be admired. It must be some clever secretaries. They figured out that by having Bosses' Day on a Saturday, they don't have to take their bosses to lunch and all that. Anyway, it was Friday afternoon. Sheryle went home to get her washing machine fixed or some such thing. Laurie walks into my office with some envelope in her hand and says: You know, Professor Rao, tomorrow is Bosses' Day and we almost forgot to get you a card. Anyway, here is the card. Immediately, it clicked in my mind and I said to myself, there is the essence of my speech next Wednesday. Spontaneously, I say to her: "You know why. Because I don't act like a boss." Laurie then says: "Yes, you are like one of us."

So, the essence of my speech today is I believe a best boss is one who does not act like a boss and yet gets all the things done in the most efficient manner, and more. Don't ask me how it all comes together because for some lucky people, it comes naturally. Nevertheless, I wish to say just three of the things that I believe in and practice:

1. Treat your secretaries like people, not like secretaries, although you might refer to them by that word. Understand that people have different personalities and treat them accordingly. Associate their personalities with those of members of your family, your friends, etc. People that you don't forget even when you are in heavenly Bali, just like you don't forget your family and friends.

2. Treat them with the same respect and dignity that you expect to receive from them.

3. Do not expect them to be perfect. No one is perfect. I am not perfect. You are not perfect.

For a man of few words, I just gave the longest speech of my life. To conclude, I wish to introduce my people who are here. They are known as secretaries. But to me, more importantly, they are people, my people. I am known as their boss. But more importantly, I am one of the people they work with. So, here they are.

Sheryle Carpenter, Laurie Fisher, Mary Parsons, Sherry Beck, Rody Negangard, and Shirley Dipert, and all the others who are not able to be here.

It is needless to say that their work is much appreciated. Without them, the department cannot function. Likewise, the work of you all is much appreciated by the university at large. Without you, the university cannot function. Thank you very much for this opportunity.


Past winners of the Boss of the Year Award are:

Pat Askew, 1990

Gary Heichel, 1994

Connie O'Guinn, 1991

Terry Ruprecht, 1995

Howard Wakeland, 1992

Dan Simeone, 1996

Lynne Hellmer, 1993

Patricia O'Morchoe, 1997


Subsequent winners of the Boss of the Year Award are:

Charles E. Olson, 1999