Father ED McGrath, former director XLRI passed on to eternity on August 4, 2017.
I vividly recall the first assignment I received as a student at XLRI, Jamshedpur. I had to write a summary of any article from a business journal, in two pages.
It was my second day at the institution and this assignment was due in two days. There were plenty of articles to choose from. Therefore, making a selection was far from easy. I neither wanted to opt for something simple nor something abstruse.
Finally deciding on an article, I read it in my room, and tried to make sense of it. It was my first serious reading of a business article, so I read it several times. Since the assignment was on writing a summary, I could not simply reproduce it without reading, remembering, understanding and writing it in my own words. Projects, such as this got me into the practice of not just reading but comprehending.
The following week’s task was seemingly easy and looked more like a game. We were divided into groups of three, where one was an observer, while the other two were speakers. A controversial topic was chosen and one person spoke, while the other repeated the same to the satisfaction of the speaker. The observer acted as a monitor.
The exercise seemed simple in theory, but when actually put into practice required effort. It is a valuable skill to possess for negotiations and a happy marriage!
Some of the topics for our speech practice were as follows:
The world goes forward because of those who oppose it.
Why unions are still necessary.
Take time to smell the flowers.
Fr. EH McGrath SJ wanted us to be persuasive in our speech and his words still echo in my mind; “Tell them what you want to tell them. Tell them and close with a summary of telling them what you have told them.”
He explained the benefits of going from concrete examples to the concept that bound those examples and not the other way around. Creating these mental pictures in the minds of listeners helps in understanding. Here’s a simple example. Kanchenjunga, Everest and K2 are mountains. While the mountains that have been named are concrete examples, ‘mountains’ is the concept that categorises them.
Fr. McGrath, popularly called Fr. Maggie, the then Director of XLRI, ran an extremely popular course called Basic Managerial Skills, when I studied there. Through this, he strived to ensure that we learnt threshold managerial competencies. I still remember a class being held on Wednesdays and I, for one, never missed a single class. My classmates seemed to have the same enthusiasm as I did, because they were never absent in that course either! Though lectures were simple in terms of their usage of reading, writing, listening, decision making, conflict resolution or organising, we were able to grasp the concept of management as a science. While we approached management scientifically, Fr. Maggie’s inputs helped us develop it into a fine art as well.
I recall other fun sessions on how to introduce speakers to audiences. We had engaging exercises that involved hypothetical scenarios, such as introducing Vishwanathan Anand to students of class six, or Amitabh Bachchan to the Calcutta Medical Association.
An important learning for me was to introduce the audience to the speaker as well. Thus, everyone became active participants in the existing setting, and the entire speaking experience was then further enhanced.
As part of organising and reaching out, we engaged with a school for spastic children and arranged for the students to paint a few walls on our campus. The children brought the whole area to life with splashes of colour, designs and motifs. Suddenly, a dull area was transformed into something pleasing. Small tokens, gifts and recognition only motivated the children. Thus, we learnt to create value, by being resourceful with limited resources and involving the community.
A while after I had graduated and been working for some time, I happened to be looking at Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning. This was a model created in 1956 by a team of psychologists under Dr. Benjamin Bloom in order to encourage higher forms of thinking in education. Here is a graphical representation:
I found that Fr. Maggie’s classes and pedagogy taught us not only to apply, analyse and evaluate but also create. Vivid memories of conflict resolution, with mock unions and management talks flashed before me, during certain long-term agreements I had helped co-create in recent years.
In a very unassuming manner, Father McGrath was an exemplary teacher. While Bloom’s Taxonomy speaks of six levels, Fr. Maggie took us to a further seventh level, which is to “share”.
My family and I paid a visit to Fr. McGrath four years ago and spent some time with him. Esther Larisa David, our daughter, captures the transition of a Man to an Institution:
“The first thing you feel when you enter Fr. McGrath’s room is warmth, both physical and emotional. The few hours with Father McGrath were the highlight of our visit to XLRI, that year. I see how the Institute has shaped my father, and what determines the value of an education institution, its guides and professors. I wish more teachers were like Father McGrath and I hope he lives on in the many generations of XLRI students.”
Excerpt from the book ‘The Legendary Fr. Ed McGrath: Revered Teacher, Inspiring Forever’
Father McGrath passed on to eternity on August 4, 2017. I am indebted to him for the lessons imparted by him, which have lasted a lifetime and will continue to guide and inspire me.
I bid him adieu in gratitude!
(The author is director, Tata Management Training Centre (TMTC))