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President’s men and perception management tragedy

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President Buhari

This is not about competence and suitability of the president’s spokesmen and strategists. They are just victims of certain circumstances beyond their control.

Some of us who have had the privilege of covering the presidency for years have had some knowledge of how the State House works and how complicated it can be for reputation managers.

Most times, public relations tragedies may depend on some critical factors that that may not be far removed from the attitude of the President.

We may sometimes hide under Afghanistanism in journalism and some insincerity in our purpose to blame a cabal or the president’s men for some complications inside the sprawling State House.

But we can’t hide from the truth that the real determinant of public relations outcomes, which shapes perception, most times is the attitude of the chief executive of the federation.

There is little or nothing a Frank Jefkins can do to enhance the reputation of government or governance system of an unserious, mediocre chief executive who primarily lacks social and executive intelligence that can trigger some dynamic capabilities, which can shape good reputation and brand equity.

That is why most times we are so impetuous in blaming communications/reputation managers when their principals display gross irresponsibility and incompetence in office.

And here is the thing, from manifestations and responses from Abuja and the peripheries of the centre; it appears that the big men in the nation’s capital do not care a hoot about public perception of their actions.

It seems to me that they do not care about the expediency of risk assessment of their actions and in actions. It is clear that they hardly sit down to ask questions about how most Nigerians from all walks of life perceive their acts, policies and politics.

It also appears that they do not care about reputation management even as they prepare for general elections. Perhaps because our leaders do not need good reputation to win election, they are hardly afraid of the people power even in election periods.

They always feel they do not need the people. They have always had their ‘fantastic analytical’ before Cambridge’s.

In the main, this is worrisome. Why would leaders care less about their reputation and perception of the people? Perhaps they do not know that it will certainly come to passthat all the old ways of winning elections will fade away and the people’s vote will count sooner than later.

And so victory will someday depend on performance index determined solely by the people, not through any analytics and some ghosts.

Then the president, the governors and the lawmakers would be forced to know the value of political/governance management modules called reputation and perception management in public service. This is inevitable in the organised private sector (OPS) where almost everything is customer-eccentric.

And so without good reputation, you will fail instantly. So it is in most working democracies where the people are feared and their perception matters a great deal.

What are we talking about here?

Perception management, the point at issue here, is a term originated by the US military. “Perception” is defined as the process by which individuals select, organize, and interpret the input from their senses to give meaning and order to the world around them.

In the same vein, some other experts would tell us, perception is a process by which people translate sensory impressions into a coherent and unified view of the world around them.

Though necessarily based on incomplete and unverified (or unreliable) information, perception is equated with reality for most practical purposes and guides human behavior in general.

For those in the private sector, this is the art of managing customer-centricity. Here perception is a marketing concept that encompasses a customer’s impression, awareness and/or consciousness about a company or its offerings.

Most business dictionaries will tell us that customer perception is typically affected by advertising, reviews, public relations, social media, personal experiences and other channels.

According to Alfred Otara, a management and strategy expert of Kigali Institute of Education, organisations, perceptions of leaders, managers and employees shape the climate and effectiveness of the working environment.

Perception is the way we all interpret our experiences. Having the right perception is a significant skill for any effective leadership.

It is important to understand that perception is often portrayed through communication in any organisation be it big or small and therefore, it is a pertinent tool in leadership.

What sets great leaders apart is their ability to manage perceptions in the process of handling people and organizational issues.

What people often observe or assess as your ability to be a leader and your effectiveness becomes their perception, which in turn becomes reality.

It is not a new skill set. Psychological investigation of human behavior began with the study of perception by Wielheim Wundh in Germany, in1879. Since that time, it has been significant in understanding human behavior.

The important here revelation is that no two persons experience and interpret sensations, situations, or their own feelings the same way.

Just like lights, that sequentially flash on and off are perceived as motion, people use visual and auditory causes around them to interpret and react to their immediate environment.

It is a marvelous and difficult part of human behavior. This is why managers must realize that all individuals have different perceptions. People are not necessarily successfulby attempting to serve their values.

People do not, in fact, do what serves their values. They do what they perceive will serve their values.

First, this means that there is always a time gap between the brain’s consideration of a behavior and the behavior itself. Second, the processing that takes place in this time period is what can be referred to as perception.

Most of the time people believe that they are effective and efficient leaders using their perception but their supposed followers may have a very different perception.

In scientific community Berelson and Steiner in their book Human Behavior, define perception as the complex process by which people select and organize sensory stimulation into ameaningful and rational picture of the world.

We react to specific situations based on what we see rather than on what itreally is. Often we see only what we want to see in a given situation. Similarly how we react depends on what we hear, not necessarily on what was said.

Experts on this feel generally, leaders possess three major skills in many organizations i.e. that of vision, interpersonal skill and technical skill. We seldom forget one important skill that is vital for any leader.

That skill is perception. Having the right perception is a significant skill for any effective leadership.

It is important to understand that perception is often portrayed through communication in any organization be it big or small and therefore it is a pertinent tool in leadership.

A leader can have the best intentions and honest concern for his or her employees but if he does not communicate in manners that
employees can comprehend then their perception may work contrary to the right intentions.

That is the power or influence of perception in any leadership. A leader sensitive to perception of employees or the people must use communication as a tool to either reinforce a positive perception or change a negative one.

Having the right perception is not only about becoming competent, polyvalent and productive but also about nurturing diversity and being able to live with allemployees or people.

As Stan Moore has written, “Just because truth has been omitted, does not mean that truth is not true. Just because reality has not been perceived, does not mean that it is not real.”

Similarly, “reputation management” is the process by which you make sure that your company remains in good standing through the various media, web sites and search engines so that prospective clients, customers and people are directed to you and not to any third party or competitor.

It is for the same reason public officers and political leaders hire some professionals as special advisers on media and publicity, press secretaries to manage their reputation.

In this digital age, “reputation management” is fast becoming a process of making sure that your organization or agency or government maintains an active and engaging strong presence through traditional and social media.

In this age when David Osborne and Ted Gaebler have declared that entrepreneurial spirit is transforming the public sector through the instrumentality of “reinventing government” everywhere you go, it is curious that our leaders at all levels don’t care about how to “reinvent the government” they have promised to change.

They don’t care about how the people have perceived the change they promised three years ago…They don’t make conscious effort to hire perception management experts to measure how the people, (the voters) perceive them.

Besides, do they care about how the war on corruption has fared? Do they also find out whether people believe that they are secure because 104 out of 110 schoolgirls taken away by terrorists barely a month ago have been returned by the captors with fanfare? Do our leaders in Abuja and 36 state capitals know how people feel about the level of insincerity and hypocrisy inside governments at all levels?

If our leaders are conscious of the fact that they are quite unpopular with most of the people who enthusiastically voted for them three years ago, their wisdom about another term would not have been consumed in confidence they exude at the moment.

Do they bother to find out what the people now feel about the military institutions and authorities in the country? Do our big men in Abuja have some impression that the people are happy about the public and civil service profile at the moment?

Would our leaders at all levels like to find out from perception management experts how the people feel about the police force and internal security in the country today?

Do our National Assembly leaders care to find out what the people think about their jumbo allowances, absenteeism, dubious oversight functions even as poverty has been increasing? What do the major political parties, (governing and opposition) want the people to believe about them?

What do all these insensitive governors who would not like to pay even salaries despite N1.9 trillion worth of Paris Club refunds to them want us to do about them?

The conclusion of the whole question is this: what do the major political parties, notably the APC and PDP want to use to campaign for elections soon?

Specifically, the governing party and indeed the president should conduct some perception and reputation management examination on themselves.

That critical perception assessment should determine whether they have indeed fought corruption sincerely and secured the people according to their meretricious two-point agenda promised three years ago. John C. Maxwell seals this when he says, “change must happen within you before it can happen around you”.


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