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Of managing expectations
Published on: Saturday, July 08, 2017

By Datuk John Lo
FROM the dawn of history of mankind up to today some, by necessity, must lead and the majority to follow.

This is true in all human organisations, starting from families, villages, towns, cities, counties and nations.

There is a head in the family, so is there a leader in a nation, like the president or prime minister, irrespective of political ideologies or systems. The wellbeing of a country depends very much of the quality of leadership or, as in many countries, the lack of it. Good leadership is conducive for the well-being of the people.

The reverse is true. Bad leadership means sufferings for the people.

History is a great teacher. It has shown that only a few national leaders in the world whose good reputations can withstand the test of time. They become “giants” and “icons” in the mind of the people who will continue to value their legacies. The big majority are just “so so” of mediocracy only and have faded into oblivion.

Unfortunately, many have become notorious and fallen into ignominy. High quality leadership consists of many complex components. The most commonly talked about are charisma, credibility, accountability, personality, personal characters and policies. Not ever has been touched on in Malaysia is the management of expectations.

Management of people’s expectations has been huge in many advanced countries for a long time.

This can be seen in the recent British general election during which political parties and political leaders were working round the clock trying to predict voters’ expectations, how to meet these expectations and where possible, made attempt to shape these expectations to suit their manifestos. With the benefits of hind sights, Theresa May whose party had a comfortable majority before the election, ended with a minority government.

Her management of expectations had gone badly wrong. Her mistake was a bad miscue, thinking the British people would give her a strong mandate for Brexit negotiation.

In Malaysia, the management of expectations used to be very simple for the Malaysian social system was and to a lesser degree still the same, basically feudalistic. Its main features were

[a] Unquestioned respect for leaders, especially leaders with some government authority.

[b] The leaders were, by and large, quite honest.

[c] The people were basically farmers or small-time traders.

[d] People were easily contented. A radio or black and white TV was a big pride, a car was unimaginable.

[e] A simple timber house was all that was needed.

Like many countries in the 21st century, economic progress, education and the internet have brought momentous changes in the expectations of people.

Now, they want

[a] better education, minimum would be a college degree.

[b] Cars and more bigger cars. Have not seen a bicycle except the sports or recreation ones that cost thousands of Ringgits.

[c] Houses, the bigger the better. [d] Holidays, travel to exotic destinations.

[d] shopping for fashion clothes etc in London or New York.

[e] Good medical care.

[f] Retirement benefits.

[g] financial security. This list can go on endlessly.

Malaysians’ expectations, especially in social and economic facets, like in many countries that have achieved middle class status, have become varied and complex. Urban migrations from villages have added further complications to the social and economic equations.

Leaders can do 1 of 3 or a combination of three things in managing expectations.

There are

[a] meeting the people’s expectations.

[b] generating new expectations for the people.

[c] tempering expectations of the people. These three processes are very complex and demands the very best quality of leaders. Those who can do all three and are able to fine tune them are great leaders, like Deng Xiao Ping, Lee Kuan Yew. They have the strength of characters, quality of leadership, integrity and intellectual capacities to unite their people, steer them to achieve tremendous social and economic progress.

Have Malaysian leaders been able to cope with the rising expectation of Malaysians in the 21st century?

Up to a certain limited extent, yes, bearing in mind that Malaysia has made some solid progress in the last 30 years. However, leaders in recent years have fallen short in many areas for Malaysia has fallen behind in a number of critical areas.

Malaysian racial harmony and unity have always been an outstanding feature in our national life.

The worst blemish was May 13 riot. We have recovered from that.

During the good days of high commodities and booming oil prices, the leaders have generated expectations that can only be described as “unnatural exuberance” and clearly unsustainable in normal times.

Worse is that the leaders have generated expectations within a small selected group that, not having to work for it, they would enjoy great wealth, concessions, special treatment, “free this and free that”.

Many have become millionaires and billionaires. Now that oil prices have slummed, recovery to former level is very unlikely for a long time, this “privileged group”, including some leaders, is trying to keep their good time rolling by creating disunity using race and religion to protect their turf. Great shame to these “elites” that the majority of ordinary Malaysians are suffering from many economic hardships like GST and high food prices because of their uninhibited greed and reluctance to work and compete.

Looking into the future, the challenge is how are the leaders going to bring the expectations of these elites down to earth. If these expectations of “no effort great wealth” are not tempered or brought under control, then the economy will suffer for misallocation or misused of resources which at this time of great economic uncertainties, we can least afford to waste. The other question is – will the leaders have the political gumption and will to control the elites’ insatiable greed.

The leaders generated great expectations in education with the establishment of many additional universities and medical colleges. Mismatch in thinking and perceptions between the academic dons and industries have created a huge pool of hundreds of thousands of unemployed and unemployable graduates whose expectations and those of their parents, have been busted. So much disappointments now in these youthful minds that they have become a social and political problem. The people expect the leaders to act in appropriate ways to find jobs for them.

Instead they allow migrant workers to “invade” our country.

The same with housing. The leaders gave the expectation to deliver a house-ownership democracy Malaysians.

That expectation has gone with the wind for the young and less fortunate Malaysians. In the age of internet, smart phones and other IT gadgets which can spread information in unprecedent speed, no political parties can hope to have a “closed political environment” or “locked in” support base where the people can be kept in the dark. The people expect a more open society in which there are accountability and credibility.

They cannot put their hands in the national coffers, live lives of super luxury and get away with it.

These leaders will have to come clean, make adjustments and start look into on how to manage the peoples’ expectations in the age of the internet seriously. This expectation of openness and accountability must be embraced by the leaders if Malaysia wants to achieve international respect and high income.

Many leaders have pointed their fingers of blame for the loss of support in the urban centres.

Most of them are illogical and meaningless. Leaders who demand support as a right are out of date like the cavemen. Support will come automatically to them if they are good at expectation.

The blames should rightfully be laid at the doorsteps of these leaders. They have created a huge middle class but failed to recognise and meet their middle-class expectations, especially in the Klang Valley and Penang.

The reason for the leaders’ failure is simply that they, themselves, have failed to transform from the old feudal mind set to 21st century thinking. They expect people to stay to the feudal ways, still talk to the urban voters like masters to serfs. For lack of a unity vision, they want Malaysians to be disunited and segregated into racial and religious boxes, Malays, Chinese, Indians, Kadazans etc and Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and so on.

The true fact is that in the present circumstances, the Malaysians in the street are not the problems.

They are united. It is the leaders who are sowing seeds of discontent and disunity. They are the number 1 problem. I pray that the W Malaysian culture will not migrate to Sabah. We are not like them.

The federal leaders cannot take things for granted as far as Sabah and Sarawak are concerned.

Expectations are changing fast, especially among young voters. What was fixed deposit in the past can be withdrawn.

Sabah is much better off in the management of expectations. For a start, Sabahan leaders have done the right thing, unlike some W Malaysian leaders. Sabahans would never accept racial or religious politics to fish for vote.

Datuk Musa has been consistent in allocating funds for all religions and independent schools.

These schools have never been a point of contention or disagreement. They do not have to lobby or fight for the support of the Sabah Government. Sabahans are far more united as Malaysians than W Malaysians.

We are more Malaysians than the W Malaysians.

Much regrets that the opposition in W Malaysia has little focus on producing their ideas on how to meet the peoples’ expectations or what sort of expectations the people can have. The way I see it, the opposition has zero plan on this score. These opposition leaders are like Rottweilers, only know how to attack but have no plan or cannot agree to a plan on what type of Malaysia the voters can expect from them.

The new age leaders, if they want to win votes, must not think they are cleverer than the voters or know what they want. To manage expectations correctly, they must listen and consult. They must learn to feel the voters’ pulse.

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