There is a virus that's far worse than Ebola and which has persisted much longer than polio. Unfortunately efforts to create a vaccine against it is neither being paid adequate attention nor being properly funded.
Symptoms include: A shutdown of the individual's mental faculty, lack of objective reasoning, mindless group action (zombie-effect), passive-aggressive tendencies and zero objectivity.
What is this dreadful virus?
It is called OARS, or Oga is Always Right Syndrome. Sadly, too many employees, tend to imagine their superiors as being super-human or all-knowing. Psychologists and sociologists call it Power Distance Index (PDI). According to Wikipedia, Power Distance is the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like most government agencies and family owned businesses) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. The key words here are: accept and expect.
Individuals in societies like Nigeria or most African and Arab nations that exhibit a high degree of power distance accept hierarchies in which everyone has a place without the need for justification. So a monkey can be given a position as the head of a parastatal or even appointed as a substantive Minister and everyone would immediately adopt monkey like behaviours, eat only bananas for lunch and even grow a tail.
Societies with low power distance like most European countries e.g. United Kingdom, Norway or Sweden seek to have equal distribution of power. The effect of this is that in countries suffering from a high Power Index or OARS (Oga is Always Right Syndrome) the decision making is autocratic and centralized on an individual with no room for debate or intellectual discourse. When a monkey is given a seat at the head of the table, all other humans have to adopt monkey-like behaviours or stick out like a sore thumb and risk being be posted to a different department or location.
Let me share an experience that happened to me quite recently. We were in a board meeting with a highly placed national director and her officers. Our organisation had been appointed to plan a world class event for this agency and that day we were putting finishing touches on what the event would look like- the floor plan layout, colours of the day, VIP seating, sound, lighting, the works. Then I enquired about the agency's specific colour, as it appeared to me to be a blend of gold and brown. The "oga at the top" asserting her infallible wisdom and authority as the gate-keeper of the organisation's brand, informs me that it wasn't gold but a fine blend of colours.
In an effort to be agreeable, I politely said, "Yes madam, it isn't exactly gold, it just looks more like gold". Again she replies, "No, its magenta". And that's when it happens! Every other board member across the table, eleven of them in total echo back, "Yes madam, it's magenta". I start to stick out like that guy from the Last Supper, Judas Iscariot.
Now I used to be student of Arts back in secondary school, but although I was no Michaelangelo, however I do know that magenta wasn't even close to that colour being described, not by a long shot! So I quickly whip out my Blackberry, get on Google images and type in the word "Magenta" and what comes up was closer to pink than gold. I slide my phone back into my inner breast pocket, hold my tongue and thank God silently I wasn't working as a civil servant in one of these government agencies. If you ever wonder how the Federal Government systematically dumbs down the same people it spends 75% of its budget on- that's how. That got me thinking...
In nearly 95% of organizations in Nigeria, no one calls their bosses on a first name basis. It's either "sir" or "madam" or "chief" or "chairman" or a variety of the sort. And when the boss takes an opinion on an issue, woe betide you if you have a contrasting opinion or you dare to poke holes in his argument. And that got me thinking even more...
I thought about my friend, Osas, a production engineer fresh from grabbing a Masters degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Benin, who tried making an argument on the need for consistent facility management and maintenance of the food processing factory where he worked, and felt gutted hearing the Managing Director say something like, "Why should we be wasting money on something that's working perfectly?"
On another occasion, for daring to yell on the young children of his bosses who were screaming and running around the factory while production was in process, he got reprimanded. Luckily, he has resigned.
I thought about my other friend, Abdul, who argued that the Nigeria Immigration recruitment exercise should be done online. But was shut down by his immediate supervisor, who said something like, "When it's your turn, Mr. Bill Gates, you can do it online, this is how we do things around here". We all know how that ended. Eventually after a series of letdowns, disappointments and rejections, the average employee learns to shut up and follow the principle of "Monkey see, Monkey do"
So even as senior managers when they see a shade of brown and the supreme oga at the top decides to christen it as magenta, everyone across the board table will echo and chorus, "Ah! Yes, it's magenta". Then we wonder why Nigeria's civil service is bereft of new ideas and innovation.
So after the meeting, my project coordinator, Hope, asks me why I didn't speak up about the "Magenta issue". I smile and remind her that sometimes it's more important to have a cheque than to be right. We would stand a greater risk of making madam and her 11 disciples our perpetual enemies by contradicting her publicly, it would only make her seek vengeance.
Now you see how the virus spreads, don't you?
Acceptance and Expectation working closely together for all the wrong reasons.
Ebuka J. Anichebe
Action Coach, Author and Speaker