Leadership by Optics Management: Taking the Howdy Modi Event as a Case Study

What is Leadership by Optics and Perception Management and the Leaders excelling at it?

In times when media is so predominant and overweening as far as setting the agenda for leaders and for almost everyone are concerned, it is very tempting, indeed irresistible for leaders to forego the temptation to manage the headlines on a daily basis.

Indeed, when we look at the prominent leaders in all walks of life, all of them to an exception, are adept at using the media (and in turn being used by it) to shape the narrative and influence the public discourse.

Whether it is President Trump or Prime Minister Narendra Modi or for that matter, any celebrity leader in the world of business, sport, entertainment, and society, almost everyone engages in what is known as Leadership by Optics Management and Leadership by Perception Management wherein their first priority is to ensure that they are perceived well for their slogans and speeches rather than for the on the ground work they do.

Moreover, with social media providing a fertile ground to enable such leadership, it is no wonder that leaders such as Trump Tweet almost on an hourly basis and conduct presidential policy through it.

What we are now Witnessing is a Paradigm Shift in the way Leaders Communicate

While it is questionable as to whether such conduct is in the interest of the nations, it is undeniable that the evolution of society always happens through Paradigm Shifts wherein the present Digital Age calls for newer forms of communication and leadership styles.

To explain, when the Television era started, many people were uncomfortable with their leaders using it to reach out to their followers and even the entire country.

Ask your grandparents or those older and they will tell you how the arrival of TV was met with Scepticism and derision and look at the present times, when it is normal and indeed, required for leaders to use this medium.

Similarly, what we are now witnessing is another shift in the way leaders communicate and exercise leadership and that is using social media to bypass traditional mediums of communication.

Therefore, there are some advantages to using the Digital Media to manage the optics and perceptions and to shape the narrative.

Indeed, even normally staid business leaders are now actively pursuing Optics Management wherein they use the media to manage the headlines and engage in direct banter with Millions of Followers on Facebook and Twitter.

These days, it is hard to find anyone who is someone who is not on Facebook or Twitter.

Where Optics Management Works Best and Energises the Followers and Voters

Having said that, one must also be circumspect about too much Optics Management as excess of that leads to a situation where concrete results are usually ignored and all that the leaders do is to Tweet and hold Big Rallies with thousands of their supporters.

Indeed, as one can see from the joint appearance of President Trump and Prime Minister Modi in the Howdy Modi rally in Houston, the Optics were so great and well managed that even the most strident opposition found it hard to dispute the fact that this was a great occasion to win the hearts and minds of Billions of people worldwide who tuned in to watch the event.

Moreover, leadership depends to a great extent on the charisma of the leaders and hence, there is nothing wrong in leaders such as Modi to energise their base in the same manner in which Trump does so.

Further, as leadership theories put it, a leader must be able to communicate his or her vision to their followers and hence, Optics is a good way to ensure that the masses understand, in a language (literally as well as metaphorically) that they are comfortable in.

Where Optics Management Doesn’t Work

On the other hand, too much Optics can also be problematic as sooner or later, people start building excessive expectations from their leaders and hence, these personality cults mean that once the realities of poor performance sink in, then it can lead to messy situations.

For instance, the Howdy Modi event masked the dire straits that the Indian Economy is in as well as how Trump is facing the heat from a number of inquiries from the Democrats.

Moreover, the so-called Feel Good Factor has a limited shelf life and the only way that leaders who prefer Optics can continue that is to constantly feed the public with a nonstop dose of entertainment and infotainment.

However, the Law of Diminishing Returns Sets in after a while and hence, the better alternative is to combine Optics with what is known as Walking the Talk.

In other words, energise your followers, and at the same time, deliver the goods, so that the reality meets the rhetoric and the leaders can become all time greats and earn their place in the Hall of Fame.


As can be seen from the points made so far, we suggest that Leadership that relies on Optics also follows up the same by action and as any leadership theory would tell you; vision without mission is the defining principle for success.

At the same time, there is nothing wrong in using newer forms of media to manage the Optics provided that there is an equal and matching on the ground action.

Indeed, some attribute the success of leaders such as Barack Obama to the fact that he was perhaps the first to realise the power of the new media and at the same time, used his experience as a community organiser to match his talk with action.

To conclude, Optics works in some cases and do not work in other cases.

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