Last week, I was visiting with several partners in a successful, professional services organization. As we met, they discussed their desire to achieve better results in the coming year. Fortunately for them, in their twenty years of business, they have learned to not equate being busy with being productive. Better results will not come from working harder; rather, by working differently than they have in the past. Thankfully, they are aware enough to know the methods, strategies, systems, etc. that got them to today will not get them where they want to be tomorrow.

The chief aim of every wise leader is to find the right mix of talent, influence, and resources to achieve outstanding results. Unfortunately, despite their noble intentions, many leaders look in the wrong places for the unique insights needed to achieve those results. While books, articles, and workshops can be helpful, each and every situation is different. Therefore, following 5 Key Steps To Success is rarely the full recipe for achieving exceptional results.

In our conversation, I discerned that my clients were asking me to provide a generic blueprint for success—steps which they could merely apply to see instant, specific results. While I have been able to help other organizations advance and enhance growth, it has never been because I provided the magic, secret sauce to success. What these leaders were not accounting for was the impact their unique environment, motivations, aspirations, and other factors had on the implementation of so-called best practices.

These leaders expressed what many have expressed before – “what best practices can you share which will help us achieve more”. This gave me the opportunity to introduce them to the concept of the halo effect.

When a leader delivers a strong result, observers often assume this comes from a sound strategy, the correct talent mix, the right focus, etc. Conversely, when a leader fails to deliver an expected result, observers can suggest the strategy was flawed, the people were not motivated or circumstances outside the leader’s control were too overwhelming.

Unfortunately, these assumptions are not always accurate and this is where the halo effect comes in. The halo effect explains our tendency for an impression created in one area to influence our opinions in another area. Often this creates beliefs or “logical reasons” for outcomes that are simply not true or valid.

Attempting to ensure exceptional results in an organization by merely following a formula is like thinking you can buy a quart of milk from the local Jiffy Lube oil change store. If success could be reduced to a stock formula, leaders would not need strategic thinking; instead they could rely on lower-level implementers to check the right boxes and follow the recipe with precision.

But what will deliver the results you seek as a leader is to apply insightful thinking to factual, organization-specific information, in order to draw reasonable conclusions and a dynamic action plan.

While I will outline several considerations, each of your situations will be unique; therefore these considerations are not meant to be all-purpose formulas, but as guidelines to help assess your approach.

  1. Focus on the intended result you seek to achieve– the end game must always be top of mind. Starting with and sticking to the end in mind is necessary.
  2. Incorporate new, yet relevant information not previously known– each day and week provides opportunities to assess fresh information from key, leading indicators. Allow the information to “speak to you.”
  3. Question previously made assumptions – assumptions are made based on projections and forecasts. The reality may be different than the forecast and we must be open to this examination.
  4. Allow flexibility and new thinking about possibilities– there are always solutions to problems. If solutions are not being presented, allow your thinking to be challenged by someone who desires to help (rather than drive their own agenda).
  5. Adapt to new circumstances while keeping sight on the intended result– based on the insights which steps 1-4 have provided, ask what must be done to get back on course to achieve the desired result.

I truly hope this has inspired you to realize the potentially negative impact the halo effect may have in your leadership and organization. You don’t have to fall into this trap, yet you do have to adjust and do things differently if you desire a different result.

Good leaders truly do ask many, many great questions.

Best regards,


PS: While the above scenario with several partners is a real situation, I learned the original concept of the halo effect from Phil Rozenzweig, a professor at the International Institute for Management Development located in Lausanne, Switzerland.