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Reframing: Leadership Assumptions—The Set-up-to-Fail Syndrome vs. The Halo Effect in the Workplace

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Dr. Khadijia White-Thomas
June 17, 2022

“Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits, watch your habits, they become your character, watch your character, it becomes your destiny.” (Lao Tzu)

Tzu’s philosophy is a personal mantra, but it is also critical to leadership. Leaders exude influence, offer decisions, deliver instruction and education and often set the tone.

  • Effective leadership is not a one-size-fits-all approach. The quote reminds us that thoughts, words, actions and habits lead to a destined character.
  • Organizations rely on leaders, and leaders are often the liaison for ensuring accountability, responsibility, collaboration and a workplace that lends itself to inclusivity and appreciation of all.

Assumptions:  The Set-up-to-Fail Syndrome vs. The Halo Effect in the Workplace

This article discusses reframing leadership assumptions and finding the appropriate balance.

The term reframing leadership assumptions used here is to see situations from different perspectives, allowing leaders to constructively move beyond the impenetrable barriers of the Set-up-to-Fail Syndrome and The Halo Effect in the Workplace.

The Set-up-to-Fail Syndrome

Briefly, the Set-up-to-Fail Syndrome research suggests:

  • An employee’s missteps or perceived inadequacy reflects the inability to make decisions or a meaningful contribution, and oversight is increased.
  • This assumption continues to impact the leader’s perception of the employee. Eventually, the leadership behavior can become discouraging, creating distance and disconnect, resulting in the employee’s termination or resignation.

Halo Effect in the Workplace

Exploring the concept of the Halo Effect in the Workplace suggests:

  • Continued favorable views of an employee’s superficial trait or quality are generalized as faultless, and the employee’s actions are exaggerated as overly positive.
  • This leadership behavior can manifest into favoritism which impacts leadership realism and judgment.

Finding Balance: The Set-up-to-Fail Syndrome vs. The Halo Effect in the Workplace

While reframing leadership assumptions, there should be reliance on aspects and characteristics intended to create positive work-related performance, decrease negativity, reduce resistance and create a practical analysis of organizational objectives.

The REFRAME technique proposes a reality check, so neither of the assumptions dominate leaders’ perceptions. 

R   E   F   R   A   M  E

Root—Getting to the “root” meaning of the leadership role and how the leadership role is defined is a critical first step. The “root” is often associated with the values, beliefs, assumptions and culture the organization has defined. The goal is to consistently produce the desired performance while understanding the role’s root.

Reframe: define the leadership root. What is your role?

Expectations—Clear expectations about job performance and key results while sharing organizational objectives will set clear expectations and provide clarity for work performance.

Reframe: provide clarity, which will bring forth enhanced communication for the results and for future performance.

Fluency—Establishing direct communication that conveys fluency in the leadership role; speaking, behaving, action-oriented and modeling, so the observable behavior positively impacts achieving organizational objectives and adequate recognition.

Reframe: walk the walk and talk the talk. How are you fluent in your role?

Reinforcement—What does an attempt to change behavior, increase knowledge and provide instruction look like? It is the leaders’ reinforcement efforts for the desired results, determining what works well, and how it works to address organizational methods, procedures and processes.

Reframe: identify the instructional approach in which positive reinforcement can occur. What tools and techniques exist in the learning environment?

Action—The urgency of action and the appropriate interval (weekly, bi-weekly, monthly) to reinforce, correct or recognize organizational goals and objectives can be a powerful tool to ensure stability in routines, procedures, reporting and operation requirements.

Reframe: remove the inconsistencies and provide actionable feedback and a planned structure. What is the appropriate interval for feedback?

Measurability—Determining what to measure and how to measure can enhance and clarify organizational requirements and objectives. The key to measurability is the importance of a system that offers verifiable data and not randomly selected data that fails to address compliancy or requisite standards and procedures.

Reframe: create measurability that focuses on objectives and key results (OKR) and key performance indicators (KPI).

Equity—Ensuring that knowledge and instruction are provided to each employee. All employees have the level of understanding and learning capacity to perform and work together to achieve the expected results.

Reframe: ensure the playing field is level. Are the same knowledge and instructional opportunities (as relevant) provided to all employees?

Reframing Without Limits

The leadership REFRAME technique only scratches the surface of leadership actions that can assist in balancing assessments and assumptions. It is unrealistic that leaders only acknowledge and reward those perceived to be the most talented employees. Let us be mindful of the differences between employees’ knowledge, experiences and past professional exposures. 

As I REFRAME my leadership assessments and assumptions, I seek to find the appropriate balance while ensuring leadership alignment with the organization’s mission, vision and purpose.


Author: Dr. Khadijia White-Thomas works in the federal courts as an executive leader. She is also the Founder and CEO of Decree Consulting & Publishing, LLC, focusing on organizational change, and providing business coaching, strategy, and marketing consulting services. Contact Dr. Khadijia at www.decreeconsult.com.

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