Leadership Ripple Effect

Leadership Ripple Effect

Do you ever think about how the decisions you make as a leader affect others? Do you ever consider the far-reaching effects of both the small and large choices that come before you on a daily basis?

As a leader, almost everything you do has a ripple effect on other people both inside and outside of your organization.

Rock-in-the-Pond Ethics

Over the years as an ethics expert and speaker, I have tried to find an analogy that would help my clients understand the importance of discernment before making those tough decisions.

It was while watching some kids throw rocks in a pond that I finally came to this realization that decision-making is like throwing a rock in a pond.

No matter how big or small the rock is, water is displaced and it causes a ripple effect.

Likewise, no matter how “big” or “small” the decision is, people are affected by the decisions that leaders make. The key question here is when is the the time for leaders to think about those “ripples” from the decisions they make?

Is it after you’ve thrown the rock? Or is it while the rock is still in your hands?

Decisions and Consequences

Haven’t we all been in the position where a decision needed to be made and proceeded with our natural process to make that decision. And in that process, we think in our own mind that we had “all our bases covered.” But after making the decision we find that there are “ripples” (i.e. consequences) that appeared that we didn’t event think of.

And now we find later that we are the ones being held accountable.

Another reality is if the rock is big enough and you throw it, it may splash up and have the repercussions come back on you. Hasn’t this been the story of the recession? Companies, politicians, and executives in many different industries have made decisions that have adversely affected the entire financial world, especially the 14+ million unemployed in America and many others around the globe.

A Few Leadership Lessons

There are a few lessons here. Check and see where you fit:

1. When a decision needs to be made, hold the rock before throwing it. Hold it until you are certain that first you know what the obvious ripples are. And secondly that you can and will deal with any unforeseen ripples that occur based on your analysis.

2. Don’t let emotions dictate when to throw the rock. Get communal wisdom from trusted colleagues, etc., that are “for you” and get their wisdom. Reason must always control emotions in decision-making.

3. Sometimes you just need to put the rock down and gather more information before picking it up again for a toss. The danger here is that you think too long on it or it stays in committee too long to be really effective.

4. The bigger the rock (the decision, the bigger the ripples, i.e. consequences.) Go slow choose well! Ask yourself, what does my gut,i.e. conscience, intuition, etc., tell me about this? Then do it.

5. It is important to know BEFORE a decision is made, what one’s values are so as to minimize any regret after a decision after it is made or ”the rock is thrown.”

Will these points save you from making tough decisions? No, but they will decrease the odds of making a seriously flawed or outright wrong decision. It’s all about odds. So what are YOU willing to gamble?

Frank Bucaro
is President at Frank C. Bucaro and Associates, Inc. 

He is leading the crusade for ethics in business and leadership
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L2L Contributing Author


  1. Peter D. Demarest on July 25, 2011 at 10:37 am

    Nice article. Something we teach our clients is that every choice and every action either adds or subtracts net value and that the “net” equation extends far beyond the immediate and obvious. That’s why asking The Central Questions is so important – “What choice can I make and action can I take, in this moment, to create the greatest net value?”

    • fbucaro on July 25, 2011 at 10:32 pm

      Hi Peter,
      Thanks for takng the time to comment. I appreciate it.

  2. Joel Bennett on July 25, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    Nice article. As another persepctive….we have actually studied the science of the leadership ripple effect across 4 areas: (1) role modeling, (2) heart-centered actions, (3) supporting worker health, and (4) enhancing the work environment. You can learn more visit this slideshare http://tinyurl.com/2ddh24q

    • fbucaro on July 25, 2011 at 10:34 pm

      Hi Joel,

      Thanks for your comment. Sometimes ethical decision making isn’t really that difficult. It’s how you think about it that counts.

  3. Chadwick Taylor on July 25, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    Great article. Always have to rate the “Risk vs Reward.” Go with little information, or wait until you have more. Always the challenging part is for the leader to find the right balance.

    • fbucaro on July 25, 2011 at 10:30 pm

      Thanks for your kind comment. Being Sicilian does help me see things much simpler.

  4. […] of the decision will help you put the relationships to be potentially affected in perspective.  It also shows that you value others whether you are a leader or someone making a decision of a personal […]

  5. Joe Nelson on August 17, 2014 at 10:00 am

    Nice summary, Frank. Taking some time to consider as many ripples as possible is key… Love the part about values. I appreciate that being brought in.