What is RIPPLE Leadership?

Updated: Jun 20, 2020

Romeo asked: “What’s in a name?” In the name of this article lie the six essentials of leadership. RIPPLE is an anachronym for what I consider to be the six key factors in being a successful leader. Leadership is that much sought after intangible that can be the difference between a successful organization and one that is just mediocre. We all know of famous individuals who have lead organizations to extraordinary success. But what makes the difference between sustained success and the flash in the pan. John Collins suggested there were five levels of successful leadership. Others have written much about traits of leaders and Cheryl Sandberg suggests that the gender imbalance requires women, particularly, to “lean in”. RIPPLE leadership suggests that if each individual, no matter their gender, were to incorporate these six essentials into their own style then sustained success is not only possible but much more probable.

I would suggest that while leadership is very complex it is not really complicated. Dealing with people in any circumstance is complex. We have enough trouble in our society holding together a bond of just two people let alone an organization of many. Our divorce rate is approaching 50% which clearly suggests maintaining relationships is very difficult and indeed complex. Add enormous multiples of individuals and their personalities which happens in any organization and we know we have added much complexity to trying to successfully lead a unit towards achieving specific goals. It was Joe Rost who, in his seminal book Leadership for the 21st Century, defined leadership as a “relationship behaviour…”. Others followed his lead including Meg Wheatley who pointed out in her volume Leadership and the New Science that when it comes to leadership, “relationships are all there is”. Thus, leadership is all about relationships and therefore, the ‘R’ in Ripple Leadership stands for relationships.

The ‘I’ in the name RIPPLE Leadership stands for another essential in leadership which is intellect. We too often suggest that intellect is a result of good schooling, so the graduate of an Ivy League school will somehow be the better leader. I tend to side with Mark Twain who said “don’t let schooling interfere with your education.” A leader does need to be an educated individual but more importantly he needs to be an individual who possesses a great deal of intellect. One of the most successful leaders I ever worked with had a grade five education yet he built a real estate empire that he then diversified and became an incredibly wealthy man. Not only was he intellectually bright but he possessed what Daniel Goleman would define as emotional intelligence. The latter may be the most important intellect for any leader to possess because it assists with the third essential of Ripple Leadership.

The third essential of successful leadership identified by the first ‘P’ in RIPPLE is Passion. I am convinced that nothing truly great in our world was ever accomplished without passion. The apple computer arose from the passion that Steve Wozniak had for mathematics and electronics, the automobile from the passion of Henry Ford and the recovery of New York after 911 from the passion Rudy Guilliani held for his city. We discovered the vaccine for polio when Jonas Salk took his passion for preventing the influenza virus and applied it to the knowledge that existed about polio. Any school leader must have a passion for children and learning or the leadership element will be lacking. However, passion in and of itself does not translate to leadership so the fourth essential is also represented by a ‘P’.

The second ‘P’ in RIPPLE Leadership represents Possibilities. Leadership requires creativity so that all possibilities can be identified and explored. Einstein was right when he defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Yet we see this practiced all the time where there is a lack of leadership. Leaders need to be people who look for other possibilities. Galileo knew there were possibilities beyond the world being flat and Leonardo Da Vinci certainly exhibited the art of possibilities. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs saw the possibilities of technology while Rosamund Stone Vander wrote so well of the importance of the possible to leadership. Clearly seeing the possible both in people and product is important for anyone who wishes to enlist the leadership and teamwork of others. In order to capitalize on the possibilities essential of leadership, one must be sure the fifth essential is also present.

The fifth essential seen in the name RIPPLE is represented by the ‘L’ which stands for learning. In the speech he was to deliver on the day of his assassination, John F. Kennedy wrote: “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other”. Einstein once said: “I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn”. The leader’s task is to ensure that each individual within and indeed the organization itself is learning continuously. Without learning, little forward progress will be made. But for learning to occur on a continuous basis, a sense of safety for all must exist so that the individuals feel free to take appropriate risks. This does not mean the freewheeling approach that is best exhibited by the trader, Nick Leeson, whose risky trading resulted in the collapse of the Barings bank. Had the sixth and final essential of leadership been practiced then Barings would still be around today.

The final essential of successful leadership is represented by the ‘E’ in RIPPLE. It represents the expectations of a leader. In the case just mentioned, Leeson had violated company policy in the way he traded by holding the futures contract too long. However, the lack of adequate supervision enabled him to carry on until it was too late and the bank failed under his losses. Leadership requires that expectations of both individuals and teams as well as the organization as a whole are clearly stated and understood. But even more important is the need to monitor those expectations. Lee Gerstner, who saved IBM from the same fate as Barings said it well when he wrote: “that which gets measured gets done.” My friend and noted author from San Diego State, Jim Belasco, took it a step further when he said: “Evaluate what you want - because what gets measured, gets produced”. Clearly defined expectations are essential for leaders to be successful.

Copyright 2020: Doug Player

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