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Do you remember tossing a rock into the lake and watching the circles spread out? Those are called ripples. Depending on the splash, the ripples might go on for what seemed to be forever. Maybe you even tried to count the ripples (and probably gave up at some point).

Rocks aren’t the only things that create ripples.

We create ripples by what we say — a kind word, a mean word, or no word at all. We create ripples by our actions or inactions. Our example to others, especially our children, create ripples, too.

Maybe you’ve been on the receiving end of a negative conversation and had a hard time shaking off the aftermath for a long time afterwards. Those were the ripples of a bad encounter. Just as likely, you’ve been given a compliment and worn the smile longer than the action that created the compliment.

When we talk about a person’s legacy, we’re really talking about the accumulative ripples they left behind.

Ripples are value-neutral. In other words, they work just as well when spreading a positive or negative influence. Ripples are simply the delivery system. What we choose to deliver with them is up to us.

Here’s what I’ve learned about great leaders, whether they be coaches, moms, or the owner of the company: great leaders create intentional ripples.

They understand the impact of their words and choose to use them in positive, encouraging ways.

They understand the weight attached to their actions and choose to not be careless.

A great leader understand that every interaction has a second layer (a ripple). There is the initial interaction but then the employee or player talks with someone else, who talks with someone, who talks … By the time you get to the fifth or sixth ripple, the ripple has begun to lose definition and has slowed down, but it’s still a ripple.

Poor leaders create ripples, too. You see the ripple effect of their leadership on the demoralized faces of those they lead. You see the ripples at work when a department lacks initiative — not because they are not talented, but because the ripples of reprisal or fear are still with them.

Many leaders believe leadership is all about the splash, without giving much thought to the ripples they create. Action is valued, even if the action only moves the ball for the moment but creates a long-term barrier to growth.

Ripples, when understood and used properly, are a leader’s best friend.

An owner changes the culture of his company not by dictate and demand but through ripples. In the same way, a manager knows that team chemistry is impacted by the ripples he creates.

Parents know that parenting isn’t a one-off event but eighteen-plus years of reinforcing the right character. Ripple after ripple after ripple.

The next time you interact with someone, try to conscious of the ripples you are setting in motion — because you are setting in motion something, whether good or bad. If someone is abrupt with you, keep in mind they might have a few ripples from a previous conversation.

Here’s my challenge: be intentional about the ripples you create.