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Leadership: Ripples and Waves

“A myth, in its simplest definition, is a story with a meaning attached to it other than it seems to have at first; and the fact that it has such a meaning is generally marked by some of its circumstances being extraordinary, or, in the common use of the word, unnatural.”

“A myth, in its simplest definition, is a story with a meaning attached to it other than it seems to have at first; and the fact that it has such a meaning is generally marked by some of its circumstances being extraordinary, or, in the common use of the word, unnatural.”

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I believe there is a prevailing feeling that to be a great leader you need to have charisma, a larger then life persona, powerful connections and looking good in a suit doesn’t hurt either. I have found over the years that while this may have some truth in perception, it is a myth. We all know some myths are seen as truths, but this one should not be; it allows us to miss recognizing great leaders that are right under our noses. I believe there are two types of leaders in general categories – those that are waves and those that are ripples.

Wave Leaders:

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These are what might be considered traditional leaders. They come on to the scene in a rush, crashing into a room with unbridled energy and magnetism. They speak with passion and force. It is hard not to listen to them because of their persuasion, sometimes even manipulation. Think of JFK, Martin Luther King, Jack Welch or Bill Clinton. They tend to have big egos and a confidence not to be ignored. They can be extremely effective in moving people to action.

Ripple Leaders:

These leaders are sometimes harder to recognize, at least at first. They use subtle messaging and quiet persuasion. They enter the leadership arena with strategic thoughtfulness and care. They can sometimes frustrate the wave leaders, because it appears they are slow or not definitive enough. They are after the longer-term effect. It is like putting your toe in a pool of water and watching the ripples move out to the edges, touching all areas but without disturbing the serenity of the water. Think Ghandi, Bill Gates – they too can be very effective, but we sometimes miss them if we are not looking.

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What does this mean for you?

The first message is: are you looking for leaders in your organization that may not fit what you believe defines leadership? I work with a CEO who constantly says to his employees, “each one of you has the opportunity to be a leader and a follower in this company”. This expansive statement invites all styles to step into the leadership role, but he doesn’t stop there. He then goes out and looks for leaders who do not fit his leadership paradigm, knowing that embracing the difference in leadership styles will encourage his people to take risks out of their comfort zone, that will expose their value in bigger ways, resulting in huge payoffs to his organization.

The second message is: don’t drink your own kool-aid. Leaders get into the trap that if their style is successful, then all leaders should be like them, encouraging their successors to model their behavior. It is a dangerous proclamation. Just because your way works doesn’t mean another way won’t, and may be even better.

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What to do?

Start by identifying what type of leader you are and then look for balance. Think about water again. There is something so appealing about watching the power of the surf on a turbulent ocean. It is exhilarating to be in those waves, but you can only last so long in that water, and then you are exhausted, torn up by the sand, and you need a break. You feel great-yes, but then you need a nap. That is where the ripple comes in. It is like having a place to go that is calm, and steady – more like a river that you can set your canoe in and pace yourself – still heading in a direction toward your destination, but in a planned and thoughtful way.

You should be looking for both in your organizations. If you don’t, you will miss out on so much potential. I imagine you have some unfound leaders in your organization right now, because you are looking in the wrong place. Go find them.

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One Last Thought:

Ripples and waves – both are good – and more importantly, they need each other. So if you are a wave, find a ripple and of course, the reverse is true, too.

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