Harnessing the ripple effect of coaching… to deliver powerful leadership lessons

Physics was never my thing at school…not by a long way, yet a small insight into the physics of ripples will create a better understanding of their power and presence in everything we do and how leadership coaching can create the right type of ripples. By Richard Day

At best managers, teachers and mentors alike who are charged with the responsibility of improving skills and performance, can only go as far as setting up an environment that is conducive to stimulate that motivation and bring it out of the individual, who operates within that supportive environment. With apologies to physicists past, present and future…a ripple, is quite simply, an energy wave from a source; for example, the ripples that emanate from a rain drop on the surface of a pool of water.

I’m sure that all leaders reading this article can associate with the concept that they are in fact the source of much of the energy that pulses through the organization or business they lead on a daily basis. One of the benefits of coaching is developing an awareness of the energy that every leader brings on a daily basis and what ‘ripples’ result and how that impacts the organisation moment to moment in other words coaching assists individuals in becoming aware of the thoughts and behaviours they have and the inevitable impact they have on others.

In fact, there has been much research on the impact of coaching at the individual level and much of it, mostly aligned to familial aspects of coaching such as goal achievement, health and well being, increased level of mastery and self leadership, mental resilience and reduction of workplace stress and anxiety amongst other things. (Green et al. 2006) (Gyllensten and Palmer 2005) Interestingly though, there is some research tracking the impact of coaching on something identified as Complex Adaptive Systems theory (CAS).

‘A powerful coaching conversation might have explored what they stood for as individuals and within the team and what they wanted their respective reputations and legacies to be.’

(O’Connor and Cavanagh 2013) CAS is an emerging theory that attempts to understand the interconnected ripples of organisational actions, decisions and behaviours. Because organizations and businesses are essentially interactive systems the cross over ripple effect is enormous at every level around every behaviour, action and outcome. A classic example of the extraordinary power of this concept is the recent turmoil around the Australian Cricket team and the ball tampering scandal (In a previous life I was a High Performance Coach to elite sports teams so this issue is of particular interest to me.)

As a case study on the ‘ripple’ effect of poor sporting and team leadership behaviour it is possibly without peer…unfortunately.

As a result of the complex adaptive systems theory or ripple effect; this scandal has had an impact on the collective psyche of a proud sporting nation; it has also impacted Australia’s international sporting reputation, the financial well being of the game and the mental health of some of its players. It has also, no doubt, ended careers and the perception of the game from the eyes of impressionable youth.

Tragically, this is not the complete extent of the damage either. Quite some ripple effect as I am sure you would agree and all due to a small but critical lapse in leadership judgement.

So what role could a coach and coaching play in the ability to make better decisions and create a positive ripple effect in any environment?

Depending on your coaching style the answer could vary however most professional coaches enjoy exploring the relationship between your personal values and your decisions and behaviours and the subsequent “ripples” you create as a result. For example, an authentic leader with an understanding of what their purpose is in life and business, as well as what values anchor them, can create “ripples” of leadership authenticity.

Can you imagine how the recently deposed Australian cricketers may have behaved if they were aligned with the values and expectations of the team, their coach and the game itself. A powerful coaching conversation might have explored what they stood for as individuals and within the team and what they wanted their respective reputations and legacies to be.

Strategically, starting with the end in mind. So, how does coaching result in powerful leadership lessons that have a positive ripple effect?

1. Coaching is designed to challenge the individual leader and the way in which that leader interacts with the system through generating awareness and self-reflective opportunities, which in turn minimizes the risk of bad decisions.

2. Coaching provides a safe space and opportunity to review both personal and professional alignment.

3. Coaching improves the understanding between the authenticity of your behaviour choice and your values and beliefs.

4. Coaching may also allow you to understand and explore your strengths and how you would use them to make better decisions and be more authentic as a leader. Ultimately though, each of us decides the size, shape and height of the ripples and waves we create and the value they have in our lives and the lives of others. Coaching helps you to learn how to surf the waves of uncertainty until they become ripples of empowerment and inspiration. “Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects.” ~ Dalai Lama. BFM

Business First is a peer-to-peer magazine: written by CEOs and other high level executives, with interviews with some of the country’s best leaders.

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