The Accidental Ripple Effect: Great News for Coaches!

Ripple effect Noun: the continuing and spreading results of an event or action. Oxford Dictionary

Inward and outward focus

There is seemingly no end to the media coverage that continually highlights the challenges of living in our time and it would be very easy to think that it is all pretty hopeless. Our natural tendency is to look outward at what is wrong in the world, our lives and in our workplace- and too often that forms our reality. As Rick Hanson describes it, our brain is like ‘Teflon for good experiences and Velcro for bad’.

He states in his book Hardwiring Happiness that: Over millions of years ‘our brain evolved a built-in negativity bias. While this bias emerged in harsh settings very different from our own, it continues to operate inside us today as we drive in traffic, head into a meeting…’. So, it is not surprising that we focus on the negative more easily and our keen eye for danger is always looking outward. Put another way, our brains are adept at learning from bad experiences but poor at learning from good ones.

Why is an ‘outward only’ focus unhelpful and even unhealthy? Is it not just being realistic to see what’s wrong out there and protect ourselves from it? Research has found that negative thinking and worrying actually decreases our ability to perform tasks. When the brain is challenged with complex tasks, negative thinking hinders our ability to think clearly and process information. But, thankfully, we now know about neuroplasticity and how the brain continues to develop and evolve throughout our lives. We can offset this negative bias by consciously focusing on positive opportunities and experiences.  

According to Rick Hanson, conscious training to replace negative thoughts with positive ones – (and perhaps support through coaching), lead to people who ‘experienced significantly less anxiety and depression, and significantly greater self-control, savouring, compassion, love, contentment, joy, gratitude, self-esteem, self-compassion, satisfaction with life, and overall happiness.’

We have so many examples of how personal change can lead to environmental change, national change and even global change. Consider the huge impact that one young Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg, has had on our awareness of the dangers of climate change and in turn how young people were mobilised around the world to demand change.

Think also of Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama and the positive influence each has had without seeming to even seek it. Unfortunately, there are as many ‘influencers’ seeking to persuade us to be afraid and to feel there is scarceness rather than abundance.

The impact of coaching on personal change

As we know as Coaches, people don’t pay for or invest in coaching, they pay for or invest in the changes they want in their lives that coaching can support and help direct them to. Some of the issues clients bring to coaching relate to stress, communication challenges, confidence, work performance issues as well a lack of balance in their lives.

As we know, coaching is now a proven tool for positive change. Research undertaken by the ICF highlighted the following benefits:  ‘80% of people who receive coaching report increased self-confidence, and over 70% benefit from improved work performance, relationships, and more effective communication skills. 86% of companies report that they recouped their investment in coaching and more.’

My own examples from clients experiencing transformative change echo these results. It is a privilege as a coach to witness how coaching supports people in their quest for a fuller life and more satisfaction in their career. As one of my clients described it, coaching ‘ has helped me to connect to my own innate sense of confidence, calmness and competence’.

Coaching and the ripple effect

As outlined above, coaching typically focuses on the client’s individual changes – including improved well-being, goal attainment and enhanced leadership behaviours. But it is easy to imagine how the positive effects must filter out to colleagues and family members.

There have been a series of studies looking at the Ripple Effect from leadership coaching in organisations. Authors’ Sean O’Connor and Michael Cavanagh comment on this: ‘While there is much more to discover and while further analysis and experimentation are required, it would seem that an important step has been made in understanding the influence of coaching in an interconnected, organisational context.

Furthermore, it would seem that the interconnectivity of the interaction network is important in understanding how the wellbeing of organisation members can be improved, directly and indirectly, through leadership coaching.’

Among the many Case Studies available on the ICF Website, I found one by Jenn Wicks entitled ‘The Ripple Effect of Leadership Coaching’. In this Case Study, Wicks refers to her client Shawna’s measured improvements in tangible areas like completed projects, accountability and results and intangibles such as trust, conflict management, communication and feedback. “Coach and client observed a ‘ripple effect’ in their work together seeing how others were impacted by their work and how it started to build a strong coaching culture in a culturally diverse organisation in Qatar.”

To add to my own experience, I sought comments from my coaching colleagues. I was able to gather these next two gems:

Working with (my coach) has made a tremendous impact on my life thus changing my outlook, increasing pleasant experiences, managing difficult ones efficiently and in turn bringing on more positive outcomes. I am a different person now and I live a different life. A happy and a fulfilled one at that…


How have I benefited from coaching?   Right now things are much better.  I like my new job and I am coping well with the demands. My life balance is sane and my relationship has been strengthened. My wife said I am the most relaxed she has seen me in the 10 years we have been together.

These are small but huge examples of what must be happening all over the world. Imagine what could happen if…!!!

Conclusion: So, why the ACCIDENTAL Ripple Effect?

In my lifetime, I have witnessed some brave few who put their lives in danger, Martin Luther King and Malala Yousafzai for example, to correct injustice and consciously bring about positive change. They are the heroes we are grateful for and we reap the benefits of their courage.

But, is it possible that the personal work I invest in – that each of us seeking to be the best version of ourselves invest in – could pay dividends beyond our own lives? I believe the answer is yes and that gives me tremendous hope. The Ripple Effect may well be Accidental – but it is amazing all the same.

I’ll leave the final few words to Irvin Yalom who writes about the Ripple Effect in his book, Staring at the Sun, that it “refers to the fact that each of us creates – often without our conscious intent or knowledge – concentric circles of influence that may affect others for years, even generations. That is, the effect we have on other people is, in turn, passed on to others, much as the ripples in a pond go on and on until they’re no longer visible but continuing at a nano-level”.


Happiness, Hanson, R. Rider
Staring at the Sun, Yalom, I. John Wiley & Sons Ltd

Kathleen Fanning, PCC, M.Ed., FIITD

Kathleen is a coach and trainer with many years’ experience in the public and private sectors. Her work is transformational and while not solely focusing on this, she is currently building up a niche area in Higher Education. Resilience is a specialism also.