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Lead it forward: The ripple effect


We all have heard the phrase ‘pay it forward’ popularized by Catherine Ryan Hyde’s 1999 novel which was also turned into a movie. The idea behind pay it forward is that when someone does a good deed for you, instead of paying them back, you pay it forward by doing a good deed for someone else. For example, Mary helped a homeless woman on the street by giving her a fresh meal. Without any strings attached to her kind gesture, she simply asked the woman to pay it forward. The theory behind pay it forward is that generosity amongst others can be highly contagious. If a person observes an act of kind kindness or generosity, then they would be more inclined to help others even if their own actions won’t be directly reciprocated or rewarded.

The pay it forward idea has turned into a global initiative that may help us dig deeper into understanding how leadership can too create a ripple effect of its own. Often times leadership is confused with authority, position, or status. Leadership simply is the ability to influence and maximize people’s effort towards the achievement of a goal. However, we cannot forget the qualities associated with leadership such as integrity, positivity, strong communication, commitment, and emotional intelligence. Anyone can have or harness the ability to lead.

If the theory holds true that paying it forward creates a ripple effect and influences people to be more inclined in helping others, then could it be possible that leadership does the same? If leadership has the power to influence others then what should this ripple effect look like? For paying it forward it is about acts of kindness. Leadership should be about building morale. The theory behind the ripple effect of leading it forward is that by motivating and empowering someone through words or actions, it will influence the person on the receiving end of to do the same. He or she will then use that motivation to improve their lives and follow their dreams. And by following their dreams it can result in building, creating, innovating, changing things, people, places, and issues for the better in society. Therefore, creating a ripple effect of leaders who are confident in using their ability to change their society.

We all have the ability to lead or be a representation of what leadership is about. Paying it forward is great however leading it forward has the potential to make a difference in politics, education and other areas in our society. Yes, we need acts of kindness but we also need to empower and motivate people to become leaders within their own lives. The consequences of ‘leading it forward’ is not just the creation of the ripple effect of leadership, it is the creation of the next cohort of global leadership.

Odugbesan-Omede, Ph.D., is a visiting Assistant Professor of Global Affairs and Politics Farmingdale State College (SUNY) in New York. She is also the CEO of Yetunde Global Consulting, a leadership development and human capital management consulting firm. You can read more about her at

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