The Ripple Effect of Connecting

A simple gesture can make a significant impact.


A well-known quote widely attributed to Mother Theresa is, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” It’s not clear if she actually said that, but the intention behind those words are instructive to leading, nonetheless. Our interactions matter, regardless of how insignificant they may seem in the moment, and we oftentimes don’t realize the impact the simplest act can make.

I saw a news segment earlier this year titled “Mr. Bill’s Village,” which can be found at It’s the story of Bill, a man in Cabot, Ark., who walked five miles each direction—two hours round trip—to his overnight shift at a local retailer. A couple of years ago, a woman named Christy saw Bill walking and offered him a ride. That’s when she learned he’s legally blind, and walking is his only way to get around town. After that, she began driving him whenever she could.

But she wasn’t always available, so she started a Facebook group called Mr. Bill’s Village in hopes that a few people in the community would offer him a ride when possible. The Facebook group exploded and now has more than 6,000 followers. Residents around Cabot help Bill get around nearly every day. But what is even more inspiring is that such a simple gesture created a domino effect of goodwill and friendship—a sense of a community that cares. 

There has been a lot of discussion about the leadership skills of the future and what will be required of all of us to navigate a viable path forward. It’s true we will need to learn about AI and leveraging capital and resources in new ways. We have to be smarter, faster and more agile. But I would also suggest that we are still in a business in which people matter, relationships matter, and they require we never lose sight of our own humanity.

Bill’s story is one reminder of that power—a kind gesture that turned into much more. Small actions can help turn the tide on a dark day, help us address a problem we are trying to solve or lead to the next step in a career. It’s the handwritten thank-you card you never expected, or taking time to check in with a team member or listening carefully to someone when we ask, “how are you?” Simple acts can help someone smile and be reminded we are not alone in this work. And perhaps unexpectedly, they inspire others to do the same in their own interactions, creating momentum that can impact a team, or a department, or perhaps even an organization or entire community.

No doubt you have many stories to celebrate that come from the caregivers and other members of your workforce to comfort patients, families or colleagues. Having just finished our 2024 Congress on Healthcare Leadership, I am equally struck by the ripple effect of our community. For example, the volunteers who review resumes or provide advice to a student to help them advance in our field. Or the casual encounters that happen in the elevator, in the hallway or at a session that may lead to something more.

Within ACHE, peer-to-peer connections are our most powerful recruiter, and through others they can create a ripple effect to support those around us. I’ve heard so many stories about how someone met their next boss, was inspired to be a Fellow or was encouraged to attend a local event. I have gotten personal notes from attendees about how the speakers and sessions at Congress allowed them to find renewal or hope—turning a challenge into an opportunity. Our community is alive with support.

There is a lot of talk about mental health and the loss of our connections to each other. We are losing ground in the battle of our own social capital. As a community of leaders, we each have the power to pay it forward—to help someone. Informal gestures such as handwritten notes, a smile in an elevator, or celebrating wins and sharing something positive on social media are just some examples. More formal gestures matter, too, such as mentoring or sponsoring a rising star. What is most important is not the channel you adopt, it’s the intentionality of connecting to those around us. To tune in, not out.  

I am proud to be part of a community that practices and values this sort of leadership. And I encourage all of you to remember the power you hold in your everyday world through your own interactions—the kind that can produce a ripple effect that will affect you and others for the better.

“Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into the water, the actions of individuals can have a far-reaching effect.”—Dalai Lama

Deborah J. Bowen, FACHE, CAE, is president/CEO of the American College of Healthcare Executives (