Like many, my college experience provided the opportunity to make friends and interact with some fascinating people – classmates whom I admire and respect more than they will ever know. We all had our dreams and aspirations, then graduation day came and we parted ways, ready to pursue our passions and make a positive difference in this world. We were ready and willing to be the best leaders we could be, prepared to serve others, stand behind our beliefs, and utilize the tools we had acquired – at least as far as our toolbox would take us.
What began as one such dream for a few of these classmates turned into an international charitable organization employing dozens of staff members, enlisting hundreds of volunteers, and impacting countless lives around the world. This past week, something happened to this organization that changed everything: it garnered global media attention virtually overnight. This organization is known as Invisible Children.
You may be familiar with the latest media blitz surrounding this non-profit and their viral video, Kony 2012. The team posted the video last Monday, hoping for 500,000 views by the end of the year. Yet what they received was far beyond their wildest dreams: 52 million views in just four days…and over 78 million views as I write this. This has led to an outpouring of news articles, TV interviews, blog posts, enormous praise, and even a severe backlash of criticism from people around the world, across nearly every major media entity from the Wall Street Journal to TMZ.
Wow. These young leaders must be feeling so many emotions. I would imagine they are thrilled beyond belief to have their message heard by so many people, yet fearful and/or frustrated by the criticism, and perhaps even nervous by the overwhelming attention in general. The international fame happened nearly overnight. Yet whether they were ready or not, this organization and its leaders will forever be held to a higher standard. Their leadership, or perhaps more importantly, others’ perception of their leadership, has been forever changed.
You see, whether we agree with it or not, leading at higher levels requires a new level of perseverance. The higher we go, the more others expect of us. It may not seem fair, but it is a reality. When you reach a certain level of fame, fortune, or position, opposition becomes inevitable. People will take shots at you, even when you know you’re doing the right thing. Observers will scrutinize your every action just because they can.
As leaders – leaders who are continuously growing and likely aspiring to reach new levels of leadership – we must always remember this. As our ability to influence others and our capacity to act as role models increases, we must expect that higher standards, albeit often unspoken, will be placed over us. As we continuously strive for moral and ethical excellence, we must trust that we’re doing the right thing, even in the face of criticism. And as we responsibly persevere, we must remember the expectation – and the privilege – that the more we receive, the more we must give; the more we lead, the more we must serve.
Our individual leadership journeys may never reach the level that Invisible Children has as an organization (or perhaps they will!), but regardless, the lesson is the same for all. Leadership simply gets tougher the higher you go and the more lives you touch. Not that my opinion matters in this case, but I am enormously proud of my classmates, grateful for their generous work, and fully confident that they will continue to do amazing things for this world… They’ll face a higher level of scrutiny and more forceful opposition, but as with all great leaders, this will ultimately only strengthen their resolve and improve their effectiveness.
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