Have you ever read a scathing movie review and wondered whether the critic has ever written a successful screenplay herself? Or, listened as a sportscaster waxed vituperatively and wondered why (if he’s so brilliant) he makes his living throwing mud instead of the football?


Invisible Children’s 12th film launched two weeks ago and has now tallied almost 100 million views on YouTube and Vimeo. It tugs at your heart, as do the other 11 films Invisible Children has produced – but that’s not why I’m writing. Instead, it’s the criticism revolving around it that compels me. If you’ve been following the story in the news, you have probably seen it: Allegations of financial mismanagement; Contentions that the plan is bound to fail based on geopolitical challenges; Grievances about involvement with the Ugandan military; Assertions that other organizations working in this niche are more effective, efficient, or deserving of support… The list goes on.

Criticism. Some of it is probably legitimate. Nobody is suggesting that Invisible Children is perfect.  But before you add your voice to the cacophony, be careful – criticism is cheap! It’s also destructive. As Dr. Andy Stanley, author of Visioneering, warns “Visions often die at the hands of the critics.”

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly… who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who have never known neither victory or defeat.”                                                                           – Teddy Roosevelt

However, that’s not to say that legitimate concerns are irrelevant! They aren’t. In fact, many times, people with such concerns hold the key to an organization’s continued success! Your unique perspective or experience may have provided new, previously inaccessible insight; however, its efficacy is directly related to how you handle it. You have a choice: Bleat and complain, or get involved and make things better. If you want your concern to be valuable and productive, there are at least two important rules of thumb:

  1. Understand the context – What’s the situation and why does it exist? Are there established best practices or documented industry standards for comparison? What other approaches have been taken and why haven’t they worked? Are there cultural paradigms propagating current conditions and impeding change? I learned about the power of context while heading an organizational development consulting project in Jessore, Bangladesh. There were many concerning practices at my client site that were patently counterintuitive (to me) and downright irrational (from my perspective). However, I was not Bangladeshi! Thus, I lacked proper perspective and the complete picture. As the months passed, I began to understand the situation from the inside. In the end, my Bangladeshi partners and I identified several areas for change, but others – problematic though they were – had to remain because of cultural and financial realities. Similarly, sometimes you’ll find that improvements can be made and you can be a catalyst for change. However, other times you’ll find there to be good reasons for the status quo and, though your concerns are legitimate, you’ll be glad that you held back your criticism.
  2. Don’t bring a problem without bringing a possible solution, as well – This is a bit of wisdom I learned from my grandpa, an MBA who retired as Vice President of a multinational corporation that produces a variety of music-related products. It’s easy to spot problems. Doing so generally requires little talent. It’s a lot harder to solve them, so this is where leaders can shine. If you want to distinguish yourself in any context, be the person that proposes solutions along with any problem you identify. Very few people do this. Most complain instead, especially when the problem affects them. Apply this principle to neutralize an otherwise critical disposition and it will likely have a powerful external impact on your career. For example, legendary guru Peter Drucker promotes the following recommendation to hiring managers: “If you find someone whose qualifications look good, but he or she is unhappy or unemployed, be very cautious. The kind of people you’re looking for are probably making huge contributions and setting records somewhere. They are probably happy and much loved by the people they work with. Go after that type.”

As is generally the case, the people behind Invisible Children deserve a tremendous amount of credit and very few of the critics that I’ve read are giving them their due. Confronted with grave injustice, Bobby Bailey, Laren Poole, and Jason Russell committed themselves to righting it. They allowed the burden to take root in their hearts and change the course of their lives. They stuck with their convictions in the face of uncertainty and against all odds! Nearly a decade later, after multiple setbacks, these guys are still banging the same drum, have caught the attention of millions around the world and inspired them to join in, and built a multi-million dollar organization while doing it.

Think of your own life: How many times have you seen injustice and rationalized not stepping into the gap because someone else would do it?

Unfortunately, if you’re like me, you’ve done this many times. Well, here are the people picking up our slack. How dare we sit back and criticize them for the way they are doing it! Of course their efforts aren’t perfect – but no one has done as much to bring the world’s attention to bear on this issue as Invisible Children! They set about rationalizing a constituency and making its voice heard to build the political will necessary to address the issue. It’s the first step, it’s long been their goal, and it’s happening. Their methods are also an incredible lesson for every organization, worldwide on how to engage young people using social media and build a groundswell.

Rachelle and I have long supported Invisible Children and will be out there on April 20th. If you don’t feel like you can that’s ok, but find some other worthy cause to support. Just make sure you don’t find yourself criticizing from the sidelines.

Leave a Comment: Tell about a time when you constructively addressed a legitimate concern?

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