Exactly eight years ago, my colleagues and I found ourselves in an unanticipated season of disruption at the nonprofit organization Invisible Children. We stewarded, at the time, the most viral campaign in the history of the internet: KONY 2012. We were a small organization that captured the attention of the world – 100 million people viewed our online campaign in only five days.
We generated more than twice as much revenue and (literally) 200 times more awareness in a week than our projected strategic goals for the year. But with growth and visibility came backlash, criticism, and campaigns of misinformation. Our organization was turned upside-down, and our team with it.
As I sit in the uncertainty of a global pandemic, there are six lessons I'm drawing on from living through the disruption of KONY 2012.
1. Lead with transparency and authenticity.
Times of disruption are when conscious leaders are not only made, but revealed. Conscious leaders are honest about the circumstances at hand and are deeply empathetic with their team and constituents.
- Be honest. Don't minimize or exaggerate the circumstances.
- Ask for help and empower your team to lean in.
- Show gratitude by highlighting people and milestones.
2. The wisdom is in the collective.
Trust the leaders and team around you. As an organization, you are a collective brain trust. Allow people to bring forth their fresh ideas, creative solutions, passion, and talents to navigate this time of uncertainty and unlock your next chapter of growth.
3. Slow your team down before they burnout.
Disruption can feel a lot like chaos. Take this opportunity to slow your team down and ensure that your people are well taken care of in mind, body, and spirit. The sustainability of your organization is dependent on the wellbeing and care of your people.
4. Empathize with customers, supporters, and yes - the critics.
- Put yourself in their shoes. Don't be quick to judgement. Be mindful of the needs and perspectives of others.
- Get out front and center with your audience. Create a video and speak directly to them with compassion.
- Right now, your constituents' needs are more important than your bottom line. Show kindness and grace. It'll go farther for the wellbeing of your organization – more than you can know right now.
5. Plans are not strategy. Agility and adaptability are key.
Whatever plans you had in place – however brilliant they were – may not best serve where your organization is now headed. Be agile and adaptable in letting go of your past strategy. You have to be willing to allow what you see in front of you day-by-day, step-by-step to inform your decisions.
6. Allow the passion for your mission to inform the next step.
In times of disruption and confusion, there is nothing more clarifying than the heart of your mission. Ask yourself these questions:
- Does the heart of our organization's mission connect to the needs of the current moment? If yes, how can we help?
- If not, how do the broader values of our organization help inform where to go next?
- What do we care about and why?
As you and your organization navigate this time of uncertainty, your choices right now can help pave the way for a better long-term strategy.
And if we can help, we're ready to.
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