The world is shocked and moved by the Russian mayhem on Ukraine soil. President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has led to massive civilian casualties and infrastructure damage creating the largest humanitarian crisis Europe has witnessed lately. However, the bravery and defiance of the Ukrainian people, including that of President Volodymyr Zelensky, are what the world will remember no matter what the outcome of the war is.
The world cannot ignore Russian tyranny too. One of the influential and powerful world leaders, President Putin, has resorted to ‘War’ as his conflict management style, and how wrong we were to think it involved dialogue, negotiations and diplomacy. Though it is difficult to predict the trajectory of this war, it is undoubtedly redefining the way we understand and manage conflict, contrary to what we learned in business schools. And equally riveting is the remarkable leadership style of President Zelensky that leaders in all spheres of life may want to understand and imbibe.
Lead by example
When violence crept closer to Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, and Zelensky’s life was under threat, the United States offered to evacuate him. Rejecting the offer and demonstrating unwavering courage, he responded with his now-famous line: ‘I need ammunition, not a ride.’ This is courage beyond what the vast majority of us could muster. The world will forever remember his show of moral fortitude and risking his life for the collective good.
His decision to not flee Kyiv but to stand alongside his people is leading by example. Staying back in his country, encouraging, motivating, and guiding his people during the country’s darkest hours is a testament to his grit and determination to serve his people.
When leaders lead by example not just in rhetoric but also in action, they open doors for trust and pave the way for employee commitment and higher productivity. Facing challenges head-on and taking the frontline when in danger is how leaders earn respect, admiration, and trust.
Given its size and enormous military power, Russia’s brutal attempt to crush and subjugate Ukraine was a near-certain defeat for President Zelensky. But Ukraine chose to fight even when the world’s initial impulse was to write it off. Not only has the war united Ukraine more than ever before, but it has also reminded us of the Biblical stories of David and Goliath. President Zelensky, for us, is undoubtedly David. He chose to rise as David facing the well-armoured giant and not letting anyone limit his sense of greatness.
The positivity stems from his self-belief and unflinching strength far and wide, ignoring everyone’s assumption that he would fail and showing us how wrong we were day after day. He didn’t see himself as weak and small and never positioned himself that way; instead, he emerged courageous to face the giant, hoping that he would even beat him eventually.
The war is still on, but by constantly staying optimistic and motivating his people, Zelensky has controlled the narrative. Leaders need to learn this skill to remain positive while in crisis. It doesn’t matter how big the giant is; what matters is the determination to win and for that facing the giant is the first step. Perhaps, the conviction to defeat the giant may not result in the win, but that will definitely make things easier.
President Zelensky has traded his formal navy suit, white shirt and tie with a dark green T-shirt as seen in his daily videos or while addressing the US Congress and the parliaments of many other countries. This wardrobe change is to show solidarity with the people of his country, to stand alongside them equally pained, anguished but with the determination to free the nation. The T-shirt symbolises the connection between him and the soldiers fighting on the streets. Like his words, his attire during the war is simple yet profound.
By demonstrating a feeling of oneness, empathy, and trust, Zelensky has touched the right chord with his people, leading to a massive transformation organically and overwhelmingly all around him. Perhaps, what leaders must get right to create an environment of engagement, happiness, and trust is the skill to empathise. Understanding and reflecting the team’s values is a leadership competency to develop and demonstrate more than the internal characteristics.
Leverage the power of the media
President Zelensky didn’t rise as a global hero by sleight of hand. He leveraged the power of the media to reinforce his presence and dispel contrary rumours. As he stared down at tanks, drones, and missiles ravaging his nation, he flooded the social media platforms with humble, emotional, and highly effective speeches and videos. They are so relatable that they are difficult to ignore. On the virtual front, he is already a winner.
Being media-savvy, he understands the importance and influence of social media. He is consistent with his messages to his team, people, and the world about how important freedom is to the Ukrainians, gradually shaping our collective focus and making us lean toward his unwavering conviction. Without his ingenious media strategy, Ukraine would have already lost the war.
Social media that has permeated almost every aspect of our personal and business lives has totally changed how we communicate and share information. Leaders need to understand this and leverage it to connect and influence a wider audience. It is time that leaders embrace this change or risk becoming irrelevant to those they lead. The social media genie is already out and cannot be put back in its bottle.
While the Russian invasion continues and the outcome is uncertain, President Zelensky’s rise as a global leader and his profound leadership style are lessons for leaders of all stripes.