Leadership Lessons from Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky

Since the beginning of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been an inspiring and charismatic figure – not just for Ukrainian citizens, but for people all over the world.

Since the beginning of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been an inspiring and charismatic figure – not just for Ukrainian citizens, but for people all over the world. He has delivered powerful speeches, led brave resistance troops, and made brilliant tactical decisions, even under tremendous pressure.

If you’re a leader in any environment you can learn a lot from the tenants of leadership that Zelensky has demonstrated.

Let’s review a few important takeaways.

In a Crisis, Show Up

“I know that a lot of misinformation and rumors are being spread now. In particular, it is claimed that I have left Kyiv. I remain in the capital, I am staying with my people. My family is not a traitor, but a citizen of Ukraine.” –Volodymyr Zelensky

Since the start of the crisis, the Ukrainian president has not hidden. He has not fled. And he hasn’t made excuses for lack of attendance. Instead, he has been at the forefront, sometimes leading directly with his presence and sometimes making public commentary. He has remained in Ukraine during the conflict and has done everything he could to be there for his people.

Because of this he has earned tremendous admiration and trust around the world. If you’re the type of leader who hides in his office when something chaotic is happening, your workers aren’t going to have much faith in your abilities as a leader.

Instead, you need to show your face, be with your people, and be present whenever your business is at its most difficult.

Take Initiative (and Be Decisive)

“Today, at the initiative of the Russians, the first round of talks between Ukraine and Russia took place. These talks took place while our territory and cities were being bombed, being shelled. We could see the synchronization of the shelling with the negotiation process. I believe that in this unsophisticated way Russia is trying to put pressure. Don’t waste time. We do not accept such tactics. Fair negotiations can happen when one side does not hit the other side with rocket artillery at the moment of negotiations.” –Volodymyr Zelensky

Zelensky’s decisions have been firm, and he has stood by those decisions even when it was difficult. This level of decisiveness is important if you want to earn the respect and approval of your employees. If you waiver under pressure, or if you frequently change your mind, people are going to doubt your capabilities.

For example, let’s say you’re dealing with an insubordinate employee. You give them a warning that if they continue repeating their behavior, they’re going to face disciplinary action. But if they do continue the insubordination, you back down and allow it to continue with another warning, this demonstrates indecisiveness and poor leadership. Instead, carry through with your decisions, no matter how difficult it may seem. People will respect your consistency.

Know Your Purpose and Use It to Motivate Your People

“But if we come under attack, if we face an attempt to take away our country, our freedom, our lives and the lives of our children, we will defend ourselves. When you attack us, you will see our faces. Not our backs, but our faces.” –Volodymyr Zelensky

We need purpose in life to accomplish great things, to fight on. Zelensky continually tells his people and the world why they are fighting – to protect their Ukrainian heritage and way of life.

Likewise, we need purpose to achieve satisfaction in our jobs. If we know why we do what we do, we are motivated to continue. If you’re a truck driver, you’re keeping the wheels of commerce moving in society. If you’re a restaurant waitress, you are helping people enjoy nutrition and fellowship. If you’re a scientist, you’re discovering ideas and technologies to benefit humanity.

People don’t just want a paycheck these days; they want purpose. When leaders tell their colleagues why they do what they do, and praise them for accomplishing the mission, it’s a strong motivating force. Praise your people regularly and remind them how they are accomplishing their purpose and benefitting society.

Find Allies and Build Your Coalition

“I’ve talked to the defenders of Mariupol today. I’m in constant contact with them. Their determination, heroism and firmness are astonishing … If only those who have been thinking for 31 days on how to hand over dozens of jets and tanks had 1 percent of their courage.” –Volodymyr Zelensky

Though not officially a part of NATO, Ukraine has called upon NATO allies to provide missiles, tanks, and fighter jets. While not all of their requests have been met in full, allies all around the world have stepped up to provide the support they can. Alone, Ukraine has done a phenomenal job of resisting Russian forces. But with strong allies, it’s doing even better.

As a leader, you can’t do everything by yourself. You need a team of colleagues, advisors, partners, and other professionals to support and help you accomplish the big goals of the organization. This may seem weird to admit, but it’s just a reflection on my experience: Every significant accomplishment I’ve had – in decades as a CEO – has been the result of working with a great team.

Don’t Just Talk. Execute.

“We will fight to the end. We will not give up and we will not lose. We will fight until the end at sea, in the air. We will continue fighting for our land, whatever the cost.” –Volodymyr Zelensky

This quote is cheating a bit, since Zelensky is quoting legendary U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill. But the point remains: nice words can be inspirational and motivating, but people are going to lose their faith in you as a leader if words are all you have. Don’t just talk about what you’re going to do; you must follow through and actually do it.

Are you struggling with the challenges of leadership? Do you aspire to bring your team the motivation they need to do their best? Reach out to me today, and let’s have a conversation!

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