Leadership Case Study: President Volodymyr Zelensky

by Stephen T. Messenger

26 February 2022

All eyes are on the Ukraine this week as Russian forces began attacking on Thursday, 24 February 2022. Beginning the most intense European fighting since World War II, images of the atrocities of war are now flooding the airwaves from Russian aggression.

In this midst of chaos, there are always opportunities for leaders to excel. In this instance, the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky emerged as one who chose to fight for his people, and his country, at all costs.

Regardless of the outcome, President Zelensky has demonstrated ways that leaders should act during crises, most notably being present.

A surprising leader of his country, just a few years ago Zelensky was an actor on a Ukrainian television satire called “Servant of the People.” He portrayed a high school teacher elected president after posting a viral video about government corruption. 

From this emerged a political party with the same name, “Servant of the People,” and after running for President in 2019, he easily won the position. Now he finds himself on the world stage with limited political experience.

This is a classic David and Goliath tale. According to globalfirepower.com, Russia owns the second most powerful military in the world while Ukraine is number twenty-two. In power rankings, Russia rates over six times stronger than the Ukraine.

It would be easy for a leader to surrender and quit against such odds. President Zelensky could allow Russia to walk into his country unopposed by ordering his people and military to lay down their arms. This act would save hundreds if not thousands of his citizens’ lives, maintain a “semblance of normalcy,” and prevent widespread suffering.

He has also repeatedly stated that he is on the Russian kill list as enemy number one and his family as number two. As a father and husband, he must balance his job responsibility with his family’s safety.

On top of all this, the United States offered him a get-out-of-jail free card through evacuating him and his family out of the Ukraine. The cost to all this is simple: his nation’s freedom.

Thus far, President Zelensky has chosen to lead through presence. He rejected the American offer of evacuation saying, “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.”

The Russians know having the President abandon his country is critical to their success. They have enacted a massive informational campaign to convince the Ukrainians Zelensky has personally abandoned the country, yet the President has proved the opposite.

He has made numerous videos standing in the capital of Kyiv defiantly stating that he will stay and fight alongside his countrymen. He has abandoned his suit for a military drab uniform and in front of the Presidential Building on Friday night stated, “We are in Kyiv. We are protecting Ukraine.”

This is a tough message to give for a leader. He is committing the lives of his people for freedom along with the lives of his family. Yet the rewards of this bold leadership far outweigh the costs.

His only hope of saving the country is through continuous presence in the Ukraine and encouragement to his people. And he knows it.

In his last message on Friday night, he stated, “Tonight the enemy will use all their forces to break our resistance. It is despicable, cruel, and inhumane. Tonight, they will storm. We must all understand what awaits us.”

The enemy is at the door.  President Zelensky is handing out over 70,000 AK-47 rifles to his people and allowing broadcasting the recipe for Molotov cocktails. He is locking down all military aged men to defend the nation. He is encouraging his people to stand strong. He continuously meets with world leaders to solidify strategic partnerships.

He is leading in a time of crisis and leading well.

We all face giants in our lives. A leader cannot back down and must physically stand in front of their people to the point of taking up arms themselves, whether metaphorical or literal. Leaders do not give up in the face up aggression. They keep leading!

No one knows what the future holds for the Ukraine. But to date, one thing is certain. President Zelensky understands leadership is about presence, communication, and partnerships.

President Zelensky: “I am here. We are not putting down arms. We will be defending our country, because our weapon is truth, and our truth is that this is our land, our country, our children, and we will defend all of this.”

We encourage you to learn from his leadership.

May God bless the people of the Ukraine.

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