Few of us had ever heard of the 44-year-old Volodymyr Zelenskyy until the period before the unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022. A former actor, comedian, and television star, he contested and won the election for the presidency of his native country in 2019. He campaigned on an anti-corruption platform and his significant online following translated into a solid electoral base. He now leads his country’s struggle to repel Russia’s outrageous invasion and he has become the face 0f Ukraine’s resistance to Putin’s invading army. President Zelenskyy was elected with little traditional political experience but is now acclaimed worldwide as a heroic leader and defender of democratic values and principles.
President Zelenskyy has captured the world’s imagination and has won millions of global followers because of his broadcasts and social media posts from the city of Kyiv, dressed in army green t-shirts and ballistic vests. He has stayed with his people and has united them in a do-or-die struggle for the sovereignty of his nation. Many political observers now rate him as the greatest wartime hero since Winston Churchill during World War Two.
Ukraine is the underdog in this David and Goliath struggle. Russia is 28 times bigger than Ukraine with a population 3.5 times the size of Ukraine’s population. Russia’s army is 900,000 strong while Ukraine’s army is 240,000. Much of the fighting-age population of Ukraine has also been mobilised to defend their country against the invading Russians. That the Ukrainian people are defying all expectations in their heroic resistance to the violent aggression of the Russian armed forces may most likely be due to the extraordinary ability of President Zelenskyy to inspire his armed forces and his people to resist the attempted Russian occupation of his country, while also galvanizing the western nations to support the Ukrainian cause for liberty, freedom, and democracy.
President Zelenskyy has been widely acknowledged as a great leader, and it could be said that leadership was thrust upon him, while still a novice with minimal political experience. Cometh the hour, cometh the man is certainly applicable in the case of Volodymyr Zelenskyy. At this time of national and international crisis, he has shown many of the qualities so necessary for great leadership.
- He is a masterful communicator, who is vocally direct and uses simple language, short sentences, and brief statements for his point messaging. His language is both challenging and inspiring as he consistently calls for action from his own people or from other nations. ” I need ammunition, not a ride”, he has famously declared. In his public utterances, he shows immense leadership presence.
- He is authentic and genuine and as a consequence, people can relate to him. He is not bluffing or faking real leadership: he is the genuine article. His unwavering commitment and dedication are transparently obvious. He has remained with his people and at the core of government. All generations can relate to him and feel inspired by him. What you see is what you get. He is trusted, valued, and admired. He has risen to meet this historic occasion.
- He has genuine empathy; people relate to him and he relates to his people. He shows his own vulnerability but also shows he understands his country and his people and they can relate to him because they feel he understands them, especially at this time of tragic crisis for the Ukrainian nation. Research now shows that empathy is the number one attribute of great leaders.
- He is courageous and fearless. His social media broadcasts are from bombed locations in Kyiv and other street scenes. He wears battle dress and he knows that he is Putin’s number one target for assassination. He takes risks and leads from the front in standing up to his nation’s aggressor.
- He has clear values and principles and his actions reflect those values. He has inspired global admiration while Putin has generated widespread revulsion and enmity, particularly in democratic nations. He is viewed as a protector of democratic values while Putin is an autocratic dictator protecting an authoritarian regime. He is a leader for peace while Putin is a leader for violence, destruction, and subterfuge. He may well be remembered as one of the great leaders of this century while Putin may already have sealed his fate as one of the century’s most tyrannical despots.
- He has shown that he has the ability and aptitude to be an international statesman. He has successfully challenged other nations to support his fight for freedom and for democratic values. He has spoken regularly with world leaders and has addressed European parliaments and the US Congress. His messaging is clear and unequivocal.
If Ukraine prevails his fearless leadership will be an example to people for all time. While many people naturally will support the underdog, in the case of this Ukrainian leader most can readily relate to him. We listen and take note of what he says. Our hearts and minds are open to him. Perhaps this is so because he appears as just an ordinary guy who is extraordinarily candid, brave, calm, and genuine. An ordinary guy transformed into an extraordinary leader overnight. Time will tell where will be Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s place in history.
(Feature photo courtesy of the official website of the President of Ukraine).