What are the leadership lessons from Volodymyr Zelensky’s defence of Ukraine?
If Winston Churchill or Franklin Roosevelt are “the best leader of the 20th century” then Volodymyr Zelensky must be considered for this century’s honour. In changing times Zelensky reminds us that leadership matters. Specifically, he understands that it’s not about you: he plays his role and provides the inspiration, challenge and support for others to fulfil theirs.
Zelensky also communicates brilliantly and connects emotionally with everyone: soldiers, children, bereaved, world leaders, Western populations and Ukrainians. When Biden offered to evacuate him from the incoming invasion his response set the tone: “I need ammunition” he raged, “Not a ride!” He is a relationship-builder who understands his audience and makes a clear, compelling case, earning loyalty and admiration worldwide.
Crucially, Zelensky is open, authentic, down-to-earth, an everyman who provides clarity, purpose and direction. His goals are clear: defeat Russia, rebuild Ukraine, join the EU. Every soldier and citizen understands why they are fighting. From these goals we can infer others – defend Europe, repel dictatorship – but these are our goals, not his.
Great leaders step up and face the storm, meeting challenges head-on and encouraging everyone to play their part. That example is surely the greatest leadership lesson of all.