During times of crisis, heroes are displayed, or cowards are revealed. What the world learned last week is that Volodymyr Zelensky is no coward. After Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the United States offered to evacuate the Ukrainian president, to which he responded, “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.”
Over the last week, Zelensky has reminded the world what true leadership looks like. Showing no fear, the president has posted several selfie videos to social media, affirming his stance. He will not lay down arms, there will be no surrender, and he and his fellow countrymen are not afraid to fight for their freedom. Realizing he is Russia’s number one target right now, he appears willing to fight to the death—a real possibility, as he’s already evaded an assassination attempt.
Since World War II, we haven’t seen a political leader with this type of boldness, charisma, and bravery. The 44-year-old president gives off the same energy as a war-time Winston Churchill. It’s a rare demonstration in leadership everyone, including business leaders, can learn something from.
4 Ways to Lead Like Zelensky When Challenges Arise
1. Speak to People in a Language They Understand
Three hours before Russia invaded Ukraine, Zelensky appealed directly to the Russian people who have been lied to by their government. Political propaganda from Putin and the Russian media claims the military was sent on a mission to “denazify” Ukraine and protect the country’s citizens from “Ukrainian nationalists.” Speaking in Russian, Zelensky unpacked the truth for those the message would reach in a profound speech.
“You have been told that this flame will bring liberation to Ukraine’s people. But the Ukrainian people are free. They remember their own past and will build their own future . . .
They tell you that we’re Nazis. But how can a people that lost 8 million lives to defeat the Nazis support Nazism? How can I be a Nazi? Say it to my grandfather, who fought in World War II as a Soviet infantryman and died a colonel in an independent Ukraine . . .
The truth is that this needs to end before it is too late. If Russia’s leadership does not want to meet us across the table for the sake of peace, perhaps it will sit at that table with you . . .”
In this call for peace, Zelensky reaches his opponents by finding a bridge. Instead of using a translator, he spoke to Russians in Russian. It’s a powerful message that he’s not so different from his attackers as a citizen of Ukraine.
Whether you’re negotiating with a tough client or providing an employee with feedback, try to communicate in a way the other person will best understand. Use empathetic leadership to picture how they feel and resonate with them emotionally. This will help you get your point across more effectively.
2. Fight for What You Believe In
“We are fighting just for our land and for our freedom . . . Every square after today, no matter what it’s called, it’s going to be called Freedom Square, in every city of our country,” Zelensky said in an address to the European Parliament. These words, along with other messages the president has circulated on social media and television interviews, communicate his commitment to stay in the fight.
This is the same message he provided in a previous address, stating:
“We will fight for as long as it takes to liberate the country. If children are born in shelters, even when the shelling continues, then the enemy has no chance in this undoubtedly people’s war. To victory—glory to Ukraine.”
His self-filmed videos in the streets of Kyiv show he is still present in the capital and not leaving his people to fight for themselves. In one video, he encourages his fellow citizens to keep up the fight, saying, “This is our land, our country, our children . . . And we will defend all of this.”
Great leaders aren’t afraid to fight for what’s right. It doesn’t matter how big their opponents are. Whether you own a business that fights against corrupt organizations or run a nonprofit that fights against evil in the world like human trafficking, true leaders are the first to stand up to wrongdoing. Following a distinct set of core values, principles, and ethics, strong leaders make it their purpose in life to minimize the suffering of others, even if it means they have to make personal sacrifices.
3. Never Abandon Your People
Zelensky is putting his life on the line by staying in Ukraine—something he’s fully aware of. In a statement he gave, he said: “According to our information, the enemy marked me as target number one, my family as target number two. They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the head of state.”
Yet the Ukrainian president isn’t willing to abandon his country and leave them without a leader. Even after Russian reports circulated about Ukraine laying down arms, Zelensky spread a video on social media letting everyone know this was far from the truth.
In it, he said:
“There’s a lot of fake information online that I call on our army to lay down arms, and that there’s evacuation. I’m here. We won’t lay down our arms. We will defend our state.”
As Zelensky sticks by his country, the approval ratings for his actions stand at 91 percent according to a survey conducted by Ratings Sociological Group. These numbers have almost tripled since December, showing that people support bold leadership.
Leaders lead from the front during times of crisis. As Nelson Mandela once put it, “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”
These words ring true, no matter what type of leader you are. Staying in the trenches during challenging times is what gains you respect, admiration, and trust. It also shows integrity, courage, and bravery. However, leaders don’t lead from the front during a crisis for this type of recognition. Instead, protecting those around them and helping guide their team toward victory comes naturally to them. For this reason, people want to go to war with them.
4. Remain Positive and Uplifting
Though the situation in Ukraine is dire, Zelensky has remained positive throughout the fight. Recently, he spoke directly to his people, offering them encouragement, even in the midst of battle. “We’ve hardly slept for seven nights, or we sleep, but anxiously. My dears, a time will come when we sleep, but it’ll be after the war—after the victory—in a peaceful country,” he told them.
While Putin might continue overtaking Ukraine, his grip is loose. By constantly staying visible and optimistic, Zelensky has controlled the narrative. He represents all Ukrainians—people who will not easily hand their freedom over to a dictator.
Speaking to Putin directly, Zelensky warned:
“When you attack us, you will see our faces. Not our backs, but our faces,” communicating the bravery of Ukrainians.
Messages like these keep morale high and bolster support for Ukraine from across the world. Mason Clark, a Russian analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, tells Vox, “It’s been interesting to watch in the last 48 hours, and good to see in many ways, that the Kremlin has lost control of the narrative, internationally, around this war.”
Zelensky’s example is an important reminder of the power of positivity. This is a leadership quality every leader needs. As Napoleon Hill once said, “Victory is always possible for the person who refuses to stop fighting.” Despite challenges, great leaders focus on long-term goals, even if short-term losses occur. By remaining positive, they keep spirits high, help people find courage, and shift others into a better mindset to keep pushing forward.
Leaders Remain Humble, Even When They are Deserving of Massive Praise
Zelensky has received much acclaim for his bravery, courage, and strong leadership. From global leaders to people worldwide supporting Ukraine via TikTok, Instagram, Reddit, and Twitter, the leader’s been given a ton of praise for how he’s handled the Russian invasion.
When CNN asked him about his journey from television star to acclaimed war leader, he responded, “I’m not iconic, I think Ukraine is iconic.” Even though he is deserving of praise, he puts his country first, acknowledging his people above himself. As such, he continues to demonstrate what true leadership looks like.
Although the future of Ukraine is uncertain, Zelensky remains steadfast that Russia will not hold the country.
In the same interview, he commented:
“They have no idea what they [are] doing. They don’t know our streets. They don’t know this people. They don’t understand our philosophy. Our mentality, our aspirations, what kind of people here they have, they know nothing. They’re just sent to kill and die.”
His words strike an emotional chord with the world. Through Zelensky’s leadership, we see ourselves in this battle—in the faces of those facing the loss of their freedom. That’s what great leadership does, though. It connects people on a human level, despite cultural differences or language barriers.
Great leaders make us care and call us to act.
They won’t let us ignore them—they will be heard.
Want to help the citizens of Ukraine? Check out the following resources: