Now That’s Leadership
This will be the second time this year that I have written about the phenomenal President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Travelling directly from a morale boosting visit to Bakhmut on the front line, where he was giving out medals to war heroes, Zelenskyy has flown into Washington to address Congress. Leaders show they care deeply about their people, whether it’s on the front line or on the shop floor – they show up. Leaders create strong strategic partnerships, who believe in their vision and will support them through thick and thin.
I recently watched David Letterman on Netflix, interviewing Zelenskyy in an underground station in Kyiv in October this year. The set had a small live audience and was completed with moving trains in the background. Letterman is obviously the master interviewer, but I got a real insight into the President of Ukraine. He is calm, incredibly determined, full of self-confidence and crystal clear in his objectives. There are no wishy-washy statements, he pins his ambitions clearly to the mast: all the occupied territories must be returned to Ukraine, and he says very clearly that Russia will lose. For years now many of our political leaders in the UK seem to have forgotten the necessity for clarity in leadership, fearing they will have to row back on their ambitions, but that only happens when the ambitions lack purpose, clear direction and total conviction, and the objectives are not thought through well enough.
Zelenskyy is totally relatable; he feels like one of us. He wears dark green tee shirts, hoodies and fleeces and speaks in everyday language, all of which makes us feel that he is in touch with the people on the street of Ukraine. He combines his self-confidence and clear thinking with humility. He realises that he cannot achieve his ambitions without the support of NATO and the US.
From the early days of the conflict Zelenskyy ignored the ‘objective assessment’ of the situation. He showed his inner strength along with Ukraine’s right and determination to push Russia out. He ignored any assumptions of failure and we started to believe him.
The parallels to Churchill’s pressurising the US to join in the second world war against Nazi aggression are stark. Before the US formal declaration of war on 2 December 1941 (after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour in Hawaii), Roosevelt developed a programme called ‘Lend-Lease,’ legislation that allowed him to ‘lend’ vast quantities of military supplies to Great Britain and then the rest of the world. Let’s hope and pray that this war ends in 2023.
Zelenskyy changed from a comedian to a president, to a fierce protector of democratic values. He took his people with him first and then the free world. The tidal wave of support followed. He is in it for as long as it takes and I hope our governments will be there alongside the Ukrainians, too.