Right now the best leadership instruction through example we may ever have the chance to witness in our lifetimes is playing out on the world stage in full view of every nation and people.
On the one side you see the antithesis of anything that is real leadership. Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, is the dictator who rules with a clenched fist: demanding, killing, and destroying. He doesn’t love his people nor honor them. Affectionate, inspiring words never fall from his lips. He hides from danger while yelling curses and threats, and forces “his people” to give their lives for causes they often don’t understand or even realize what it is, and in other cases, things they don’t believe or agree with, but they have to do it or be damned. He has rightfully earned the disdain of the planet. He is 69 years old with decades of “leadership experience” and has learned nothing. He has lived an unfaithful life in many ways and interviewers have long commented that he is his favorite topic. I can’t imagine anyone with even a modicum of facts about him would aspire to follow him or be like him in any way.
On the other hand, leadership is shining like the Northern Lights in the darkness from a young 44-year-old leader who was a former actor, with no prior political or military experience. His courage didn’t begin the moment this conflict began; he has led with a heart for his country and people since before his election. He is much loved by his wife and children and his countrymen, with earned respect. From the very beginning he has spoken and led in such a way to help Ukrainians understand this was not “his” country—it belonged to all of them together. It is no surprise that people are now spilling into the streets to defend what they know is rightfully theirs. He has repeated to the people of his country that he is not leaving—that he is staying and fighting when easily 90% of world leaders have chosen to do otherwise.
It is amazing to see what even some of the government leaders in the U.S. are saying now. It’s amazing that when a leader demonstrates true and appropriate courage, he even makes those who were first against him or wishing him ill to speak well of him. No one wants to be on the wrong side of one who demonstrates great courage acknowledged by the world. Would to God that we would have leaders like that in America, leaders who lay down self and party leadership and act sacrificially, always for the good of the people they are called to lead.
I am sure whatever the outcome immediately for Ukraine’s President Zelensky, his legacy will be one of tremendous leadership. I am certain even now books are being written about these days and how he handled himself and led the people, even the world. My best suggestion for each one of us is to create a file of events and quotes on both of these men. Add to it as this all plays out. We will learn so much on how to truly lead in a way that empowers and builds people.
I’m going to start your file with a couple of quotes from President Zelensky. God bless and empower Ukraine and this man.
“President Zelensky has proven himself in time of war. He had no political experience, no military preparation, but he has nerves of steel and the courage to lead in a time of terrifying violence.”
“According to our information, the enemy marked me as target №1, my family as target №2. 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. That is it. That's all I wanted to tell you. Glory to Ukraine.”
“We Ukrainians are a peaceful nation. But if we remain silent today, we will be gone tomorrow!”
“The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.” A Ukrainian uttered these powerful words when he was asked to evacuate Kyiv with the support of the U.S. government. But he immediately declined the offer and reportedly decided to stay and fight with the people of his country.
“When you attack us, you will see our faces. Not our backs, but our faces.”
“The war is a big disaster, and this disaster has a high price with every meaning of this word. People lose money, reputation, quality of life; they lose freedom. But the main thing is that people lose their loved ones, and they lose themselves.”
“The Ukraine on your news and Ukraine in real life are two completely different countries—and the main difference between them is this: Ours is real. You are told we are Nazis. But could a people who lost more than 8 million lives in the battle against Nazism support Nazism? How can I be a Nazi? Explain it to my grandfather who went through the entire war in the infantry of the Soviet army and died a colonel in an independent Ukraine. You are being told we hate Russian culture? How can someone hate culture? Any culture? Neighbors always enrich one another culturally, but that does not make them one; does not dissolve us in you. We are different. But it is not a reason to be enemies. We want to determine our history by ourselves. In peace, calm, and honesty.”