The psychology of leadership: what we can learn from Volodymyr Zelensky - Amana Walker

President Zelensky is doing what we rarely see in the world today; a leader, leading from the frontPresident Zelensky is doing what we rarely see in the world today; a leader, leading from the front
President Zelensky is doing what we rarely see in the world today; a leader, leading from the front

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Ukraine’s President Zelensky has inspired his people and moved the world with his response to an immensely challenging situation, writes Amana Walker

We can’t escape the news about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And we shouldn’t try to - there’s so much we can learn by looking at the actions of one man.

The world can see that war is about far more than tanks and weapons, it’s about something more powerful: the psychology of Leadership.

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In Volodymyr Zelensky, the President of Ukraine, we have a man who was once laughed at - literally, he was a comedian who played a president, before he became one for real.

Now, no one is laughing because in this role he has found his calling.

He is so passionate about his country and fellow countrymen that he refuses to be whisked away to safety, choosing instead to remain in his homeland and doing whatever it takes to stop Vladimir Putin taking what doesn’t belong to him.

That’s despite the fact that there are reportedly hundreds of Russian-backed mercenaries in Kyiv looking to assassinate him.

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Zelensky believes that if he is asking all the eligible men in his country to stay and fight, he must - and wants to - be one of them. He is doing what we rarely see in the world today; a leader, leading from the front.

This president is going nowhere.

He is an engaging, heartfelt speaker who inspires his people to stand up and be counted, and he has the ability to move anyone anywhere in the world to tears in support of him and his country. He’s been put in an impossible position - he didn’t instigate or want a war- and we can’t help but empathise. We’re all with him.

But Vladimir Putin’s heels are well and truly dug in. You can’t reason with a dictator who appears hell-bent on annexing an entire sovereign nation.

This is a man who is hiding his insecurity behind bravado. He is laser-focused on getting what he wants and will never accept defeat. Unlike Zelensky, he doesn’t care for the loss of lives - he’s too far removed from the battlefield, protected, and surrounded by people who are too fearful to oppose him.

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For Putin, the only acceptable result is winning and becoming more powerful, and to compromise in any way would mean losing face.

He won’t allow that to happen.

And so, even though the contrasting behaviour of the two men is stark, we can learn from both.

Here’s how:

Tell the truth

In a world where ‘fake news’ is everywhere, we want the truth, and we’ll search until we get it.

There are no shortages of people in the world who lie: they might be politicians, leaders, your manager, a friend, or someone in your family.

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And when we find out about their lies, we often choose not to trust them again.

Yes, there are people you know who don’t tell the truth because they are trying to protect you from it (and saving you from getting hurt). But if that isn’t the case, they are lying for a reason; they have something to hide and at some point, they’ll be found out - just as Putin will be.

Don’t take the risk of being dishonest. You’ll damage your reputation and lose friends along the way.

Walk your talk

I’ve never been a lover of people who bark out orders but don’t get their hands a bit dirty and muck in themselves. If you lead by example and understand what it’s like to face the challenges (as Zelensky is showing) others are more likely to follow you.

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He stands with his people, eats with his people and fights with his people.

That’s how you earn respect as a leader.

So, practise what you preach, do what you say you are going to do and take the lead.

When you care about others, they care about you

If you genuinely care about people, it will show. You’ll take action that demonstrates how you feel, you’ll bend over backwards to help, and even if we don’t understand your spoken language, we understand your body language.

We can see in your face when you are emotional, we can hear it in the tone of your voice and your actions speak louder than your words.

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The best leaders show how passionate they are about people. We can all do that.

In unity there is strength

There is so much concern about the might of Russia, Putin’s singlemindedness, and the number of weapons at his disposal.

But no one could have foreseen (not even Putin) the utter strength of Ukraine and its people. Not only does Zelensky have his entire country behind him, but he has also managed to win over most of the world through his video messages, and that gives him the kind of power that Putin can only dream about. That is likely to fuel Putin’s anger even more.

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In the face of danger and bullies, stand up and stand together.

Courage is contagious

It only takes one person to be brave, or take a risk, or dare themselves to face what might seem like an impossible task.

When that happens, others take notice.

What we are witnessing around the world is a collective belief in Zelensky and the people of Ukraine, driving many of us to somehow join in. Before you know it, the number of people joining in has snowballed into a movement - an army of collective courage. We’re all Ukrainian.

We see this everyday - someone, somewhere stands up to the bully. Someone calls out poor treatment of others. Someone seriously ill digs deep and finds a way to push forward and survive. Someone takes the lead at work and rather than towing the company line, instigates changes that will benefit many others.

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Seeing someone courageous inspires us into action. And we’re all capable of doing that and taking the lead.

War is fought with weapons, but the real battle is in our heads. How we handle ourselves makes the difference between winning or losing.

We can all learn a great deal. From one man.

Amana Walker is a performance coach who works with a range of business leaders and sports professionals. More info at

Support people fleeing the devastating conflict in Ukraine: donate to the DEC appeal

Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) charities and their local partners are in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries providing food, water, shelter and medical assistance. Learn more and donate what you can today

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