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February 24 marked the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I’ve found it interesting to observe world leaders over the past year as they react and respond to the crisis. It’s an instructive lesson on the different types of leadership and their effectiveness.

The Right Leader at the Right Time in the Right Place
One of the most admired leaders in the world today is Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy. And for good reason. He knows how to inspire people. He has successfully motivated his armed forces to stand up against a much-larger Russian aggressor; motivated the people of Ukraine, who have endured unimaginable suffering as a result of Russian bombing of civilian targets and infrastructure; and motivated fellow heads of state to support him in fending off the Russian invaders. And, he’s done it all while demonstrating strong character and core values.

As told by the Wall Street Journal’s on-scene reporter, Yaroslav Trofimov, President Zelenskyy offered this inspiration in marking the conclusion of one year of brutal warfare: “We didn’t get scared, we didn’t break, we didn’t surrender. Ukraine has surprised the world… this was a year of fortitude, a year of kindheartedness, a year of courage, a year of pain, a year of hope, a year of endurance, a year of unity, a year of being unbreakable, a cruel year. Its main conclusion is that we have held out and haven’t suffered defeat. Now, we will do everything so that, this year, we achieve a victory.”

What powerful words to unite and strengthen his armed forces, his people, his allies! Reflecting the mood of the populace, Ukraine’s National Opera Theater performed a moving tribute, Ukraine: Free and Unbreakable. It amazed me to witness such evidence of the incredible fortitude of the Ukrainian people despite the cold, hunger, suffering, and incredible loss. I pondered what it is that makes President Zelenskyy such an effective leader capable of motivating his people, and sustaining that motivation, during the absolute worst of times.

Attributes of a Motivational Leader of Character
Observing the actions of President Zelenskyy over the past year, I see three attributes that contribute to his success as a motivational leader of character, and that I believe can be a guide for anyone desiring to become a more motivational leader. A motivational leader of character:

  • Unites his or her people around a common mission or purpose grounded in facts and supported by strong core values. Motivational leaders of character like President Zelenskyy seek to unite and strengthen their people, not divide and weaken them. Motivational leaders of character put aside differences and unite people, regardless of what they look like or what they believe, around a shared purpose and core values. They open their minds to learn the facts, and they seek to understand both sides of an issue. Here in the United States, we could learn a lot from the people of Ukraine and the man who leads them. Leaders who demonstrate the humility and courage to unite and strengthen their people will draw out the very best performance from the individuals and the teams.
  • Believes in his or her people. Most people, including world leaders, didn’t believe Ukraine could stand against Russia for more than a few days. But President Zelenskyy didn’t let the odds deter him; he professed his belief in the power of his people to stand up and fearlessly face the foe. Leaders who set the bar high and let their people know they believe they can succeed will draw out the very best performance from the individuals and the teams.
  • Supports his or her people by providing them the resources and encouragement they need to get the job done. Don’t be the leader who talks about motivation but doesn’t back it up. Motivational leaders of character deliver the resources their people need to win. President Zelenskyy has not only supported his troops at home, but has tirelessly traveled across Europe and to the United States to present his case for support for his country and his people. Leaders who support their people will draw out the very best performance from the individuals and the teams.

The Power of a Motivational Leader
President Zelenskyy is succeeding as a motivational leader of character because he has united and strengthened his people around a common purpose; he believes in his people and their ability to defend their homeland; and he has convinced his allies to believe in him, bringing in hundreds of billions of dollars to support his nation’s efforts to defend itself. President Zelenskyy is a strong role model from whom we have much to learn about motivational leadership.

Look in the mirror. What else can those who seek to become more motivational leaders of character do to inspire their people and teams to be at their best?

Please join me again in two weeks for more on Leading with Character.

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