Ukraine’s comedian-turned-president, Volodymyr Zelensky, is surely courageous. In the face of an invasion by a military known to be far more powerful than his own, and in response to an offer to be evacuated by the U.S., Zelensky famously responded, “I need ammunition, not a ride".1 If we stopped here, the Ukrainian leader would go down in history as one of the bravest since the second world war, but let’s look beyond courage to discover why Zelensky is quite extraordinary.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a 21st-century David versus Goliath story with traumatic consequences. The Ukrainian people, facing deadly fire by land and air for over a year, have shown an unexpected resiliency that is admired around the world. As the face of his nation, Zelensky has been a champion of this resiliency through his empathy and humility. “Charisma attracts attention. Courage earns admiration. But commitment to a group is what inspires loyalty. We follow the leaders who fight for us--and we make sacrifices for the leaders who serve us,” says renowned organizational psychologist Adam Grant.2 Zelensky has been successful in garnering this loyalty in a few ways. First, he is accessible. Always seemingly an arm’s length away, you see him talking with soldiers on the front lines, visiting the wounded in hospitals, and directly appealing to leaders across the world.3
Zelensky is also an information machine, providing the world with intellectual stimulation.4 Whether through TV interviews or social media, Zelensky has changed the brand of his relatively obscure nation to one whose national anthem is now played around the world.5 Wearing his signature green uniform instead of a suit and tie, the Ukrainian president embodies the struggle of his people, is authentic, and has nothing to hide (often including his whereabouts). During wartime and in the absence of information, citizens tend to assume the worst. This is why Zelensky ensures he is using all forms of media to communicate what the government is doing and why. There’s context, and a reason to buy in. Like an organization’s CEO, he’s letting the world know where the business is headed and how all must work together to get there.6
Finally, Ukraine’s transformational leader is providing the world with a masterclass on how to turn a dire situation on its head. Russia’s 900,000 active-duty troops dwarf Ukraine’s 240,000, yet Zelensky has never positioned himself as small. Instead of trying to persuade other nations to give him a chance or be defensive, he ignored assumptions that he would fail, broadcasted strength, and made it clear that Russia had underestimated him and his nation. This mindset turned national isolation into global unity.7 David isn’t just holding his own against goliath, he’s teaching him a thing or two.
6. A. Bubich, “Here’s what leaders can learn from Zelensky’s communication style,” Fortune, April 19, 2022,
7. E.A. Fox, “Ukraine’s Zelensky Is The Master Of Transformational Leadership,” Forbes, March 19, 2022,