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Leadership Analysis. What we can learn from President Zelenskyy (Part 2). ‘Authenticity'

Our staff are incredibly good at sniffing out liars, and they don’t like them.


They’d much rather a boss who is technically mediocre but authentic than a highly competent liar.

Authentically what?


Of course, authenticity alone is not enough. I have worked for plenty of authentic a**holes, and it’s not a nice experience. What we need are authentic leaders who are genuinely looking out for our interests.


When we stand up in front of our staff, we are giving off a barrage of signals, both verbal and non-verbal. The sum of these are crucial to our authenticity, and they are VERY hard to fake. Our audience looks at the wrinkles of our brow, and tests this signal for congruence with the expression of our mouth. The shape of our eyes is compared for consistency with the tone of our voice. We ARE being judged.


Watch the facial expressions Zelenskyy uses when listening to others. Studies have shown that members of high performance teams tend to display one particular facial expression frequently: raised inner eyebrows, slightly tilted head and intense eye contact. We often see this from the president; it is a particular combination which portrays a genuine curiosity which is translated by the listener into empathy.

Comedians, especially stand ups, live and die by their ability to accurately read another person’s reactions. Maybe this profession will become an unexpected training ground for empathetic leaders.


Regarding speech; in ‘Blink’, Malcolm Gladwell describes an experiment where a group of listeners could accurately predict whether a surgeon would be sued after listening to only a few seconds of him or her speaking to a patient. Even more incredible…the results were the same even after the actual content was filtered out! On voice tone alone, our team is deciding whether to follow us into battle.


Compared to the vomit-inducing, highly crafted speeches so common to politicians, in President Zelenskyy we see a leader who seems to really believe what he is saying. It’s almost like he writes his own speeches, and furthermore, actually believes the content!

From 1000s of miles away, the President of Ukraine appears to be an authentic and empathetic leader. History will record what ultimately results from his tenure, but he is certainly achieving the aim of leadership; ‘positively motivating a group of people towards a common goal’.

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