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Leadership Analysis. What we can learn from Zelenskyy (Part 1)



There has been an explosion (no pun intended) of comment, tweets, videos, memes etc on President Zelenskyy recently. For a politician, this is not particularly unusual. What is exceedingly rare, is that the feelings portrayed towards him are overwhelmingly positive.

What is it about this leader which has roused the collective fighting spirit of the world's population, and what can we learn from it.

In part 1 (of what will be a series of blogs), we will start with what I believe is the PRIMARY reason for his support:


SKIN IN THE GAME.


Consider two leaders.

  1. The CEO of a large corporation who holds few shares, and benefits financially on his departure even after he leaves the business in worse shape.

  2. A Roman Emperor who makes the weighty decision to commit to war, then charges into battle with his army.

(Regarding the CEO, and characters like him. I would disown my son if he became 'that guy' (there is no risk of this). I have seen and worked for way too many of these individuals, and they are the weakest of the weak. The opposite of a warrior.)


There are some very strong signals that the Roman Emperor transmits when he puts himself at risk. The results of those signals are as follows:


Firstly, his army trusts him. By riding with them, he has demonstrated that he is not some aloof bureaucrat who is playing with their lives.

Secondly, he demonstrates vulnerability. In his excellent book ‘The Culture Code’, Daniel Coyle explains why displays of vulnerability are so important for leaders when establishing cooperation and trust.

When our leaders show their frailties, we as subordinates naturally feel a tendency to cooperate with them (leading to extrinsic motivation). Evolutionary processes have necessitated a very strong instinct for assessing safety within groups, and a leader who shows vulnerability sends a very powerful signal that ‘You will be safe here. We are like your family’.


In ‘Skin in the Game’, Nassim Taleb makes many arguments for why personal risk helps society to function better, and I won’t attempt to paraphrase them here, but I do highly recommend this book as a leadership text (add ‘Anti-Fragile’ to the list). What we are concerned with is how WE can use skin in the game to extrinsically motivate our staff.


It's simple. At every opportunity, ride into battle with your troops. Show them you are vulnerable, and that you deeply care about their wellbeing.


Be more like President Zelenskyy. Be less like Putin.

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