Academics professor: Zelenskyy is a one-of-a-kind transformational leader

Dr. Scott Warner

Assistant Professor

Dr. Scott Warner
April 7, 2022

Academics professor: Zelenskyy is a one-of-a-kind transformational leader

As disturbing are the images of war in Ukraine are, I cannot help but watch President Volodymyr Zelenskyy transition from television actor to war hero.
He may be one of the most transformational leaders of our lifetimes. The only other person that has influenced me in such a way was Ronald Reagan, who through diplomacy, ended communism as we knew it in the 1980s. I watched on live television the fall of the Berlin Wall (or as we called it back then the Iron Curtain) that separated free western democratic society from the closed communistic society of the Soviet Union. It was a pivotal shift in public policy for the last 30 years.
Since then, no other person has affected me as profoundly as Zelenskyy. On the Ukrainian television show, The Servant of the People, Zelenskyy the actor becomes the unlikely President of Ukraine, to now mirror this in real life. So the question is how did this unknown novice politician become one of the most transformational leaders of our times? Against all odds through his leadership, he inspired his fellow Ukrainians to stand firm, form a resistance, and fight against the onslaught of the Russian army.
To answer that question, one must understand what makes a transformational leader. Research shows transformational leaders motivate their followers to perform beyond their expectations. They create a shared vision; provide meaning to the work they do while at the same time serving as role models; helping their followers develop their own potential; and finding new ways to address problems and find solutions. They take the ordinary and inspire others to be extraordinary by increasing their confidence to achieve outcomes.
Is that not we have watched with Zelenskyy? He has modeled to his fellow compatriots to stand firm. When other leaders would have taken their families and fled their country for safety, Zelenskyy held fast. Not only did he not leave, in his daring own way, he walked the streets of Kyiv. He has forcefully challenged the world to look at the atrocities that are taking place and to come alongside the Ukrainian people and help fight the darkness of Russian oppression.
He did something, we did not expect. He helped unify NATO, with western leaders standing shoulder-to-shoulder providing the support to fight the war by proxy. He does not dress as a president in an expensive suit, but instead has opted for his signature green T-shirt and a bulletproof vest. He modeled what an ordinary person would act and look like in his resistance. He ignited in his followers a dream that they could keep their homeland and fight to their last breath. Through his transformational leadership, the Ukrainian people have done the extraordinary. They have not only held off the Russian army from taking key cities such Kyiv, but actually pushed them back and are even on the offensive and reclaiming areas once seized by Russian soldiers.
There are points in history where ordinary people rise to the occasion and do the extraordinary. Winston Churchill in England during World War II; Martin Luther King with Civil Rights in the 1960s; and Nelson Mandela, South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and political leader in 1990s. Maybe we will be adding Volodymyr Zelenskyy to this esteemed list, from television actor to novice politician and now war hero. Only time will tell.

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