All eyes have been on Ukraine in the past week. While the situation is still unfolding and remains dire, there are so many inspirational things that have caught the world’s attention. We have seen heroic actions of everyday citizens, national pride of Ukrainians, and a global community that has come together to support the embattled nation and its people.
For continuous improvement leaders in our community, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky’s leadership during the crisis provides us many lessons about rising to the challenge and leading people through change.
Even before the invasion began, Zelensky was overcommunicating about the situation. He was keeping his people and potential supporters apprised of what was happening and what was at stake. Communicating early and providing information about potential outcomes, realistic variables and needs is important to build a coalition, inspire a team, and set up a call-to-action.
Once the fighting started, Zelensky didn’t jump ship. He has been present in Ukraine and visible while talking to soldiers and citizens — “going to the gemba” of sorts. He has continually checked in with the people he leads, reassuring them, and listening to their concerns and needs. And then, after hearing from his people, he has advocated for them on the world stage while recommitting to their cause. When offered an opportunity to evacuate from Ukraine, Zelensky’s bold response, “I need ammunition, not a ride,” was both an advocacy for the supplies his people need and a confirmation that he was their leader through good and bad.
Leaders inspire others by being courageous and honest. Did you know a reported 80,000 Ukrainians who were living abroad have returned to fight for their freedom? Of course, there is more at play than just one leader to inspire regular citizens to return to fight or to take up arms to defend their country, but it helps to have someone who is both spearheading the effort and amplifying the message. And beyond inspiring Ukrainians, Zelensky’s message and dedication has inspired non-Ukrainians as well. He has been able to build a coalition of supporters that includes private citizens, governments, non-profits, and corporations from around the world.
In our lives as leaders of teams, projects, and organizations, we can apply the lessons we learn from President Zelensky to our own situations. If we want to inspire our own people, we must be quick to communicate, lead with courage and honesty, and remain present. We must listen to the needs of our teams and then advocate for the tools and support necessary to help everyone do their job better.
Our thoughts and prayers are with those in our community who are affected by the situation in Ukraine. We hope that the situation resolves quickly and that there will be more examples of courageous leadership — from President Zelensky and elsewhere — that emerge in the days ahead.
As always, please stay safe and keep looking out for one another.