The Test of Leadership

Mar 12, 2022 | Blog, Resources

March 12th, 2022 | 10 min read

Many of us may never be tested like this.

MBA students review hundreds of case studies on leadership.
This week the world is watching a masterclass on leadership.

Case studies provide reflective hindsight.
What is unfolding today on a geopolitical scale offers strategic foresight.

I am a hybrid academic with postgraduate degrees in Diplomacy, Business, International Law and Dispute Resolution. When I wrote my business case study to graduate with my MBA, we discussed ad nauseum the 10 most common leadership styles. Now that I consult and help corporate clients develop stakeholder / entrepreneurship programmes, I am struck by leadership through a different lens.

If anyone is wondering about leadership styles and how to behave as a contemporary leader, here is the 10-point playbook à la Zelensky. Since mnemonics are helpful memory aids, this is the 10M playbook –

  1. Define your principles and stick to them. Mindset drives everything you think, say, do and choose. Believe you will win and act accordingly. Fixate on victory. There is no Plan B, when Plan A is the only option. By the same token, happy people, help others; hurt people, hurt others; insecure people, threaten others.
  2. Applause and cause go together. Mission first, then model. Passion is necessary but it can be uncontrolled. Purpose is focused and can give you direction. When you are purpose driven, you can define your mission. Understand your mission (‘your why’) before you focus on the ‘how.’ When people connect with ‘your why,’ they can be more readily convinced of your ‘how.’
  3. Connect in your authentic form. You don’t have to ‘find the right room,’ when the spotlight is where you stand. Your message matters and it is most potent when you speak from the heart. Your delivery does not have to be perfect. You don’t need to sound like anyone else. You can say it and still be scared.
  4. Fight for what you believe in. This is the strongest source of motivation through all the challenges, set-backs and insurmountable odds. Unwavering confidence in what you believe in will position you as an indefatigable defender of values and rights.
  5. Rally your people and partners. Mobilize. When you win the hearts and minds of the people, they will stand with you. Partnerships are strengthened by the response of the people. When your adversary (or competitor) has to win over each individual, their resource superiority does not equate to supremacy.
  6. Never abandon your people. Masterful management. Leading from the front is the common adage, but sometimes you can miss what’s happening at the back if you are not also managing the mood. The leadership apex is lonely but not solitary. Don’t accept the ride (exit), when you can define your ask (resources).
  7. Stand up to bullies. Maturity. Everyone is not going to like you. Some will have very strong (and false) reasons. Your neighbour may partner with a stronger neighbour to remove you and recruit others to dislike you. Stand up. Your adversary may be losing but not retreating. Stand up. What happens next will be based on your response to the last step. Stand up.
  8. Protect the vulnerable. There is a macabre side to resisting or challenging the status quo. You may even have to destroy some bridges if it means slowing the adversary’s advancement to safeguard your community. Going against the grain comes with costs. The weak must also be supported. It is the human chain of connection to posterity. History will remember.
  9. Be open to talks even in the entanglement of conflict. Mediation. Utilize impartial parties. All parties believe they stand on the side of right (and therefore might). Each party believes the other acts irresponsibly and unreasonably. Efforts to speak directly and indirectly matter. Talks may break down several times. Fighting may continue in the midst of talks. Continue to seek talks if it can give an off-ramp or de-escalate the exchange.
  10. Ask for help but don’t become resentful if others don’t sacrifice themselves to help in the way you want them to. Learning not to take things personally is a very important life skill. Partners are engaged to act when they are also convinced of mutual benefit. Everyone wants to feel safe.

Perfect is an illusion. Real life is messy.
We can meet or miss the moment that defines us.

War has defined world order throughout history. It is not just the meeting of military might; it is the meeting of principles, values and the rule of law. Acts of courage, defiance, protest or resistance are important. These are the hallmarks of freedom and development. If left unchecked, aggressors and bullies may not stop, until they are stopped.

Now ask yourself –

  • Is neutrality effective?
  • How important is experience (age)?
  • How would you respond to provocation of the umpteenth degree?
  • Can you enforce rules when all parties are not bound by the same rules?
  • Should leaders (governments) ever act without the consensus of the people?

Zelensky is a former comedian, television personality and actor – and now Ukraine’s Head of State and wartime leader. He is not a lifelong politician. His political track record is just 3 years long. He is a political novice pitted against a former KGB agent, now in power for over 20 years. They share the same first names – Volodymyr and Vladimir – and not much else.

“There are decades where nothing happens, and then there are weeks where decades happen.”

– Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov “Lenin”

Zelensky’s leadership skills and style speak volumes on the national level, geopolitical plane and the battlefield. TIME Magazine’s cover, quoted Zelensky’s speech to the European Parliament on 01.03.2022 in Ukranian: “Zhittya permozhe smert – a svit temryavu (Life will win over death, and light will win over darkness).”

There is a ripple effect from the historical events that started on 24.02.2022 that will reverberate around the globe. In an avalanche of precedent shattering moves, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Belgium have reversed many of their long-standing positions. Global, iconic companies have pulled out billions of investment dollars within a short and accelerated timeframe. A humanitarian crisis has erupted.

In the Caribbean, we are exposed to geopolitical risks. An integrated global order means we all benefit from trade and the speedup of movement and exchanges of capital, human beings, goods, services and technologies. A disruption to the supply chain means higher prices (on one end) and hunger / starvation (on the other end). Ukraine and Russia account for just under 30% of the world’s wheat and barley supply. Expect food and fuel prices to go up. The Bible speaks of this in Revelations 6:6. This conflict will affect the daily lives of each person around the globe.

What are you prepared to do?

Here’s a start inspired by the Zelensky playbook.

New to your job? Keep moving forward.
Can’t yet get a job? Keep moving forward.
Isolated and overwhelmed? Keep moving forward.
Nobody believes your vision? Keep moving forward.
Just started a business with no prior experience? Keep moving forward.

Experience is not an automatic indicator of future ability.
A track record is not evidence of future commitment.

Life can be action and passion.
It can be action and purpose;
Or it can be inaction and distraction.

Choose purpose.

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