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The Power of Appeal: How to Channel Your Inner Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelenskyy
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelenskyy

When the environment in which you are operating becomes unpredictable, it can be overwhelming for team members, especially those who dread the chaos that can ensue. They may shutdown or build walls as they believe that you don’t respect all the good that has been done. 

Frustration is natural for everyone – for the team and for managers who want to see their vision realized.  But rather than push back on them, take the time to help them move forward with you rather than against you.  Change doesn’t happen overnight; you’ll need people on your side to meet your goals, and in that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelenskyy has done a masterful job combining personal appeal and shuttle diplomacy to move a frightened world. 

Breaking it down, Zelensky simultaneously appeals to nations, corporations, and consumers by deploying a variety of powerful communications vehicles to amplify his message and have his appeals be heard directly by each of his stakeholder audiences. His challenge has been doing this during a period of war, not to mention significant economic contraction, political unrest around the world, and a pandemic weary environment. 

The Ukrainians are sharing raw footage captured on smart phones which dramatically changes how nations and corporations react as viewers contrast and compare leadership moments real time. The videos enable Zelensky to reach Twitter and TikTok audiences, which, unintentionally or not, is setting a new standard for intergenerational outreach. 

He also appears to be combining an aggressive meeting schedule with his daily press conferences.  And, importantly, he meets people where they are and understands where they came from. Zelensky aligned his appeal with the ethos of the nation evoking Churchill when speaking to Parliament and calls for freedom when conversing with the American Congress.  By doing so, he persuaded nations to dedicate greater funds and resources to help his cause.  The heartfelt pleas of his people and his digital outreach aimed at shaming some corporations while also creating a unity of purpose amongst others who immediately ceased lucrative business operations as the corporate bottom line shrinks.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelenskyy

Anthony Robbins noted: “To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” With the fluidity of a world-renowned maestro, Zelensky has done just that, effectively acknowledging the personality traits and interests of his captive viewing audience—those who might oppose, those that have let ego get in the way, and leaders who have a different cultural lens.

He respects his audiences evenly as he effectively conveys his frustration. Conversations end with gratitude for their participation in the conversations allowing him to leave each conversation with his held high. He recognizes the best partners can move quickly when everyone involved leaves their egos behind and focuses on meeting their shared goals and realizes what’s at stake.  

Here is what leaders and communicators can learn from Zelensky’s powerful style:

  • Build trust through transparency and a direct style of communication.  
  • Combine your passion for your cause with humility and a steady stream of facts to prove your point.
  • Commit to providing ongoing updates and critical data which provide your partners and partners you are recruiting with the information they need to guide internal discussions about your request.
  • Be specific in your ask when working with busy people.  Keeping your primary objective front in center of every conversation will enable those you from whom you are seeking assistance to prioritize.  They may not always give you exactly what you want, but they may feel compelled to provide other forms of much needed assistance.
  • Show respect for others’ work and listen to their points of view. Use their language to resolve disagreements and align your situation with one that is familiar to them. 

As we rang in 2022, no one contemplated conversations would center around survival of the free world. Yet because of one man’s daily messages, each of us rolls out of bed, grabs our phones and Googles, “What did Zelensky say?” and tells a friend, “I want a leader like him.”


Written by Lisa Gable,  former CEO, US Ambassador, UN Delegate, and author of Wall Street Journal Bestseller, Turnaround – How to Change Course When Things Are Going South. 

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Lisa Gable
Lisa Gable, CEO, former US Ambassador, UN Delegate, and author of Wall Street Journal Bestseller, Turnaround – How to Change Course When Things Are Going South. Lisa is recognized worldwide as a turnaround mastermind and innovative businesswoman. For more than 30 years, she has been called to turnaround failing organizations—businesses, teams, nonprofits, political campaigns, and government projects—and solve seemingly intractable problems. Over time, Lisa has learned the key to course-correct when things go South is applying the discipline of process engineering—carefully reevaluating everything your organization does and how it does it—with diplomacy and humanity, taking care of relationships and forging strong partnerships.


Lisa Gable is an opinion columnist and a member of the External Advisory Board (EAB) for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow her on LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.