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Be Careful When Crowning Leaders in Crisis

Updated: Mar 12, 2022

In a remarkable week for European history and politics, two leaders have been placed in very start contrast this week.

The world witnessed the petulance and pedantry of Russian leader Vladimir Putin which stood in stark contrast to the courage and conviction of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Media salutes his heroic decline of an evacuation offer: “The fight is here; I need anti-tank ammo, not a ride.” So many leaders before him fled to the hills in the face of crisis, most recently in Afghanistan, Thousands of Ukrainians rally around their vaulted messiah.

While it’s easy to fall into the Hero / Villain narrative trap and declare one a sinner and the other a saint, positioning of diametrically opposed behaviour is sometimes unwarranted.

Many regale Zelensky’s charisma and courage. Social media applauds the time during his inaugural address in 2019 when Zelensky told lawmakers: “I do not want my picture in your offices: the President is not an icon, an idol or a portrait. Hang your kids' photos instead, and look at them each time you are making a decision.”

It’s an interesting thought. If every political leader was to consider their family before making important professional decisions, would they have more compassion and empathy in the decision moment? Or would the emotion reduce their objectivity and ability to make really tough decisions?

What if the decision-maker was a military general in war, an immigration officer, a social housing policymaker, an MP or bank loan officer?

It was pitiful for the world to watch one man stand alone, begging 27 countries to let the Ukraine form part of NATO. His heart-rendering statement that he was the next victim caught the world’s attention. It made the war not just an abstract concept but a human dilemma. While many made vacuous noises about democracy, still he stands alone. Weapons and support have been provided under the cover of darkness - but still at a politically appropriate distance.

A former Comedian, this was no joke. And a situation few really believed was happening - or wanted to - despite the fact Russian intent was telegraphed for months.

Before this crisis, there were doubts about whether Zelensky was fighting for the Ukrainians or not. As Adam Grant suggests, now those questions have been answered. ‘He is not just a lion who found his roar but a lion protecting his pride.‘

The danger is the glorification of one individual. It happens always in a crisis when people are desperate to find goodness in strife. A hero emerges. It was 100-year old Colonel Tom Parker in the Britain walking to save the NHS. It was Jacinta Arden of New Zealand during Covid. It was Angela Merkel as she retired.

Lessons must be learned - this is just one man doing his best fir his country and family, and possibly his legacy. Heroes are in the moment as opposed to being a lifetime characteristic. That only happens in Batman movies. As David Bowie says, heroes are often just for one day.

Zelensky deserves the world‘s acclaim. Let not the media tear him down the minute a human mistake is made.


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