We are All Ukrainian.
Words matter. What leaders say, when they say it, and how they say it can motivate or irritate, generate, or repel followers. Sometimes, their words can be authentically and succinctly delivered at the right time to be repeated for generations to come. Consider Churchill on the eve of perhaps the darkest time in British history during WW2 saying to Parliament of the Nazis, “We shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches…we shall fight on the fields and in the streets…we shall never surrender.” Or FDR in clear and no uncertain terms asking Congress for a Declaration of War against Japan by delineating, “No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion…the American people will win through to absolute victory.”
Nearly a century later we remember those words because those leaders with their words brought nations of people with them to defend freedom. Not just Parliament or Congress but the people. Who would have thought in today’s ultra-divisive and social media world, we would both see and hear a leader enlist the people of a nation and nearly an entire world with his words that will surely be repeated in another hundred years : “I don’t need a ride, I need ammo.” This response came from Ukrainian President Zelenskyy when offered safe passage by the U.S. from his war torn and invaded country.
If President John Kennedy rallied the western world with his stirring declaration of freedom in Germany to Europeans with his “Ich bin ein Berliner” (Translation: We are all Berliners) Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy through his words and actions over the past few weeks has made all freedom loving countrymen of the world Ukrainians today. It’s why his countrymen continue to resist Russian aggression, others have joined the fight, and the world is inspired by this authentic and courageous leader.
Zelenskyy’s leadership is accentuated with his words, supported by his actions, and solidified by his resolve. He is demonstrating leadership 101 with real time personal life and death consequences. Don’t ask of others what you will not do yourself. He didn’t. Don’t express convictions you don’t have. He hasn’t. Show others firsthand what courage and bravery look like by demonstrating it. He has. He distilled all the great leadership speeches, books, and seminars into one shining in-person example. He has rallied and reminded the world of the salient liberty lesson for the ages: Freedom is not free. We have seen through the eyes of children and adult refugees what happens when evil infringes upon the rights of a sovereign country. Russia has jerked us from complacency and Zelenskyy has delivered a powerful lesson in leadership on freedom.
As I write this piece, I don’t know the outcome. I just know that the fires for freedom have been once again relit, reenergized, and renewed because one man— one leader— stepped forward to remind all who love “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” that leaders matters. And the words they use and the actions they take do too. They always have. Godspeed Volodymyr Zelenskyy.