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Before he was elected to the Ukrainian Presidency, Volodymyr Zelensky was an actor, comedian, and producer. Ironically, his most recent role was as an everyday guy who becomes the President of the country on the Ukrainian sitcom, Servant of the People.
Before you choke on this idea, remember that Donald Trump, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Ronald Reagan were all entertainers before they were elected to office. So were Shirley Temple Black, Clint Eastwood, Jesse Ventura, Jerry Springer, Al Franken, Fred Thompson, Cynthia Nixon, Sonny Bono, Fred Grandy, Melissa Gilbert, and lots more – and that’s just in the U.S. alone.
Because even though we like to believe that we vote for candidates based on their knowledge and their experience with the issues, the truth is that name awareness and likability are very important parts of our decision-making process. So is the candidate’s ability to communicate their ideas and their likability. And who could be better at that than a professional who built their career on a studied ability to play a role and communicate emotions?
More importantly, when could these skills be more critical than in the modern media age?
And even more relevant to today’s headlines, when could this possibly matter more than when Russia viciously invaded Ukraine?
As terrible as the devastation is, it should come as no surprise that while Ukraine does not possess the military might, geographic enormity, immense natural resources, disinformation experience or entrenched martial capability of Putin’s Russia, the democratic country is conclusively winning the war of public opinion and emotional support.
Of course, a lot of this is because of the clear division of good and evil between the invaders and the assaulted. Other than the cronies Putin enriched, and the people hoodwinked by his disinformation campaigns, nobody actually believes that Russia is in the right here.
Good versus bad; Truth versus lies; Right versus wrong. Just like the best Disney movies, the heroes and the villains in this story are blindingly obvious. But there’s something else at work here – President Zelensky’s brilliant mastery of the media.
Using social media footage and casual selfies ostensibly shot on his own phone, Zelensky has carefully crafted himself as the prototypical David against Putin’s Goliath. To do this, President Zelensky is calling on his deep understanding of video production and stage craft to both marshal his people’s morale and capture the world’s heart and their support.
But it’s not just his shaky videos and grainy images that broadcast his intent to his people and the people of the world. Zelensky also uses his words and his actions to rally support. While the international news media is busy showing the world just how vulnerable Ukraine’s population is, their president demonstrates his vulnerability by vowing to stay in Kyiv with his countrymen.
When the American government offered the Ukrainian president and his family safe passage out of the country, he declined with this brilliant response: “The fight is here. I need ammunition, not a ride.”
When asked how his forces were faring, Zelensky answered, “We are all here. Our soldiers are here. The citizens of the country are here.”
On a video posted Sunday morning, Zelensky buoyed his people with this: “This is our land, our country, our children. And we will defend all of this.”
And after the U.S. State Department warned that Zelensky is a “prime target for Russian aggression” and Putin vowed to “decapitate” Ukraine’s government, Zelensky gravely told European Union leaders that “this might be the last time you see me alive.”
What Zelensky is clearly doing is telling his country, and the world, that he is standing tall and being vulnerable right along with his people. After all, despite our outdated belief that a leader is someone who can get others to run into burning buildings or a leader is someone who can get others to scale unsurmountable hills under enemy fire, like Churchill before him, Zelensky understands that the real job of a real leader is to use his bully pulpit to create other leaders.
Has it worked?
There is no doubt in my mind that the images we’ve seen of old men courageously standing in front of Russian tanks on Ukrainian roads, and old women defiantly wearing yellow coats and blue bandanas on the streets of Moscow are all thanks to Zelensky’s bravery and media mastery.
And when Ukrainian soldiers on Snake Island told an attacking Russian warship to “Go F yourselves,” they too were emulating their president’s example, if not quite echoing his words.
Zelensky’s messages inspire the world without camera crews, teleprompters, studio lights or makeup people. Instead, the president uses the same equipment each one of us has – a cell phone and an Internet connection – to change the world, telling his people to fight on and telling the rest of the world that his country deserves their support.
And judging by the world’s unprecedented reaction, this might prove to be the greatest role of Zelensky’s life.
I love everything this post, and am in awe and so inspired by the people of Ukraine. One of my clients, who is from Poland, and he describes Zelensky, as the type of leader you get when they are not career politicians. Such a powerful post Bruce – thank you
Wow, Bruce, you are the master!
Thanks Bruce. I posted this last night:
The 2022 Nobel Peace Prize has been decided. No other nominees please.
The Nobel Peace Prize goes to President Zelensky.
Let’s pray he lives long enough to accept it.
Always enjoy your articles and was particularly inspired by this one. Was thrilled to see we are thinking along the same lines in this realm also in terms of my article I wrote yesterday, at least feeling like I’m on a Turkel wavelength even for one moment for me is landmark. Thank you for your continued inspiration and the amazing thoughts you share. May Ukraine be blessed, and Zelensky keep the forces of evil at bay.
Thank you Jason. I’m looking forward to reading your take on the situation as well. I’d also like you to post a link to your blog here so everyone can read what you have to say. Thank you for your kind words and participation.
We are witnessing a special moment in history: not just this horrible invasion, but in the emergence of an icon of courage.
Truly “Churchillian” as you referenced.
I know it’s been a while. Just want to let you know how significant what you say, how you say it and points you make are so very meaningful for all those who follow you and have read your books. Your words inspire, your thoughts provoke us to think
and your articles become inspirational, informative and thought provoking.
Brilliantly and beautifully written analysis! Thank you! 🇺🇦
Thank you Susan.
I have viewed many of your commentaries. This one on the Ukraine was GREAT!.
Thank you Vic.
Actually I respect the entertainer turn politician more. I spent a career working for both professional entertainers and professionals politicians. I found both personally likable and both professions universally
stacked with healthy egos. However the difference seem to be entertainers could also fill a hall with a paying audience for their song and dance. Outside of government most politicians did not seem to have any real world marketable skill sets people would pay their own money for.
THAT is a provocative turn of thought. Thank you.
Most people I talk to are surprised that an entertainer would have the skills, knowledge, and gravitas to become a politician.You turning that notion on its head is fascinating. Thanks for giving all of us a different way of looking at the same old thing.
A modern day William Wallace … Braveheart. An ordinary man who rises up in to face with courage a defining moment. A witness to the the core of our spirit and to the ends of the world.
What a fascinating analogy. Thanks John.
Thank you for that strong and important message.
I want to fight, I want to march. Putin is Hitler all over the again.
I feel helpless.
Make your voice heard Carolyn. That’s what we all can do!
Brilliant insights, Bruce, on Zelensky and his stand in Ukraine. Even (maybe especially) when in times of crisis, life and death situations, knowing how to communicate, and use humor adroitly, is important. Thank you for sharing this important insight.
Thank you Terry. And I’m sure you have some insights to the tech that the world is using to defy Putin. Love to hear about it and share with my readers here if you’d like to share.
Well analyzed and presented, BT. As usual in these pages.
The free world stands with Ukraine and Zelensky. May they survive this intact.
Thank you Kirk. I echo your sentiments.