Resilience in leadership

Leaders are often selected because their CV is loaded with accomplishments, experience and degrees. After all, you want the person in charge to know what they’re doing, right? 

So why aren’t the most important skills noted on paper? “Soft” skills such as resilience, empathy, courage and authenticity are necessary leadership traits that don’t appear until put to the test.

It’s one thing to lead during easy times, but it takes transformational leadership to get your team through challenges. As they say, when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

I say, when the going gets tough, the tough find the power of resilience.

Resilience in leadership takes work but is overwhelmingly worth it. In this article, we will unpack President Zelensky’s leadership traits that surprised the world as the tragedy in Ukraine unfolded. His character truly emerged as he navigated a complex, tragic and challenging situation.  

In order to build resilience as a leader, it’s important to supplement the leadership lessons below with guidance and support from an expert leadership keynote speaker

Leadership Lessons from Ukraine’s President Zelensky

The challenges faced by President Zelensky seemed insurmountable, but through his resilience as a leader, he was able to lead his country to bounce forward through them. As a leader, there are many lessons that can be learned from how he handled crisis and tragedy.

The Power of Resilience

If you are familiar with my work, you may notice the word “resilience” pops up a lot. It’s because resiliency is the greatest trait you can work to acquire.

Yes, I said work.

While resilience may come naturally to some, it is something that can be learned. 

You might ask, “Why is resilience so important?” It is inevitable for leaders to face obstacles, setbacks and challenges. How you respond means the difference between success and failure. 

Resilience in leadership is key.

A perfect example is Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky. Zelensky came to power in 2019 after an enormous victory in the country’s presidential election. An unexpected leader, he has faced numerous extraordinary challenges in his short time in office, including a global pandemic and a Russian military incursion into Ukrainian territory.

Even seasoned leaders may have crumbled in the face of such adversity, but Zelensky remained calm and resolute. He surprised his country (and the world) with his fortitude. It is this resilience in leadership and fierce determination that is essential for success. 

Resilience separates leaders from followers. My mother used to tell me to “look for the helpers” in times of crisis, and in doing so, I also found the leaders. The resilience they demonstrate enables them to persevere and become stronger than ever. And those who follow their lead will become even stronger for it, too.


Anyone can be strong when life is easy, however, a person’s true character is carved out of tumultuous or traumatic times. The cowardly lion taught us that we all have courage inside of ourselves, even if we don’t realize it. It may require some soul-searching, but every one of us has the capacity for bravery when it’s needed most.  

A courageous leader faces the fight that others run from and does so on the front lines even at the risk of their own safety. President Zelensky was given the opportunity to flee or hide, but he made the conscious and brave choice to stay and lead his country in the fight.

There is a multitude of reasons for a leader to build courage: 

  • Courage is essential for decision-making. Leaders who cannot make strategic and timely decisions cannot lead their teams.
  • Courage sets the tone for the entire team. If a leader is fearful, the rest of the team will match that energy; however, bravery will empower the rest of the team to step up.
  • Courage is essential in a position of authority. People look to their leader to gauge how to react. If their leader doesn’t exhibit bravery, the team will lose respect.

True leaders recognize that being courageous requires risk, without a guarantee of success. Courage, like that exhibited by President Zelensky, is essential when facing difficult situations. It earned him the respect of his country and the world.


Many people believe leaders should be stoic and rule with an iron fist, but those traits are from the dark ages… and they should stay there. Empathy encompasses more than just the ability to listen, validate and support a person’s feelings. Learning how to master its complexities is an incredibly valuable leadership lesson.

It’s not enough to pat someone on the back and say you understand, you need to show up and fight the battle by their side.

Sensing people’s emotions is important, but to demonstrate true empathy, a leader needs to exhibit personal sacrifice. It doesn’t require extreme action like selling your home to finance their medical costs or dropping everything to watch their kids so they can work. It just needs to be real and tangible.

After all, how can you inspire others to follow if you don’t see their point of view?

When President Zelensky found himself in the eye of the storm, he showed remarkable empathy. Faced with outraged crowds and harsh international criticism, Zelensky made the surprising move of reaching out to his opponents in an effort to understand their perspectives. 

While he could have escaped to an underground bunker, Zelensky stepped up with courage, resilience and empathy. Despite the threat of great harm to himself and his family, he demonstrated to his people that he was right there with them.

Zelensky’s actions are a shining example of how powerful empathy is for leaders in times of crisis. By understanding another’s point of view, it’s possible to build a bridge with others and find resolutions that everyone can live with.


Have you ever wondered why some leaders inspire action that leads to success?  

They are who they are.

By being truly authentic, these leaders show people they can be trusted and are worth following. It may sound simple, but authenticity is a game-changer.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was not a politician and he didn’t pretend to be one. A former comedian, he was elected by a landslide after running on a refreshingly honest anti-corruption platform. He has since been lauded for his willingness to take on his country’s corrupt establishment while remaining down to earth and authentic.

Did your parents tell you that the truth is easier to remember than a lie? When you are authentic, you don’t need to expend energy avoiding exposure or being discovered as a fraud. 

Lying, or inauthenticity, leads to life-altering mistakes. 

Authentic leaders are confident, true to themselves and focused on their goals and objectives. When people trust that their leaders are genuine, they will be inspired by their vision and connected to their cause.

Consistent Messaging

How many rom-coms start with someone sending mixed messages to their love interest, which leads to hilarious but uncomfortable situations? Of course it’s a movie, so at the last moment, their true intentions are made known and everybody lives happily ever after.

In real life, things are a little different. Inconsistent messaging confuses people and will cause them to question your intentions and leadership skills. It is critical to your team’s success that you maintain control of situations and deliver clear and cohesive messaging. This is especially true during high-stress situations when people are worried or scared and need your guidance.

What if President Zelensky didn’t use consistent messaging?

If Zelensky hadn’t clearly articulated a consistent message when the Russian military attempted to invade Ukraine, it would have created chaos. Rather than bringing the country together, the unclear direction would have torn it apart. 

When you state your position and stick with it, you show your team you know where you stand and are confident in your decisions. This stability builds trust and avoids the pitfalls of flip-flopping or sending mixed signals, which erodes confidence in your leadership abilities.

The Power of Resilience in Leadership

All these abilities are important, but resilience is the core trait of transformational leadership because it helps you bounce forward as you accept, adapt and recover through challenges. 

While it may be tempting to blame reactions on circumstances, it is more productive to reframe your perspective. By showing resilience, courage, empathy and authenticity, your team will have your back and together you will be able to succeed through anything.

Inspire, Empower and Guide Modern Leaders

We can all learn from President Zelensky’s actions as a leader. There were many ways he could have handled the seemingly insurmountable challenges he faced, but despite adversity and turbulence, he chose the power of resilience

When you encounter difficult situations, it may help to play the scenario forward. If you would feel proud of the decision you are about to make and know that it is based on resilience, courage, empathy and authenticity, you can be confident in the direction you are headed.

President Zelensky most likely had help honing his abilities from a resilience speaker or a leadership training program, and so should you. By modeling the traits in this article and working with a leadership keynote speaker, you can elevate your leadership style to one that matches President Zelensky’s. The skills you will acquire from a resilience speaker and a leadership training program are vital to your success.

When you show your resilience as a leader, your team will follow, just as the Ukrainian people followed President Zelensky.