Zelenskyy: Crisis Management Masterclass

Introduction 

In Ukraine’s time of crisis, president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has stepped up to the plate. From refusing to evacuate his homeland to embarking on a digital campaign trail to garner global support for Ukraine’s war efforts against Putin’s Russia, it has been a masterclass in crisis management and leadership from the former TV actor. Whilst the emphasis on battlefield success is crucial, Zelenskyy and Ukraine have also been winning the information war through the brilliant use of social media and the conveyance of clear messaging. 

Acting Background 

Zelenskyy has been on a unique and frankly bizarre journey through his ascension from a stand-up comic and television actor with Oscar-winning ambitions to the leader of a country embroiled in a European war with Putin’s nuclear-wielding Russia. His lack of political background appealed to the masses on the election trail as he was seen as being free from the corruption surrounding Ukrainian politics which contributed to his landslide win – still performing comedy gigs while campaigning for office in 2019.  Zelenskyy even starred in the comedy ‘Servant of the People’, which followed the life of a disillusioned teacher who accidentally becomes President of Ukraine. Although his most notable acting credit is his work as the voice of Paddington Bear in Ukrainian dubs of the live-action films Paddington and Paddington 2.  

Zelenskyy’s current position as the lead communicator for a war-torn country suffering from genocidal atrocities is far from his past career in showbiz, but he has managed the ship well with his powerful orator skills that have transcended from family-friendly animated characters to speeches pleading for ammunition in the heart of conflict. 

Virtual World Tour

Zelenskyy’s unusual past credentials have certainly helped him in his passionate appeals to fellow leaders across the world as he requests more military aid to defend his country – using clear, concise and understandably emotive messaging.

From speaking with the House of Commons and quoting Winston Churchill to imploring 280 members of the US Congress for more aircraft, drones and anti-aircraft missiles whilst making references to Pearl Harbour and 9/11, Zelenskyy has been busy plucking at the heartstrings of the world’s elite with customised messaging to cater to each virtual audience he secures. These regular video-link appearances have been extremely emotionally impactful, helping to convey the latest state of a war-ravaged Ukraine. During his speech to the US Congress, Zelenskyy was very direct in his messaging and desire for more aggressive measures by specifically targeting Joe Biden in his dialogue. However, despite pledging to assist monetarily, the US remains hesitant to provide fighter jets and establish a no-fly zone for fears of an escalation in violence from the all too aggressive Putin.  

At the heart of Zelenskyy’s tailored speeches, has been a focused and consistent narrative. He has continued his calls for a no-fly zone; pleading for Vladimir Putin to end the war; requests for more support, with specific military needs expressed; and proudly praises the bravery and heroism of the Ukrainian people no matter the audience. Zelenskyy’s quote when offered evacuation by the US: “The fight is here. I don’t need a ride, I need ammunition” will go down in history as symbolising Ukraine’s defiance and his own personal courage and strength of leadership in a time of crisis. 

Media 

This transparency of the updates and words of defiance from the president have been widely amplified by the uncensored use of social media. Countless posts containing powerful images and videos of soldiers standing shoulder to shoulder, rallying cries from Zelenskyy on the frontline and calls from Ukrainian boxing legends for more international support from world leaders have seen the digital tool being used as an unfiltered vessel in shining a light on the atrocities of the war to a global audience – alongside broadcast and print media.  Modern warfare demands it. 

However the Ukrainian media playbook is in stark contrast to that of Russia, which has allegedly been busy manipulating the perception of the war in a campaign of propaganda and deception to maintain morale and garner support inside Russia for a war that is immoral to its core.  

By both Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian government maintaining an active, open, and candid dialogue about Ukraine’s status in this conflict, they have succeeded in maintaining pressure to act to ensure they are seen as being on the right side of history. With Russian troops pulling back in areas of Ukraine to regroup, the true horrifying nature of the conflict has recently made its way to the world’s news feeds, unveiling the destruction Russian troops have left behind in the town of Trostianets, for example. This coincides with a ramping up in foreign aid, with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg recently pledging (some would say belatedly) to provide more assistance to avoid an escalation of the conflict and the UN suspending Russia from the Human Rights Council.  

Conclusion 

Zelenskyy’s continued display of communications prowess in the face of a crisis has provided strength and comfort to the millions of people directly impacted by the war. Such effective leadership has also led other people of power to feel inspired to take action to extinguish this ongoing crisis from escalating any further.  The pen is indeed mightier than the sword. 

By Declan Flahive, 11/04/2022

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The Power of An Apologetic Truth

Few among us could genuinely deny having made errors of judgment, whether inadvertently or otherwise. To err is human, as we are told. But so often these days otherwise forgivable missteps by public individuals captured in the omnipresent lens of social media are made infinitely worse by their first reaction to exposure of the initial wrongdoing. Molehills become mountains, challenges crises from which it can be truly hard to recover, if not already fatal to both career and reputation.

It strikes Bell Yard Towers that 2022 has begun with a flurry of high profile misconduct that might so easily have been prevented had the protagonist made better decisions in the wake of their original misdemeanour. The Prime Minister is obviously a case in point. Why obfuscate when asked the seemingly simplest of questions – “did you attend a party during lockdown?” It was surely inevitable that photographic evidence would emerge, let alone credible testimony by others, given the numbers of people also in attendance on each occasion and the politics involved. A swift admission, recognition of wrongdoing, reflection and public apology would have allowed many voters to put the issue to bed. Sadly, decisions taken once the first party was exposed have led us all down a rather bumpy garden path.

Sporting supremo, Novak Djokovic would have known that tennis aficionados, let alone casual observers, were well aware of his stated aversion to inoculations, his desire to determine what he puts into his body let alone his refusal to confirm publicly his unvaccinated status.  So when the Australian Open announced its all-player vaccination requirement all eyes were on Novak to see if he’d be withdrawing or whether a controversial route would be found for him to compete. As it was, the late confirmation of his medical exemption came as little surprise. Equally predictable was the swift public scepticism as to its validity. But the real astonishment was his tone-deaf social media posts proudly confirming his voyage to the southern hemisphere – waving his immunity in the face of a pandemic-hardened local population. This red rag to the bull that is Prime Minister Morrison, someone fiercely in election-campaigning mode, was unlikely to end well. But even then there remained the opportunity to recover his pride and reputation by returning to Monte Carlo acknowledging the errors made.  Sadly, he double faulted.

Prince Andrew’s decision to front public disquiet with a sit-down interview with one of the country’s most high-profile and able journalists was, perhaps predictably, a disastrous move, not least because of the implausible ‘evidence’ he gave which he believed would enable him to disprove the serious allegations he faces. Were you the complainant, you might well consider this decision to ‘tell-all’ a deeply provocative act that might fuel the determination to have your day in court rather than consent to a quick and quiet pay-off. The failure to show empathy for the victims or offer any apology for his relationship with Epstein compounded the situation. Sadly it has been left to the Royal Family to act decisively.

The common theme throughout these errors of judgment is a lack of awareness of the right thing to do from the outset: tell the truth, acknowledge the perception of past acts and say sorry. In other words, own the difficulty. In some of these cases, the sting may not have been fully eased by these three seemingly obvious steps, but they may have gone a good way towards pacifying an increasingly disillusioned audience. Of note in at least two, if not all three of these cases, public opinion swayed wildly as bit-by-bit more facts have emerged. But reputations are rarely enhanced by the drip feed of titbits that give oxygen to the controversy yet raise more questions than answers. 

In our line of work we surprisingly still see circumstances in which an early apology and recognition of the hurt or difficulty caused could have prevented the descent into contested and costly litigation. The power of an apology to take the wind out of the sails of even the most ardent opponent remains widely underappreciated. An apology is not necessarily an admission of liability, rather an expression of empathy that, provided sincerely expressed, can be a route to forgiveness and mutual understanding.  

People in the public eye could certainly benefit by taking counsel from diverse and objective advisers prepared to speak truth to power, telling it as it is. 

By Melanie Riley, 17th January 2022

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