'It's Churchillian': Lessons From Ukraine's Military Commander-in-Chief

By Dan Bigman, Editor and Chief Content Officer, Chief Executive Group and Dan Rice, MS.Ed., Thayer President, Thursday, July 14, 2022

By almost any measure, one of the most effective national leaders of the last few decades is Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky, who has won praise around the world for the way he’s rallied his nation to beat off a savage invasion by superior Russian forces.

Less well known: The man actually wielding the club, General Valeriy Zaluzhny, Commander-in-Chief of the country’s armed forces. But when it comes to understanding why and how the smaller Ukraine force has been able to take on the Russian army and win more often than not, understanding Zaluzhny is essential, with crucial lessons for anyone in leadership today.


Why crucial? Because the fight for Ukraine isn’t just a battle of wills and weapons. It’s also a showdown between two very different leadership models—and leader development models—both of which are at play daily in companies and C-suites competing in the global marketplace.

And, to my mind, there’s no one better situated right now to help understand these dynamics than Dan Rice, president of Thayer Leadership, a leader-development shop based out of the historic Thayer Hotel on the grounds of West Point (above right). He has come to know Zaluzhny, his team and their methods while working in Ukraine as a special advisor to the general and his staff. (Full disclosure: Rice and Thayer are good friends of Chief Executive Group—we collaborate on numerous projects, including our annual Patriots In Business award. Rice has had to register his activities rallying support in the U.S. for the Ukrainians with the U.S. Department of Justice).

“I’m going back in a couple of weeks,” Rice told me during the last week of June. “I don’t get paid for this, I don’t get reimbursed, I’m just doing this to try to help. But I do think that corporations will be inspired by this. This is one of the greatest military successes of David beating Goliath in military history, at least with the battle of Kyiv. The war isn’t won yet, but the battle of Kyiv alone was one of the greatest military successes since the Battle of Agincourt when the British longbow changed warfare.”

Rice has spent his entire career leading or studying leadership. He’s a 1988 graduate of The U.S. Military Academy, as well a graduate of the Army’s Airborne and Ranger Schools, serving two tours in the Middle East, where he received the Purple Heart and was cited by his brigade commander for “courage on the field of battle”. The author of West Point Leadership: Profiles of Courage, Rice also has three masters degrees, in business (Kellogg), marketing (Medill) and learning (UPenn) and recently completed his doctoral classes in leadership at UPenn.

So how did Zaluzhny turn a plodding, Soviet-style army into the most lethal fighting force in all of Europe? And what can the rest of us learn from how he led that process—and how he leads troops today? I asked Rice. Here’s some of what he had to say, edited for length and clarity.

Read the full interview: https://chiefexecutive.net/leading-in-crisis-lessons-from-ukraines-military-commander-in-chief/

Daniel Rice, MBA, MSed, MS

ExperienceDan is the Co-President of Thayer Leadership and a 1988 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.  He is also President of the American University Kyiv, powered by Arizona State University, the first American accredited University in Ukraine.  Dan is the Special Advisor to the Commander in Chief... Read More +

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