#59: Zelenskyy and the Power of Archetype
One Idea. One Challenge. Once a Week.
“All the most important ideas in history
go back to archetypes.”
~ Carl Jung
Imagine for a moment you are in Ukraine.
You are the president. An invading army is ruthlessly killing your people and destroying your cities.
What do you say?
President Zelenskyy’s response is already the stuff of legend:
I cannot imagine being this brave.
Zelenskyy’s background is not military or politics, but comedy and acting. In 2015 he played a history teacher on a TV show called Servant of the People. His character gets caught on tape speaking out against corruption: “I wish every common teacher lived like a president . . . I wish every president lived like a teacher, damn it!”
The speech went viral. His character was elected president. Much like Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, he found himself as the common man fighting powerful elites.
The success of the show propelled Zelenskyy into the actual presidency. He continues to embody his role as a common man speaking truth to power.
Shortly after the invasion, Russia spread rumors that Zelenskyy fled the country. He responded by filming a short talk in downtown Kyiv from his phone. Surrounded by senior government officials. All of them wearing common clothes. Zelenskyy says:
All of us are here. Our military is here. Citizens and society are here. We are here.
The Washington Post published a feature titled President as Everyman. It says Zelenskyy is “a proud Everyman struggling to defend [his country].” David Brooks writes in the New York Times that we have “seen so many leadership failures of late, but . . . Zelenskyy [has] emerged as the everyman leader.”
Psychologist Carl Jung explained how powerful the Everyman can be. There are certain human universals, he taught. For instance, we all crave a sense of belonging. We have a deep need to feel secure and stable. We yearn for appreciation and love, independence and achievement.
Whether we are conscious of these universals or not, they create basic ideas that shape how we understand and relate to the world. The philosopher Plato described them as “elemental forms.” Cicero and Augustine wrote of their importance.
Jung called them archetypes. He said they include ideas as well as feelings, fantasies, and visions. All the great myths, the best stories, the most influential leaders, and the truly dominant brands – they harness the power of archetypes.
Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson write in The Hero and the Outlaw that archetypes “call people to fulfill their basic human needs and motivations.” Mark and Pearson do a deep dive on 12 foundational archetypes and explain that organizations and individuals alike tend to have one that is dominant.
The Everyman taps into our need for belonging. It helps heal divisions and bring people together. It tells us everyone has worth. We are all created equal.
Contrast Zelenskyy’s Everyman brand with Putin. The Russian dictator kills people without remorse. He gives long esoteric speeches rewriting history. He rides around shirtless on horses and uses absurdly long tables.
At news conferences Zelenskyy sits next to the podium instead of standing behind it. Putin has this bizarre set up. While millions flee Ukraine, Zelenskyy has inspired tens of thousands to return and fight. When asked by the Associated Press why he is leaving Poland to enter Ukraine, a man echoed Zelenskyy when he said simply, “We have to defend our homeland.”
Zelenskyy’s stirring speeches inspire the commoners – bakers, baristas, rappers and more – to join the army. And he’s received standing ovations from the European Parliament as well as the British House of Commons. One speech even moved a translator to tears.
None of us will likely face anything close to Zelinsky’s situation. But we can learn from him. We all speak in some capacity. Our voice will only strengthen and be amplified if we come to understand our archetype, lean into it, and leverage its effect.
Historian Yuval Harari highlights the magnitude of Zelenskyy’s impact on this moment in time:
Zelenskyy gives courage and inspiration not just to the Ukrainian people, but . . . to everybody around the world . . . to a large extent the swift and united reaction of Europe with the sanctions and sending arms . . . is to the credit of Zelenskyy.
The power of the Everyman.
Embrace your archetype. Expand your impact.
Watch Zelenskyy’s We Are Here speech. Notice the short, clear, powerful sentences. In a 30-second speech he says the word “here” nine times.
How does Zelenskyy make you feel? How do you think you would respond if you were living in Ukraine?
Take a short quiz to discover your archetype. Ask yourself, how can you apply the results to amplify your voice?
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