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Leaders Need Negotiation Skills: Comparing Effective Leader Zelensky v. Ineffective Leader Putin

During the past 26 years, I have had the privileged of teaching Leadership Skills for the American Management Association (AMA-Preparing for Leadership: What It Takes to Lead). What a fascinating time to teach this course.

Gifted Leaders

We begin the AMA Leadership class by asking participants to identify in their sphere gifted leaders and their admired specific qualities.

In my professional experience, I present several:

- Attorney Ronald L. Olson: For seven years, Olson served as the Chair of the Dispute Resolution Initiative at the American Bar Association (ABA). I admired him because he was organized and a great communicator. He constantly extolled the work of his staff. Most would declare that he could have been ABA president, but he had his life in balance realizing that family was first.

- Renaissance Prue Kestner: Having worked for several years at the Columbus, Ohio, prosecutor’s office, I was ill-prepared to accomplish some of the non-profit ABA assignments: creating and managing meetings, writing articles and newsletters, and organizing task forces. Prue had worked for the ABA for awhile and became the guru for the ABA dispute resolution initiative. She balanced all of these skills by being an expert in yoga, journeying, massage, reike, et al.

- Attorney Katherine Sullivan: Sullivan was initially the director of the ABA Public Services Division. She was creative, fun, and positive. Most would say that she could have been the first ABA Chief Executive, but she put family and education first.

Behaviors, Not Role Models

You may notice that we emphasize behaviors rather than role models. Role models are a “fool’s folly.” It is better to see each person as “just about average” with each having certain strengths, weaknesses, and interesting characteristics.

Since no one is perfect, a role model will eventually disappoint with some failing.

Instead, admiring certain behaviors in a variety of people is sustaining.

National Leaders

I also know several national leaders:

- Doctor Vin Gupta of the University of Washington

- Doctor Scot Gottlieb, formerly of FDA

- Retired Colonel Vindman

What links the above three national leaders? They are straight shooters. One can trust what they say. They prefer the facts to opinions; albeit, their opinions are then based on the facts.

Self Assessment for Leadership

The AMA course then moves on to self assessment. We ask first: "What do you expect in a leader," and secondly, "What do employees expect from a leader?"

DiSC instrument: One self-assessment tool that can be used is the DISC instrument.

DiSC is an acronym that stands for the four main personality profiles described in the DiSC model: (D)ominance, (i)nfluence, (S)teadiness and (C)onscientiousness.

People with D personalities tend to be confident and place an emphasis on accomplishing bottom-line results.

People with i personalities tend to be more open and place an emphasis on relationships and influencing or persuading others.

People with S personalities tend to be dependable and place the emphasis on cooperation and sincerity.

People with C personalities tend to place the emphasis on quality, accuracy, expertise, and competency.

Leadership Style and Communication

The theme of the above self-assessment is the realization that each person has a personality and most likely a preferred leadership and communication style. There are many effective leadership styles. The most effective ones are those that can be flexed according to the circumstance and the folks they are leading.

Leaders Have Influence and Persuasion Skills

To be persuasive leaders, they must have humility and they must put themselves in the shoes of others.

French President Emmanuel Macron won the election decisively because of his persuasive re-election campaign. He basically begged the French voters not to make this another Pro-Trump, Pro-Putin, Pro-BEXIT election. Seemingly a majority of Americans regret the Trump election and a majority of UK regret BREXIT. Macron seems to be realistic realizing that he must be tougher on immigration. He is a former banker and must be as concerned about the poor as the rich.

Assessing Leadership in a Time of Crisis A great starting point in assessing leadership is to analyze leaders during a crisis. We can trace the effectiveness of their strategies and actions over time by asking:

  • Are our leaders using a whole system perspective when they speak about and decide on how to respond to the crisis?

  • Do they make decisions that optimize one part of the challenge over others?

  • How robust is the data that is being used in their decision-making?

  • What data is being denied, ignored, or intentionally left out of their strategy?

  • Does the leader actively encourage cooperation across the system to help solve the problem?

  • Are the actions or words of the leader diminishing cooperation and creating a divisive “we/they” relationship with people?

Contrasting Effective Leadership of Ukraine Zelensky Versus Ineffective Russian Federation President Putin.

President Volodymyr Zelensky (VZ) of Ukraine: unexpected international leader. Most would agree that VZ has become an unexpectedly great leader. Some, even compare him to Winston Churchill. Russia seemingly thought that Kyiv would fall within days but VZ demonstrated otherwise. VZ has become famous for saying “I need ammunition, not a ride” in response to U.S evacuation offer.

What Makes Zelensky (VZ) Such a Strong Leader?

Insight Magazine interviewed Harry Kraemer, the former CEO of Baxter International and a clinical professor on Leadership, about what makes VZ a strong leader.

Kramer calls VZ “a values-based leader.” There are 4 principles of values-based leadership:

- Self-Reflection: that is, being thoughtful, self-aware.

- Balance: VZ knows the Ukraine is in crisis but he keeps this in perspective while being appreciative for all of the assistance Ukraine is receiving.

- Humility: VZ has a strong personality, but realizes he needs lots of help.

- Effective Communicator: VZ is great in describing what is happening and what needs to be done.

“There are three steps to effective communication during a crisis: you tell people what you know, you tell people what you don’t know, and you constantly update people on what you didn’t know as you learn more. That shows a great combination of strength and vulnerability.”

President Vladimir Putin of Russia: ineffective international leader.

Possibly in a “groupthink” method, MSNBC Morning Joe “gang” has repeatedly declared Putin “a failed leader.” So, what is the measurement of this failure? Leaders have goals that are accomplished, but Putin has taken actions thwarting his own goals:

- One Putin goal was to weaken NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). NATO revolves around security for nations basically against USSR, now the Russian Federation. As a result of Putin’s aggression, the opposite has happened. Even “neutral” Finland and Sweden are favoring joining and Ukraine seemingly would like to. Before February 2022, 23% of Finns wanted to join NATO; today, 68%. Germany has changed its policy as a result of Putin aggression. It is now sending military supplies to Ukraine which was forbidden by policy after WWII.

- Another goal was to weaken the European Union (EU), but now Ukraine is planning to join it. Even neutral Switzerland has agreed to impose sanctions vs Russia, along with EU.

- Putin wants to weaken democracies generally. French President Emmanual Macron’s recent victory by 58% demonstrates the opposite. Also, recently the country of Slovenia has elected newcomer Robert Golob of the newly formed Freedom Movement Party. He defeated the establishment authoritarian candidate. 70% turnout was great.

- Finally, it is important to note that Russia is the 11th economy in the world and yet, according to Heritage, rates no. 113 in quality of life and economic freedom for its residents, and this rating is going down. (This is in stark contrast to no. 9 Finland and no. 11 Sweden:both of whom are trending up.)

Putin’s personality gets in his way in being an effective leader.

Putin has a “strong man” attitude. He displays an apparent lack of regret or remorse for his unethical decisions and the negative effect they have on innocent people. He also fails to accept responsibility for negative outcomes, and typically blames others when something goes wrong.

What does this tell us about his personality? While we are not in a position to “diagnose” political leaders without asking them to take a personality test, psychologists can evaluate them through behavioural observations. For example, we can look at speeches, decision-making or interviews over time. This isn’t necessarily a bad approach – some people lie on personality tests.

Putin is an autocratic and authoritarian political leader. Decades of studies in the field of organisational psychology show that such leaders are more prone to take important decisions themselves. They also tend to be more task-oriented than interested in the general welfare of their people. Another telling sign is that they maintain a distance between themselves and others – partly through the use of punishments and threats.

One recent study of 14 authoritarian state leaders, including Putin and the Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, found they were less agreeable (in terms of being trustful and altruistic) and less emotionally stable compared with less autocratic leaders. They also scored higher on antisocial, “dark personality traits”, such as machiavellianism (manipulation and deception), narcissism (grandiosity, superiority and entitlement) and psychopathy (low empathy, aggression and impulsivity).

Research also suggests that these traits make them less competent and less easily understood by others.

Viewing Putin from this perspective, much evidence points to the conclusion that he has worrisome antisocial tendencies. This is visible in his behaviour toward political rivals and international leaders. One clear example is that when he first met the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, he deliberately brought a large dog to the meeting, despite – or perhaps because – he knew that she was afraid of dogs.

Another example is the poisoning and imprisonment of the opposition leader Alexei Navalny. The callous disregard for due process and Navalny’s human rights is consistent with dark personality traits.

Psychological tactics

So how can we use this knowledge? What is needed to tackle the war is a two-level game. You need to deal with Putin, but you must also contend with complicating factors created by his webs of relationships, domestically and internationally. The latter involves reinforcing solidarity with Russian citizens and respecting their norms.

This two-level method is a tested approach for dealing with people with antisocial traits working in corporate settings. Ultimately, you need to tackle bad leaders while also taking into account the needs of their employees.

With Putin, we need to take the signs of dark personality traits seriously. It should not be assumed that conventional approaches to diplomacy or negotiations will work. Autocratic leaders with dark personalities often refuse to believe they need to listen to others or engage in conflict resolution. Instead, displays of power may work better.

Research on narcissistic leadership also suggests that giving honest feedback on behaviour – such as calling out lying – can help to keep such leaders under control. But this should not evolve into a public humiliation, which could easily make matters worse.

Naming and shaming bad actions can also help make it clear that Putin will face international condemnation for his domestic and international human rights violations. While it might seem that this would not affect an autocrat, research suggests political leaders in pure autocracies may be more sensitive to such criticism than leaders in democracies or hybrid regimes. This may be because they ultimately care more about their public image.

The effectiveness of economic sanctions – such as those currently in use against Putin – is debated by scholars. Because such sanctions cause poverty among ordinary people, they can lead to higher levels of authoritarianism as both the leader and people feel victimised by the international community.

Instead, we need to recognise the distorting effects of the type of psychological control that Putin seeks to impose over his people. For example, he fiercely controls information to instil uncertainty and fear among the Russian people. This may ultimately make them support authoritarian leadership for their own “protection”. One way to reduce the experience of threat could be to work strategically to try to boost socioeconomic conditions for ordinary Russians rather than financially punishing them.

Another option is to recognise and validate those Russians who seek a group identity that goes beyond the state identity presented by Putin. Whereas the Kremlin uses propaganda to distinguish Russians from peoples who are represented as dangerous – western, liberal, Protestant, Catholic, Muslim – Russian culture and history has historically often reinforced the psychological message that human beings collectively have more in common than what separates us.

Those who are held responsible for the violence and corruption of an autocratic regime – and judged guilty by a court – leave the guardians of a responsible civil society the task to build afresh. If and when that happens, the international community should show solidarity, rather than anger or prejudice, to prevent the type of fear which sustain violent dictatorship.

Autocratic political leaders pose a threat to international stability. We are unlikely to be able to stop them from emerging – but we can use our knowledge of their functioning to limit their disruptive power.


According to leadership expert Scot Mabry:

Leadership is a gift.

  • People give leadership to someone they trust.

  • People give leadership to someone they respect.

  • People give leadership to someone who is competent.

  • People give leadership to someone who sets the example.

  • People give leadership to someone who provides a purpose.

  • People give leadership to someone who shows appreciation.

  • People give leadership to someone who makes them feel valued.

  • People give leadership to someone who offers an inspiring vision.


See Recommended Books under “Blogs” drop down menu. Clicking on any book will lead one to the discounted Amazon site. Kurt Mortensen’s book, Maximum Influence is included.

Roy J. Lewicki is the author of 'Essentials of Negotiation', published 2015 under ISBN 9780077862466 and ISBN 0077862465. Publisher: McGraw Hill Higher Education.

The Conflict Resolution Training Program, Leader’s Manual, ISBN: 0-7879-6077-2. Prudence Bowman Kestner and Larry Ray


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