“What does leadership mean to you?” I was asked this question on the spot, with the cameras rolling, as I was approaching the opening of Ukraine’s brand new Leadership Academy in Kyiv earlier this month. I hastily answered: “Leadership is the ability to inspire new leaders, to motivate, to let individuals give the best they have, unlocking potential.” I have since given the question much more thought, especially after seeing the new impressive Academy opening its doors for the first time in Ukraine and understanding the importance of growing new leaders here.
The Academy of Leadership is a new format of education for 16-year-old Ukrainian graduates from high schools, taking a gap year prior to entering university, with the course lasting 10 months. It is built around a combination of elements including physical, academic and spiritual education and development. The concept is based on the principle of boarding schools.
The academy started operating in September 2015. Students were selected among 500 young people who enrolled into the academy. The expenses are covered by a grant from the Western NIS Enterprise Fund. The goal of the academy is to select young people with a high potential for leadership, then train them to the highest standard by the best teachers, so that training allows them to reach their potential and serve to own country.
It is based on a similar model successfully operating in Israel. A team from the Presidential Administration, including leading communications expert Natalia Popovych, visited Israel earlier in the year and have been cooperating with Israeli colleagues.
The practice of sending children off to schools so that they could learn together is of very long standing, recorded in classical literature and global history going back over a thousand years. Ukraine’s government is in great need of new, honest and professional leaders. The public sector can learn from their private sector colleagues.
In Ukraine’s business community today, I am privileged to see lots of world class leaders – many of them are Ukrainian top managers among the 600 members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine, managers who are successfully leading global brands and corporations. A number of these men and women are making a B2G shift by leaving lucrative salaries and career tracks and taking on roles in the public sector.
The move is not easy as they encounter plenty of resistance from the old system where the old guard has no desire to change. It is a challenge how to motivate a government official on a salary of around USD 150 who may have been working for any specific government department for many years in a corrupt environment.
Two years on after Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity started, what is it that needs to be done to grow new leaders? One of the Academy of Leadership’s Professors, renowned historian Yaroslav Hrytsak, in his book 'The 26th Percentage’, argues that two things are vital: 1) For the country’s best people not to leave and 2) for those that do come into government not to succumb to the old ways of corruption and self-serving interest.
At a breakfast meeting last week with a chief European government official a question was asked: “Where in Ukraine’s Balcerowicz?“ This was in reference to Polish economist Leszek Balcerowicz, the country’s former Deputy Prime Minister who is famous for implementing the Polish economic transformation program in the 1990s. This shock therapy is commonly referred to as the Balcerowicz Plan.
The business leaders at the table did start think about who in Ukraine today are the key drivers, and especially the leaders, who will take the country’s economy forward. We do see some excellent people coming into government today. The focus should now be on letting them grow and bringing in more talented individuals. Leadership is about taking responsibility.
In the words of Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” The risk of populism, however, remains high. How does one focus on humility while achieving great things? Nelson Mandela sums this up: “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”
About the author: Andy Hunder is President of the American Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine