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View From The Street: Leadership At The Edge Of Europe

recent events in Ukraine


Fergus Mcgowan

Client manager

In leadership, all decisions have repercussions. Whether it relates to a nation’s finances, its constitution or how we live our everyday lives – everything is affected.

The key criteria for evaluating the success of decision making is whether it achieves the greatest positive impact for those affected or involved. And at the edge of Europe, there is one group of decision makers showing their resolve and outstanding ability to make both the correct decisions and to do this even as the landscape changes.

The Ukrainian commanders in the eastern front, around the Kharkiv and Donetsk oblasts, have shown these qualities in abundance over previous months. They approach every decision knowing that if a wrong path is taken, it could lead to great loss of life and threaten the entire existence of their country.

The counterattack around Kharkiv started with swathes of Ukrainian mechanised units making sizeable advancements into occupied territory against light Russian resistance. The considerations were whether or not to turn this spearhead into a full offensive, with the risk of throwing good after bad and weakening their position in the region or holding off and waiting for another opportunity. Taking benefit from circumstance, the decision to commit was correct and saw the Ukrainian Armed Forces liberate more than three-thousand square kilometres of territory.

So, what could our own national leaders learn from this? The crucial takeaway is that the opportunities to make great change don’t happen often and must be seized. Ukraine is unlikely to find another front so weakly supported than that of Kharkiv. Leaders must know when to commit and when to hold their line.

Then, the Ukrainian commanders, realising that the landscape had changed, shifted their approach. They strategically targeted the supply of Lyman, a town in the Donetsk oblast, and its crucial command infrastructure over the course of two weeks. Eventually, the Ukrainian Armed Forces flanked the town and, without adequate supply or direction, the Russian forces fled. On this occasion, victory came with patience and attrition, rather than speed.

In the world of 24-hour news and rolling updates on social media, our national leaders are constantly pressured to act without strategy. However, as shown in Lyman, not all battles are won with speed but instead with planning and patience.

While the Ukrainian forces succeeded in both cases, their approach was always suited to the landscape at play. From enacting action in Kharkiv and applying patience in Lyman, it is clear that they understood the key art of decision making: overall, whatever problem you face, it is essential to strike the right balance.

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