The genius strategy behind Ukrainian President Zelensky’s preference of wearing t-shirts
What does President Zelensky have in common with Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Job?
Gone are the days when dressing casually at formal occasions was associated with inexperience, inappropriateness, and lack of professionalism.
On 25th February 2022, President Zelensky would appear in a defiant selfie video clad in casual attire. Put simply, his message is, we are here, and so should you. We are all here to fight for Ukraine.
While his casual dressing in olive green t-shirts can be perceived as unintentional, it is really not the case. As of now, President Zelensky hasn’t lost any of his suits to past ghosts of the Soviet Union nor does wearing formal clothes takes more time than casual.
Most leaders have been known to use their dressing, style, and mannerism to build their public image, and connect and influence their followers.
President Zelensky’s choice to continue dressing in informal attire is no different from other leaders such as Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Mark Zuckerberg. This is beside Boris Johnson and Donald Trump’s tendencies to mess up their hair before they went out in public.
Surprisingly, this Ukrainian president appears to have mastered this image-building technique beyond them. Let’s break down how he has been able to achieve this;
1. Communicating his self-identity
Before the 44-year-old leader was elected into office, he was a comedian actor starring in several movies and tv-shows. His most popular tv show was the Servant of the People which depicted a history teacher being elected as president.
This would be the character that he would embody as a regular guy who overnight turned into a national leader. In a scene within the aforementioned Tv shows, his character would be seen criticizing the political status quo in the country and its adamancy to change.
He would epitomize this during his political campaigns as an anti-establishment, and a non-traditional guy who wanted to serve the people of Ukraine. This image would be reinforced by Zelensky preferences in posting selfie clips on social media.
Having grown up in a Russian-speaking region, southeast Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy knew that being traditional, doing business as usual, meant that he would suffer the same fate as Viktor Yanukovych, and other past leaders who had muddled the government and presidency with corruption and a more pro-Russian stance.
From early on, President Zelensky would make sure to build a personal image that indicated rebelliousness, and defiance particularly in rejecting authority figures.
This leadership branding would prove vital in assuring Ukrainians that he won’t bow to post-Soviet leaders (Putin).
2. Mobilize the citizen and soldiers fighting on the streets
In most instances, President Zelensky can be seen adorned in a military green T-shirt, sometimes with the Iron Cross on it as the official emblem of the battered nation’s armed forces. This is not by mistake.
This is meant to act as an impetus for the fighting spirit within the general public. That this is the fight for every single citizen in Ukraine and thus all should join in driving Russian forces out.
Studies have shown that informal attire when worn by leaders reduces the perceived power distance and thus increases social closeness between himself and their fellow citizens.
This has made him highly successful in mobilizing average Ukrainians and volunteering foreigners to fight for the nation.
His influence is not one of authority and power but one of being perceived as an equal to the average citizen, trying to persuade fellow citizens on a person-to-person basis.
This casual dressing added to his less formal language has empowered many Ukrainians and foreigners to show bravery and confront a tyrant. This is no different from David and Goliath and we all know who won.
3. Conveying the context of the message and it’s circumstances
Furthermore, President’s Zelenskyy use of casual dressing also amplifies the circumstances surrounding the need to heed his voice. The stark absence of a president not wearing a suit in official meetings conveys that these are no ordinary times.
The use of informal attire in formal addresses and press briefing help demonstrate that the message being communicated is so vital that it would be understandable to forgo any norms of professional dressing etiquette.
It shows urgency, uneasiness, and apprehension of all Ukrainians due to the Russian large-scale offensive attack on a sovereign nation.
The main takeaway from this article is that the next time you dress up know that it communicates certain cues though tacitly but with clarity to the listener’s unconscious mind.
Your dressing style can compound or diminish your message. So, it is probably not a good idea for you to suit up the next time you are pleading for help in a fire or flood emergency. Thank you!
Let stand with Ukraine!