5 Leadership Lessons from the Miners' Rescue in Chile

Leadership Lesson Yesterday evening, the last of the 33 Chilean miners who spent 69 days trapped almost half a mile underground walked out a free man. The ordeal these men have endured – along with the herculean effort to save them – has captivated the world. So many people, both in the mine and on the surface, did so much right to bring us the happy ending we experienced last night. Here are five lessons we can learn from their exceptional leadership:

1. Ask for help. Within hours of discovering the 33 miners were alive on August 22nd , the Chilean government sought out the foremost experts and best equipment in the world to arrange a rescue operation. Companies and agencies from South Africa, Canada, and the U.S. were involved in the drilling. Zephyr Technology provided chest straps that measured the miners’ vitals while UPS coordinated the movement of over 25 tons of construction equipment. Even NASA got involved, aiding in the design of the rescue capsule and consulting with Chilean doctors on the mental health of the miners.

2. Care for the whole person. The trapped miners were cared for physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. During their two month ordeal they had regular routines, group meetings, even chapel services. They worked together in shifts, were organized into three-man buddy teams, and made a rule that no one eats until everyone received their food. The outside world cared for them as well providing laundry service and positive TV programming. They also cared for them by refusing their request for cigarettes and wine. Everything was engineered to support their spirit and guard against collapse.

3. Lead by example. Mario Gómez, the eldest at 62, became the group’s inspirational leader. He served as the liaison with the surface and provided spiritual support to the others. As he lived out his hope, others followed. Another senior miner, Luis Urzúa, 54, was the group’s managing leader. He was the one who tightly rationed the group’s limited food and water for the 17 days before they were discovered by the outside world. As their leader, he was also the last one to come out.

4. Be creative. No one had ever drilled a hole through 2,300 feet of rock and lowered a capsule down it to save 33 trapped souls. Creativity wasn’t an option, it was a necessity in this rescue. As a result, they came up with three plans: Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C. Because of time constraints, instead of starting with Plan A, then moving on to the others if it failed, they initiated them all simultaneously. In the end, it was Plan B that broke through first.

5. Celebrate victory. Each time that capsule rose out of the desert floor the exultant crowd burst into cheers. As it opened up and emancipated each beleaguered miner, the crowd roared all the more. Joining the celebration were many more people around the globe, watching the drama unfold live on their TV. The Chilean government was right to share this experience with the world. Not only does it show transparency, but it gives us all the chance to feel the hope of those miners and their families.

What will you take away from this amazing rescue?

photo credit: HUGO INFANTE/GOVERNMENT OF CHILE

7 thoughts on “5 Leadership Lessons from the Miners' Rescue in Chile”

  1. It is truly the courage of the team and the display of transformational leadership of Urzua that sustained the men. Each person was able to transcend their own interests for the good of the collective!

    1. Yes! Everyone getting over themselves is the first step toward effective teamwork. As stories keep coming, it’s becoming more and more clear that Urzua was instrumental in helping everyone maintain perspective. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Let’s not forget to take corrective actions. This mine was dangerous and unsafe just like many other mines in Chile. Take measures to ensure safety so miners are not put in this hazardous situation.

  3. Great post about how to learn from what happened in Chile. Hopefully this lesson hasn’t fallen on deaf ears and the necessary measures to ensure something this catastrophic doesn’t happen again.

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