Three Leadership Lessons from the Chilean Mines

The rescued miners celebrate after thier rescue

This past week television ratings had nothing to do with crime dramas or reality shows.  Instead, viewers were glued to the coverage of 33 miners in Chile trapped underground for 69 days.

Not in some time has there been a rescue that brought tears and cheers from everyone involved – reporters, Chile’s political leaders, family and friends of each rescued miner.

These men are reuniting with their families and loved ones, and their lives will certainly never be the same. 

As I watched this news story through the course of the 22-hour rescue, many commentators were describing the event as “flawless”.  Now I’m sure there were a few missteps along the way, but by and large, a near-perfect rescue was executed while the world watched and cheered along.

So what can we learn from the team responsible for this great success?   Let me share three observations:

#1  Everyone knew the plan.
The rescue team created a very detailed implementation plan but didn’t stop there.  They shared the details with everyone involved.  Questions were anticipated and included in the plan.  Details were important – including how the first trip into the mine would be handled; the expected travel time from the top to bottom; how the miners would be communicated with throughout each rescue; and what to expect once each miner was taken from the capsule.

The lesson?  For any initiative to be successful, leaders must ensure all involved know the plan and where they fit.  The most effective leaders will also take the extra step to anticipate questions the team will have and provide the answers – before the questions are asked.

#2 The power of staying connected.
After day 17 the miners made contact with a team above ground.  But at that point, they were told it could be several months before a rescue could occur.  It would be 53 more days before they saw the light of day.  But in the process, communication became a daily activity and truthfully, gift for the crew. Chilean President Sebastian Pinera spoke directly to the miners regularly and greeted each as he emerged from the capsule.  Cameras were lowered so family members could physically see and communicate with loved ones.  And as the actual rescue plan grew closer, the details were communicated and discussed with the foreman and crew.

The lesson?  Connection is one of the most powerful tools for a leader.  It’s what keeps the team engaged.  You will never hear employees complain that management communicated “too much”.  And for the miners, that daily connection kept the hope alive.

#3 Unity was more than a word.
This rescue effort was a great example of teamwork from everyone involved.  For the rescue team, it meant a careful collaboration between the engineers and architects to ensure the exact capsule configuration could be lowered into the mine shaft.  Healthcare and emergency teams ensured each miner was transported immediately to a medical review.  Teamwork was also demonstrated underground too.  Thanks to the leadership of foreman Luis Urzua, food was rationed on day 2 of the mine collapse to ensure everyone had nutrients, particularly when a rescue was not guaranteed.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of teamwork came as they determined the order each man would be carried to the surface.   The miners disagreed  – not about who would be rescued first but who would be last.  Each man wanted his comrades to be taken first.  What an example of looking out for the team.

The lesson?  The word “teamwork” is probably overused in today’s workplace.  It’s referenced so often that we take it for granted.  While these miners experienced something the average employee never will, their devotion to the team is truly inspiring.

The ordeal these 33 men and their families endured the last few months united people all over the world.  In your workplace, are your leadership efforts uniting your team?  The world may not be watching, but your employees certainly are.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *