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5 Leadership Lessons from the Chilean Miner Rescue in 2010

Posted on November 18, 2020 at 7:40 AM

Ten years ago, 33 miners were rescued after enduring 69 days trapped 700 meters (2300 feet) below ground after a cave-in of their copper-gold mine in Chile. The world waited for 17 days before the miners were able to communicate that they were still alive. The miners survived the ordeal through exceptional effort and leadership. Here are 5 leadership lessons from their experience.


1 - A Leader Steps Up - Luis Urzúa was the designated supervisor for the shift working at the time of the collapse. After the cave-in, the 54 year old Urzúa realized the seriousness of the situation and stepped up to provide the leadership he knew they would need. When the miners were finally rescued, one by one, Urzúa was the last one to be rescued, twenty hours after the first person was rescued. Urzúa led by example all the way to the end.


2 - Have a Plan - After the cave-in, Urzúa immediately gathered his men and started planning. He gathered their food and other resources to have a plan on allocating them. He sent out a scouting party to assess the situation and search for escape routes. By quickly organizing the men around a plan, Urzúa filled a potential leadership vacuum that could have led the group to devolve into chaos.


3 - Assign Roles - The men organized themselves into a team, each with distinct roles. One was the medic. One was the communications specialist. Others focused on providing spiritual and psychological support. By assigning roles, the team ensured that all the important tasks were covered and that people were not stepping all over each other. Each team member felt like they controlled something in their very difficult environment.


4 - Commit to Teamwork - The men knew that teamwork would be essential to their survival. One of the miners explained it this way after being rescued: "All 33 trapped miners, practicing a one-man, one-vote, worked together to maintain the mine, look for escape routes and keep up morale. We knew that if society broke down we would all be doomed. Each day a different person took a bad turn. Every time that happened, we worked as a team to try to keep the morale up."


5 - Have Backup Plans - Rescuers above-ground drilled down to reach and free the trapped miners. They drilled three separate holes using three different types of equipment and three different types of approaches. By doing so, they were managing the risk that any one approach would fail. That likely built confidence among the miners that rescuers were making the maximum effort to save them.


Extraordinary circumstances can bring out extraordinary examples of teamwork and leadership. Being stuck for three months in the dark below hundreds of feet of rock was an extraordinary experience for these 33 miners. Their lessons can help leaders and teams today in much more mundane circumstances.


Source: Facts and history referred in this article were gathered from Wikipedia.



Categories: People Leadership, Crisis Management, Organizational Values