Viva los Chilenos: Leadership Lessons from the Chilean Mine Rescue

Viva los Chilenos: Leadership Lessons from the Chilean Mine RescueBy Thomas Murrell MBA, CSP International Business Speaker

"Viva los Chilenos" was scrawled in black texta on a piece of white paper and taped to the back of a four wheel drive at eye height.

I wondered who owned the vehicle as I passed it this morning on my way back from a networking breakfast in my hometown suburb of Subiaco in Perth, the world's most isolated city?

What motivated them to write such a slogan, put it on public display and what did it mean?

Then the radio news came on, "the last of the 33 miners in Chile had been rescued" and the penny dropped.

This was a message of hope.

The August 5th accident which occurred when the San José copper-gold mine, near Copiapó, Chile, collapsed, leaving 33 men trapped deep below ground, and their dramatic rescue 69 days later has captured the world's attention.

It is the news story of the year with its long, drawn out drama and fairytale ending.

So what are the lessons of leadership we can learn from the disaster?

What does this mean in terms of leading and motivating others? under stressful, difficult and trying circumstances

1. Leadership is about optimism and setting direction
Having a focus and being future-orientated is a critical leadership trait.

Optimism is a learned skill. This skill is critical during a disaster.

Survival would be the first direction with the trapped miners.

2. Leadership is about purpose
"We're trapped, we're lucky to be alive so what are we going to do now?" would be the next common thread going through the minds of the miners after the first survival shock.

To counteract boredom, the miners organised themselves into three groups of eleven.

These groups then set about performing tasks and chores. An example was clearing the rubble coming through the shaft during the rescue.

A sense of purpose is important for morale.

In the case of the miners it was important that they were doing something because it would have taken their mind off being trapped underground.

4. Leadership is about maintaining energy and effort
It is important to break tasks up into manageable activities and maintain momentum.

In the case of the miners, tasks were important to break up the boredom, create routines and to have practical outcomes.

In the Chilean example, this included making latrines, requesting items from above such as antiseptic for their hands, washing and disinfecting, and organising a schedule for making contact with families.

Because there was no natural light, turning lights on during the day and off at night helped reinforce this cycle.

5. Leadership is about being visible
During a disaster, we turn around and look for our leaders.

That is why we saw the Chilean President so involved and even the President of the United States made a statement when the miners were rescued.

"Chile is not the same country any more. Chile is more united and stronger than ever and I think that Chile today will have more respect and be valued by the whole world," said the Chilean President as the miners were rescued.

6. Leadership is about showing empathy and compassion
Society expects leaders to be most concerned with the welfare of those affected by the disaster.

Always focus on the human side of any disaster first.

7. Leadership is about taking control and communication

When a crisis strikes many people are scared and confused.

Leaders need to mirror the feelings of the broader community and act in the best interests of society. We want them to be in control and be decisive.

In a crisis, leaders are judged by what they say and what they do.

What they say is important because the words and messages have a huge amount of impact in that moment of time.

The content is critical to match the serious context of the message.

Symbolic acts by leaders mean a lot.

It's not a "merely symbolic" act when the President hugs the first miner to be rescued.

It's a powerful act because it communicates importance and concern.

"This was a blessing from God. But it had started as possible tragedy. But the unity, the faith, the commitment, the loyalty, solidarity expressed by the Chileans during these 69 days filled us with pride."

Need to refine your message for a speech?

Please consider: Tuesday October 26th 2010, Subiaco Arts Centre, Perth, Australia
Powerful and Persuasive Speechwriting
Numbers limited so book here.

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