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Leadership Lessons from the Chilean Mine Accident

November 5th, 2010 Comments off

This is as “real world” as it gets being from the headlines just a few weeks ago. I tip my hat to Bob Collins who posted about this radio interview on Twitter and dug up a link for me when I asked for it. You can follow him on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/#!/newscut.

The interview is about 6 minutes long and is a lesson in what to do in times of crisis.  The man being interviewed is Robert Sutton, professor of management science and engineering at Stanford University and the author of Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to be the Best and Learn from the Worst.

He focuses on Luiz Urzua, the shift supervisor among the trapped miners, and what he did to help everyone survive what could have been a far worse tragedy.  From turning on truck lights for 12 hours a day to simulate daylight to rationing food (two spoons full of tuna fish and a glass of milk every 48 hours for each trapped miner) he did what was necessary to keep morale/hope alive and well in otherwise dire conditions. 

But the other thing, as you can see what this notion you mention of like in the beginning they turned the truck lights on for 12 hours to simulate daylight and then turned them off. And the other part from the reports, when they were done to, as you say a spoonful of tuna fish every 48 hours, it was predictable and he let people know what was coming. So in addition to sort of displaying confidence and competence, one of the most important things that you can do with any group in crisis or in fact any group that’s under stress at all, is to give people as much predictability over even little elements of their life in a very difficult situation. Psychologists sometimes call this “small wins.” Little sort of steps that they can take. And very often leadership is sort of described in this big, broad, brush sort of notion, but what great bosses do is they provide the little steps so that we can sort of move along and clearly he’s been doing that, and his team has been doing that, every day in sort of every way

While most of us won’t be trapped in a mine or elsehwere for any length of time, knowing how to stay calm and lead in a time of crisis is an important skill in business and life.  Nearly anyone can effectively lead when times are good…it is how someone leads when the cards are against them that is the true measure of leadership, in my opinion.

More at this link: http://www.theworld.org/2010/10/13/leadership-in-the-mine/