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The Chilean miners story: 3 inspiring lessons

by on
in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

Some days, you have to look long and hard to find examples of inspirational leadership in the news. That’s not the case if you’ve read how the 33 Chilean miners trapped in a collapsed copper mine since early August have organized themselves to survive.

The miners know it could be months before they can be rescued.

What they did in the first month or so since the collapse has been both simple and astounding. Simple because it makes so much sense. Astounding because of the grace and discipline they’ve so far shown under pressure. Through multiple acts of leadership, they have organized themselves to take care of their bodies, minds and spirits. The way they’ve done it is instructive and humbling for all of us leading in much less challenging situations.

Here’s what we can learn from them:

1. Leaders share the role. You might assume the shift supervisor would take the sole leadership role. Yes, Luis Urzua is organizing work assignments. He has not, however, taken on every leadership duty.

The oldest, Mario Gomez, has taken the leadership role of attending to the men’s spiritual and mental health. He consults with psychologists on the surface to monitor his comrades. Yonny Barrios has taken the lead on ensuring the physical health of the crew, administering health screenings on behalf of the doctors above ground. What a beautiful and impressive example these men are of leaders who share the work of leadership.

2. Leaders leverage their gifts. Each of these three miners and others are drawing on the gifts of their life experience to ensure the well-being of the unit. You know you’re in the right leadership role when your heart and body—and not just your head—tell you it’s the right way for you to contribute. That’s more likely to happen when you’re leveraging your gifts. My guess is that Urzua, Gomez and Barrios feel that kind of alignment with the leadership roles they’ve assumed.

3. Leaders keep the whole person in mind. Every organization has a bottom line. In the case of a mine rescue, the bottom line is getting the miners out alive. It’s one thing, though, to bring the men out in relatively good physical health. It’s another to bring them out with their mental, spiritual and emotional health intact.

What difference would it make to the health of our organizations and the people in them, if every leader approached their work with such attention and care to the whole person? It’s pretty breathtaking to consider, isn’t it?

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