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Facing disaster, exec keeps it real

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

Masao Yoshida was chief manager at Fukushima Daiichi power plant for only nine months when a 42-foot tsunami hit the plant two years ago, knocking out cooling systems for its six reactors.

His story reflects the best any of us could do as leaders in crisis.

After the tsunami hit, Yoshida took command from a fortified bunker at the plant. In video of the emergency, he pushes his workers to hook up water hoses or obtain fuel, sometimes apologizing in tears as he sends them to check on reactors.

Yoshida later offers to lead a “suicide mission” with other older scientists to pump water into a reactor, but is talked out of it. As officials warn that core meltdowns probably have begun, he directs workers to leave the reactors but stays put.

He never minimizes the risks.

“I fear we are in acute danger,” he says on video after another explosion. “But let’s calm down a little. Let’s all take a deep breath.”

Yoshida took a leave from Tokyo Electric in late 2011 after receiving a diagnosis of esophageal cancer. He died in July at age 58. Experts have said his illness was not a result of radiation exposure from the accident, given how quickly it came on.

— Adapted from “Masao Yoshida, Nuclear Engineer and Chief at Fukushima Plant, Dies at 58,” Hiroko Tabuchi, The New York Times.

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