Saturday, October 16, 2010

Leadership Lessons from Luis Urzua

We have done what the entire world was waiting for.
- Chilean President Sebastian Pinera

Last week the world watched in celebration as the 33 miners in Chile were pulled to safety. Trapped nearly a half-mile underground for 70 days, the rescue provided riveting television witnessed by millions all over the world.

For the first 17 days of the crisis, no one knew if the miners were alive or if they could be rescued. But from the depths of the earth we now learn, a leader emerged among the men who would rally them together and lead them to safety. Shift commander Luis Urzua is praised by his fellow miners as being the leader responsible for bringing the necessary discipline to the group.

Under Urzua’s leadership the food was rationed for more than two weeks that would keep them alive. Work and sleep areas were designated along with shift schedules for each activity. When rescuers first established contact with the miners it was Urzua who scribbled the note letting them and the world know they were alive and waiting to be rescued.

Former co-worker and miner Robinson Marquez described Urzua as being “very protective of his people and obviously loves them.” He said Urzua is a “calm professional person,” and a born leader. “It is his nature. It is his gift,” said Marquez. The heroic efforts of the rescue workers, the tenacity of the Chilean president, and the way in which countries from all over the world generously contributed to the effort is a testament to what can happen when people come together for a common cause.

Someone said that adversity introduces a man to himself. From Luis Urzua we learn important leadership lessons that are transferable in any culture or work environment and offers hope and inspiration to leaders on any level. Here are a few take away lessons from Luis Urzua and the rescue mission.

Leaders adapt to changing circumstances; they understand fragile systems. The mission of the 33 men going into the mine was that of a familiar routine. The men were copper miners who were accustomed to the work in addition to the risks. But in one instance the world in which they worked suddenly became their potential tomb.

Utilizing his leadership instincts Luis Urzua mobilized the men to scout out the mine as soon as the dust settled in order to understand how and to what extent their circumstances had changed. And this is the nature of how leaders operate. They waste little time bemoaning the circumstances they are thrust into and immediately begin the work of overcoming them.

Leaders keep the team focused on the mission; they find solutions. Once the miners fully understood the severity of the problem, Urzua began to bring order to the chaos. He partitioned areas in which the men would work, sleep, and even where the latrine would be located. He began a process of rationing their food and made sure they maintained a proper sleep and exercise regiment.

Despite overwhelming odds against them, Urzua kept as much of a normal routine in place for the men as possible. The intent was to keep the crew focused on the mission. And while the mission had dramatically changed for them, it fell upon him to convince the others that it was one in which they would emerge alive.

When adversity strikes it is important for leaders to step up and keep the team focused. Taylor Benson said, “It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light." And this is what uncommon leaders do. By keeping your team focused on finding solutions problems can be overcome by faith and perseverance.

Leaders place the well-being of others ahead of themselves; they are selfless. When the rescue operation began, Luis Urzua was the last man out of the mine. It was a consensus that was determined by a vote of the miners and was the ultimate show of respect for what he had done during their entrapment.

Tony Robbins said, “Only those who have learned the power of sincere and selfless contribution experience life’s deepest joy – true fulfillment.” Uncommon leaders inspire us to believe the best in others, bring out the best in ourselves, and motivate us to serve others on the journey.

Urzua is an example of what can happen when a leader is committed to his people, leads by example, and is selfless in the process.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

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