Luis Urzua: Chile's underground leader
After nearly 70 days, the actual rescue of the Chilean miners is finally underway. Within hours, shift leader Luis Urzua could be pulled out of the rescue shaft, reportedly the last of the 33 miners who will return to the ground above.
That's as good a time as any to reflect upon the extraordinary leadership that's been on display amid this harrowing crisis. Yes, there have been countless examples from the rescue team and the Chilean government. And among the miners themselves, a cohort of leaders emerged--from elder miner Mario Gomez, who became something of a spiritual adviser, to Yonny Barrios, who took on the role of medical chief.
But it is Urzua's story that offers the most compelling lessons for other leaders. True, as the shift supervisor, Urzua was already the group's official leader. But he serves as a reminder of the important difference between nominal and actual leadership, and the role both play in a crisis.
Immediately after the miners became trapped, Urzua reportedly got all of them to share in the sacrifice by rationing their two-day supply of food to last 17 days--when they were finally discovered--and to eat their food together at the same time. He crafted a disciplined structure to their subterranean lives, setting up orderly work shifts and creating a map of the miners' topography to help rescuers. And he appealed to his compatriots' emotional needs, encouraging miners to talk on camera to their families, serving as a "calming" presence, according to one miner, and sharing the spotlight with others when he reportedly asked another miner to narrate a video requested by health officials.
Perhaps the greatest act of leadership Urzua has taken is that he will exit the mine last. While some stories have said the men all wanted to be the final one to ascend to the surface--each wanted to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records--Urzua is expected to be the last to return above ground. With the rescue going well at the time of this writing, that may not actually create significantly more risk for him. But the signal it sends to the other miners is true leadership, indeed.
Urzua could have done little with his official role as the "leader" of these trapped men. Many people who hold a manager's title are technically skilled, or may be more senior than others, or played all the right political games to achieve their position, but that hardly means they can rally a team of hungry, anxious men fighting for their lives in a cramped, dark, hot space half a mile below the earth. Urzua appears to have taken full responsibility amid the crisis, offering his colleagues order, structure and emotional support at a time when many would be fearing for their lives.
This is what bothers me so much about Corporate America's incessant use of the word "leader" to describe anyone in the company with a manager's role. What they are really deploying is a euphemism they hope will make the job of "managing" sound more glamorous.
Don't get me wrong--I'm all for encouraging people to aspire to the values of leadership, whatever their title, and people in charge don't need a two-month disaster to prove their mettle. But until they've been tested by a real emergency--whatever that may be in their line of work--they're leaders in name only. A title may make someone a manager, but it takes a crisis to make a leader.
October 12, 2010; 1:25 PM ET |
Save & Share:
Previous: Wall Street's record-breaking paystubs: Pay for performance? Really? | Next: Where Rhee went wrong
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: dfl1 | October 13, 2010 4:03 PM
Posted by: Freethotlib | October 13, 2010 2:07 PM
Posted by: thornegp2626 | October 13, 2010 12:17 PM
Posted by: VeloStrummer | October 13, 2010 11:39 AM
Posted by: dskiff | October 13, 2010 10:44 AM
The comments to this entry are closed.