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Drilling Deeper Into Leadership

The recent dramatic rescue of thirty-three Chilean miners, trapped underground for 69 days, revealed what amazing things can be accomplished with effective leadership. All leaders can learn some valuable lessons from the successful operation.

Things go wrong. Despite our best attempts to keep everything running smoothly and flawlessly, we cannot prevent every error. That's one of the toughest lessons for managers to discover. But the ability to deal with disasters – big or small – is what separates leaders from followers. Stuff happens. It's what you do next that matters most.

Fix first; blame later. During the months of preparation leading up to the final rescue attempt, Chilean officials refrained from pointing fingers at what, or who, caused the disaster. Only after the last miner was safe, did regulators begin their investigation.

Learn from your mistakes. Luis Urzua, the last miner rescued, greeted the Chilean president with the following statement: "I hope this will never happen again." While we can't anticipate every problem, we can take steps to prevent the same errors from happening again.

Technology matters. Whether you are placing orders, tracking receivables, or rescuing trapped miners, your technology had better be up to the task. Don't wait for your workplace to collapse under outdated systems, patched-together networks, and weak support. Spend some money, already.

Adapt and invent. Ingenuity is a vital part of problem solving. There won't always be an industry "best practice" to copy; sometimes you have to create your own solutions. Before you know it, other companies will be learning best practices by watching you.

Remote communication matters. Whether your employees are a half-mile underground, or four states away, you need to effectively communicate with them. It's just one more argument for keeping up with technology advancements.

Have a backup plan (or two). Remember, things go wrong. And that means things might go wrong with the solution you're implementing for a previous problem. Chilean officials had three rescue attempts underway at the same time, just in case two of them didn't work.

Big wins inspire team spirit. Don't forget to publicly celebrate your victories, even when those victories would not have been possible without a previous failure. Mistakes are inevitable, but successfully recovering from them is not.

We're all in this together. When things go wrong, many managers become invisible. Whether they're hiding in their offices or cowering behind their PR staffs, they'd rather not be associated with problems. Chilean authorities proved that real leaders are out in front, in good times and in bad.

Under promise and over deliver. Getting miners out safely two months earlier than promised is a much nicer surprise than rescuing them two month late. Enough said!

Find a common purpose. Without inspiration from their leaders, employees will struggle to discern any link between their efforts and the company's mission. It doesn't matter if your goal is pulling up sales or pulling out trapped miners if your employees don't know the goal.

Believe in the vision. Once you've established a goal, stay true to it. Results don't happen overnight; they occur because of persistent effort. Have faith that you'll find what you're searching for, be it lost miners or higher profits.

Never say die. Everyone associated with the miners' rescue exhibited relentless hope. In the seventeen days following the cave in, the odds of finding the miners alive decreased. Yet the trapped men, and the rescuers who ultimately found and saved them, refused to stop trying. To persevere in their work, employees need to see that same determination in their leaders.
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Wouldn't it be great if the political leadership in America focused on fixing problems first and pointing fingers later?

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