I have been watching the rescue of the Chilean miners this morning. What an incredible achievement – not least of all because the 33 men, aged 19 to 62, have been trapped together for nearly ten weeks and have remained sane. Their shift leader, Luis Urzua, the man due out last, has been credited with keeping a cohesive unit in good spirits through their unbelievable ordeal. To think that for the first seventeen days, they must have thought they were never to be rescued; trapped in total darkness with no contact from the world above.
As I watch the men arrive at ground level and step out of their capsule, I wonder whether I could cope under such duress. Would our managers be able to act as Luis Urzua has in dealing with a situation of such stress? Not too well, I guess.
Maybe it is adversity that would make a person ‘step up to the plate’ and perform at the highest level. Can you imaging what such an adversity would be in your workplace. Not the photocopier breaking down, someone calling in sick or arriving late for work, being short staffed due to holiday or needing to prepare for an inspection or appraisal. However, these are the occurrences that too often push managers over the edge of rational behaviour. Storming around the office shouting at people, but some managers do this with little or even no provocation.
I concede that each person has a different breaking point. Some are more tolerant than others of their team’s performance, but it is incumbent on all managers and leaders to exercise restraint, no matter how wound up they are inside and even when provoked.
So what can we learn from the Chilean experience? A cohesive team reacts well in adversity. Close contact between people strengthens teams. Strong leadership doesn’t mean bullying, harassment or and public exhibitions of strength. Hope and trust in a positive outcome are hugely beneficial qualities. And this list can go on….!
I finish with a message and challenge to leaders and managers. Watch some of the footage from Chile and think about your role. Try to imagine yourself locked in with your team in a highly stressful (not necessarily life threatening) situation and think how you would react. How would you keep them on an even keel?What do you need to learn and develop to ensure you behave for the benefit of your team? Now, take away the emergency situation and keep hold of that learning, allow those same qualities, strengths and abilities to come to the fore – all the time, if you can. Then, you will be able to ‘step up to the plate’ when needed.