When leadership matters. The case of the Chilean miners

Sometimes leadership matters in an obvious life or death way.  The Chilean miners are a case in point. Anyone brought up in a mining community will know why

Tudor Rickards

The stark facts of a human crisis have been told around the world.  One journalist confronted the possibility that his own profession might look for the greatest possible human interest angle in the story, as in the classic Billy Wilder movie.

The story hardly needs embellishing. A mining accident occurs half a mile underground.  At first, the local community fears the worse while hoping for the best. Families of miners have memories of the outcomes of earlier disasters.  In South Wales when I was growing up, the mine’s alarm bell was as significant as the tolling of a church bell or a trumpet-call in other communities. Our poets and writers helped create and recreate our images of fear and heroism.  When you start from that understanding you also begin to understand how miners can survive psychologically  after days or weeks on entombment. You can also understand a little why miners have such a strong social bond, and a bloody-minded determination to keep fighting to the bitter end in an industrial dispute.

All in a day’s work

A ‘normal’ day’s work occurs under conditions hard to imagine with experiencing some analogous claustrophobia-inducing conditions.  But that normality has already helped a group of 33 men come to terms with what has happened.  Stark realism and conditioned responses come together, and maybe keep in denial being overwhelmed with dread.  Maybe, just maybe, a group of experienced potholers would be the closest approximation of skills and attitudes of survival value.   Another might be sub-mariners.  A Radio 5 news item intelligently seized on that possibility. Yes, there are similarities, their interviewee said, but at least we had volunteered to be together in a confined space for weeks on end.  But so have miners, if we set aside the level of free choice in a mining community to be either a front-line miner of part of the support staff.

Situation report

The rescue plan is fraught with difficulties, but a clear overview was provided by the BBC:

The plan to rescue the 33 men trapped 700m (2,300ft) underground in the San Jose copper mine in Chile is a complex undertaking that could take engineers until the end of the year to achieve.

In a similar operation in 2002, American rescuers spent two days drilling a hole just wide enough to fit a man to rescue nine miners trapped underground. The Americans had to drill down just 74m. By comparison, the plan to rescue the 33 men in Chile nearly three quarters of a kilometre underground is a much greater challenge. But, says John Urosek, who took part in the 2002 Quecreek mine rescue in Pennsylvania, it is not “mission impossible.”

“I would put this at the tough end of things. It’s not mission impossible but it’s a difficult mission,” says Mr Urosek who is now chief of mine emergency operations for the US Mine Safety and Health Administration. The key to the operation is the use of a specialist drilling machine, designed to bore deep narrow holes through any rock to a depth of just over a kilometre.

There are numerous uncertainties and requirements for precision-engineering. The technical side has echoes of the on-going BP attempts to ‘drill and fill’ the well in the Gulf of Mexico. Leadership above and below ground will be vital.  Above ground all the skills of project management will need to be deployed.  There are additional ‘interface skills’ already evidenced in the supplies provisioned through the tiny bore-hole, and communication systems being set up.  Underground, the leadership influences will be revealed over time.  It is likely to have a strongly emergent and distributed aspect to it.

3 Responses to When leadership matters. The case of the Chilean miners


    This website is higly educative. It gives insight into the current issues affecting the world.

  2. Gilberto Scislewski Filho says:

    Well, I believe there are two kinds of leadership to be approached at this particular event: First of all, is the extraordinary leader who is keeping sanity of the group underground. Be sound under such unpredictable rescue is something that really makes a leader come up. This is the situation where the strong leaders are forged.
    As for the second kind, it is necessary to identify the leader who let a sequence of facts happen to achieve such a disaster. The lack of thecnical information suggests a failure. The matter is not about who to guilt for the event but could it be avoided by anyone? A leader must trust his team skills even more when there are lives involved.

  3. Dheyaa says:

    September 12 , Born of new leader Die of old ideology
    Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Turkish pronunciation: [ɾeˈdʒep tajˈjip ˈæɾdoan]; born February 26, 1954) is a Turkish politician, a former mayor of Istanbul and the Prime Minister of the Republic of Turkey since 14 March 2003. He is also the chairman of the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti), which holds a majority of the seats in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey.[1]
    Erdoğan , a modernizer , visionary leader who mange to lead Turkey toward modernize the political and social institutions in it is way to come closer to the European standards and practices in preparation to join the EU.
    Within short period as a prime minster (from March 2003) , he mange to build a strong public opinion and gather supporting to his vision to change Turkey from a Military guardianship with a coup constitution to a modern democracy.
    He is a participant leader , ” We will guide this country together. Today we are here, tomorrow you could be” [2] this is one of the leader characteristics which build strong trust with people under his leadership , which eventually helped Erdogan in gathering supporting opinion for the proposed constitutional amendments.
    By winning the constitutional referendum [3] we can see a clear test of his map , it shows his success in convincing people to give their support to change to democracy after 87 years of Kemalism [4] (a civilian government under a military tutelage – referring to Turkey Father of republic – Mustafa Kemal Atatürk [5]).
    The constitutional amendments contain multi dimensional change – social – political – justice – economical – legal . this will mean a great pressure on Erdogan to implement this changes and on the succeeding leaders to sustain the change.
    I believe all of us need Erdogan change mentality and perseverance , it does not matter if we live or work in style that was here for the last 30+ years we should start the change and initiate the process of looking for better conditions for yourself and the people around you.
    This is one of the most needed quality of today’s leaders. We could see this kind of people any were – Business , Family , Politics, Educational Institutions ….

    [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recep_Tayyip_Erdo%C4%9Fan
    [2] http://www.todayszaman.com/tz-web/news-221612-101-speech-by-prime-minister-recep-tayyip-erdogan-after-referendums-outcome-announced.html

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