Leadership development in extreme conditions

Wednesday 13 th October 2010 will be set in the memory as the day that the last of the Chilean miners were winched to the surface, watched by the world’s media. The events at the San José mine near Copiapó were beamed live across the globe, as the 33 trapped miners escaped their dark underground prison.

The rescue mission, a triumph of engineering collaboration, has received extensive coverage but the human story of what happened underground has yet to fully emerge. Many questions remain to be answered. How did the group cope in the first two weeks when all hope of rescue appeared to be fading? Which individuals came to the fore as leaders in these extreme conditions? A lot will be learned by those who lived through this experience. This truly was an experiential learning event.

Experiential learning, or learning-by-doing, has been used for many years by training company Righttrack Consultancy as a highly effective tool for leadership development and leadership training. Under normal training conditions, participants of experiential learning are fully immersed within live situations that are specifically designed to parallel work-life situations and surface the participant’s true development needs. The purposely constructed scenarios are as true to life as possible. A team being trapped down a mine and trying to escape is an often used scenario. So, as more detail comes out about the Chilean miners, it will be fascinating to learn who emerged as a leader in this crisis and how they behaved facing what can only be described as the worst-case scenario.

Jon Davies , Righttrack Consultancy’s Interim International Business Development & Marketing Manager, comments:

“I have massive respect for the achievements of the leaders of the Chilean Miners, particularly in the first two weeks of their entombment when it appeared all hope was lost.   Leading a group that were literally ‘in the dark’ about whether they would be rescued or would face a slow lingering death must be the most extreme experience of someone’s life.   They appeared to get down to basics pretty fast, with a plan which included life’s essentials like food, water, shelter and hygiene as well as exploring options for escape.   From the note that was passed to the surface, when the rescuers finally broke through to the gloomy world below, it appeared that group morale and cohesiveness had also been maintained.  

In such extreme circumstances it is almost inevitable that conflicts will arise, as individuals face a possible life-ending situation. I would not be surprised to hear, in the coming days, of disputes emerging in those early days. However, to come out of this horrendous and life-changing experience as one united group speaks volumes about both the miners and their leaders.

The Chilean miners experience will vividly bring to life some of Righttrack’s experiential learning scenarios for leadership development.”

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