On Leadership – Peter Lougheed and Luis Urzua (Part 2)

Luis Urzua is the 54 year old shift commander who was trapped underground in Chile, with 32 co-workers, for 69 days.  What does it mean to be a “leader” in such circumstances?  Urzua and his co-workers and their circumstances have been described extensively, if not in depth.

First of all, cut off from the world, and as hope dimmed (before contact was reestablished) the title of “shift commander” meant nothing.  Urzua was leader because his co-workers trusted him in the first moment of crisis.  They trusted him on the basis of a close working relationship that was authentic.  The trust was maintained because he had experience, skill, and a prudent outlook that wasn’t daunted by the unknown.  He knew enough to know that he didn’t know enough, and he explored, but carefully.

Second, he knew that everyone had to be respected, everyone had to play a leadership role, and hope had to be maintained, not simply with words or body language, but with a commitment to the future.  For example, he limited 48 hours worth of rations so that they lasted more than two weeks.  He had an informal title for many of the men, with the expectation that they would play a corresponding role – spiritual guide, medical monitor, communications co-ordinator, and so on.  Leadership was distributed.

Urzua is credited with being level-headed, with a gentle sense of humour.  A co-worker who was not among the trapped described Urzua in this way:  “He is very protective of his people and obviously loves them.”  He was not going to leave the weak and wounded behind.  He was going to bring every worker home.  Leadership was not only competent.  It was not only selfless; it was very mindful of others.  As Urzua said of his colleagues:  “This is a group with different personalities and manners of being.  They’re different characters.”  He knew them as persons.  He could draw out their strengths and protect against their weaknesses.  As he said, “All the workers fulfilled their roles.”

It is likely the case that Urzua was responsible, more than any other single miner, for the success of the rescue.  He maintained a sense of order, primarily by promoting self-discipline.  He maintained group unity and, for everyone, a sense of individual purpose.  Yet, when he arrived at the surface, he credited majority decision-making for their survival.  Every important decision was put to a vote, after a discussion that listened to every voice.  Said Urzua, “you just have to speak the truth and believe in democracy.”

That’s leadership!

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One Response to “On Leadership – Peter Lougheed and Luis Urzua (Part 2)”

  1. Judi Says:

    Thank you for sharing these two perspectives. You’ve been around long enough to remember back when Peter Lougheed was elected and you’ve been able to tell me some things about Urzua that I didn’t know either. Thanks too for connecting the dots.

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