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The spirit of a miner

Tom Wall Published on 07 December 2010


A month ago, much of the world watched as all 33 Chilean miners were rescued after being trapped half a mile underground for 69 days. After the collapse occurred in early August, it took rescuers 17 days to even find out that any of the miners were still alive. Initially, it was estimated that the rescue efforts wouldn’t take place until closer to Christmas. But now, two months later, all 33 have been brought to safety.

Although there are still a lot of details yet to be told, this survival story is nothing short of a miracle. For 17 days, these 33 men survived on a food supply that should have only lasted 48 hours. They carefully rationed the little food they had and made do with the substandard water found within the mine.

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So how did 33 trapped miners manage to maintain their sanity and survive underground for over two months? Was it luck, fate, science? I’d have to say it was probably a little of all three. But more than anything, I believe their survival was a result of faith and steady leadership.

Instead of losing hope in the possibility of being rescued, the team of miners managed to organize themselves and devise a plan to survive. Despite initial division and conflicts, the group of 33 pulled together and operated as one team.

Many agree that the strategic, disciplined leadership of the 43-year-old mine foreman, Luis Urzua, helped keep the trapped miners alive for the first two weeks. Instead of allowing his men to sit idle and sink into depression and despair, Urzua assigned 12-hour work shifts to occupy the men’s hands and minds. Keeping the men’s spirits up became his full-time job.

Witnessing a story like this makes me wonder: “How would I have reacted if that were me?” Although we probably shouldn’t put ourselves into hypothetical situations, this one is hard to resist.

Chances are, you are your team’s leader. When you find your team up against an incredible challenge, how do you organize and inspire them to work together and overcome all odds? Do you have the discipline and optimism needed to create a strategy and execute it?

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In the case of the 33 Chilean miners, it’s understandable that most of the men feared they’d never get out of the mine alive. Every day was met with uncertainty. No one in the mine, or above it, knew how this story was going to end.

And just like our difficult economic times and life in general, nobody knows the direction your journey is going to lead you in either. All you can do is plan for the best, keep working, lead the people that are counting on you, and most importantly, have faith. The rest isn’t up to you. PD

Tom Wall

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