Plane rides can be good for reading and that is what I did this week on my way back from Seattle. I have always been fascinated by reputational crises and how leaders manage through them strategically and creatively. In the most Harvard Business Review, I found a wonderfully insightful review of Lessons Learned from the Chilean Mine Rescue. The guidance is invaluable and I highly recommend the article in its entirety. As you may recall along with the other one billion people tuning in, in the summer of 2010, the San Jose copper and gold mine in Chile’s Atacama Desert fell in, thereby trapping 33 miners underground for 69 days .
The three Harvard-affiliated authors traveled to Chile after the miners were rescued and developed two case studies on the mining incident. They identified three key iterative tasks that need to happen in order for leaders to manage the conflicting demands placed upon them when crises arise and chaos reigns. And this was a disaster of extreme proportions. One of the clear lessons learned was that crisis-engaged leaders have to carefully balance between being decisive and directive and on the other hand, giving the crisis team the opportunity to ask questions, disagree, experiment with solutions and be creative. The three tasks, according to authors’ Faaiza Rashid, Amy Edmondson and Herman Leonard, are Envision, Enroll and Engage. Here are brief summaries of each one.
- Envision — Leaders have to be realistic and clear-eyed and yet also provide hope and possibility.
- Enroll — Leaders must enroll experts and highly skilled advisors but set boundaries so they do not lose sight of the end goal. They must remind people of what’s at stake and make sense of it all for the team. Interestingly, the article points out that leaders also have to keep the people who are not helpful or whose expertise is not needed right then and there away from the crisis scene or war room. The crisis team needs to not be distracted from their work.
- Engage — This is the stage where execution is critical and the work has to get done. They have to be disciplined and yet open to innovation at the same time. They have to invite learning while the work comes to its conclusion.
In their concluding paragraph, the authors sum it all up….”Leaders must develop a healthy tolerance for failure and ambiguity….” The ambiguity and balance required of leaders in crisis could not have been more apparent than during this crisis. Everyone’s reputation was on the line as well as the lives of the Los 33.