Three years ago, when a cave-in at the San José mine in Chile trapped 33 men under 700,000 metric tons of rock, experts estimated the probability of getting them out alive at less than 1%. Yet, after spending a record 69 days underground, all 33 were hoisted up to safety. The inspiring story of their rescue is a case study in how to lead in situations where the stakes, risk, and uncertainty are incredibly high and time pressure is intense. Today executives often find themselves in similar straits. When they do, many feel torn. Should they be directive, taking charge and commanding action? Or should they be empowering, enabling innovation and experimentation? As the successful example of André Sougarret, the chief of the mine rescue operation, shows, the answer is yes--to both. The choice is a false dichotomy. Implementing this dual approach involves three key tasks. Each has directive and enabling components. The first task is envisioning, which requires instilling both realism and hope. The second task is enrolling, which means setting clear boundaries for who is on and off the team, but inviting in helpful collaborators. The third task is engaging--leading disciplined execution while encouraging innovation and experimentation. The authors of this article describe how Sougarret ably juggled all of these tasks, orchestrating the efforts of hundreds of people from different organizations, areas of expertise, and countries in an extraordinary mission that overcame impossible odds.
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