Researcher Unearths Business Lessons from Chilean Miners

Don’t be surprised if you see a Chilean miner or two ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange sometime soon. Apparently, life underground was more like a corporate board meeting than an episode of "Survivor."

That’s the finding of a business professor who studied the miners’ experience and has determined that American corporations could learn a lot from how the 33 Chilean miners and the company they worked for handled the crisis.

The biggest takeaways are that leadership does not always come from the top down and everyone in a company has something to contribute.

“Corporate America has a lot to learn from the Chilean miners,” said Ron Dufresne, assistant professor of management at Saint Joseph’s University who followed the media coverage of the miners and drew his conclusions based on researching the available information on how the company handled the crisis. “One critical takeaway from this experience is the power of vulnerability,” he added. “Leadership happens because of vulnerability.”

By “vulnerability,” Dufresne means that the mine owner, the San Esteban Mining Company, was willing to acknowledge that they did not have all the answers and reached out to the world for help.

“The thing that stands out to me is the fact that this is a highly technical company, but when disaster struck, the senior leaders were open to being vulnerable and realized they needed help and asked for it,” Dufresne told BusinessNewsDaily. “The people that saved the day came from around the world. Senior leaders realized they didn’t have all the answers and that is a more powerful form of leadership than what we’re used to seeing.”

Dufresne said this shared leadership model could and should be adopted by companies large and small because it allows them to capitalize on the strengths of many, rather than operating in an environment where each part of a company has a special set of skills and doesn’t encourage input from others.

The miners experience also served as a lesson in the importance of listening to the customer. In this case, the miners themselves were the customers and their input was essential in ensuring a positive outcome, which in this case, was their very survival.

“What did these miners know about how to operate the rescue mission or about getting the holes drilled?” Dufresne asked. “Probably not too much, but they were experts at knowing what they needed and that was just as important as how to get the hole drilled. The officials really needed to trust what the miners were saying. Rarely do companies do as good a job of listening to customers.”

Perhaps the most important lesson of the mine is that leadership should be shared and based on each individual’s skills, Dufresne said.

“During their time underground, the men divided themselves into groups. Each group had an appointed leader who communicated with relief efforts above ground. The men depended on each other’s strengths for additional leadership. One miner offered spiritual support, another coordinated work schedules, one rationed food supplies and another managed communications,” Dufresne said.

This article was provided by BusinessNewsDaily, a sister site to LiveScience.