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Michael Useem: A Leadership Checklist

In 2010, the Copiapó mine in Chile collapsed and trapped 33 miners. Wharton professor Michael Useem talks about leadership lessons from how Chile's Minister of Mines Laurence Golborne navigated the crisis.
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Video Transcript

00:07 Michael Useem: Pilots, for 80 years, have had a check-list. They certainly checked the fuel, the flight plan, the weight, they hydraulics...

Wharton professor Michael Useem says business leaders also need checklists, to see themselves through critical decisions.

In an interview with Inc. editor Eric Schurenberg, Useem used the 2010 Chilean mine collapse as an example.

The rescue's reluctant leader was the newly appointed minister of mines, Laurence Golborne.

00:30 Useem: Lawrence Golborne had been a retail executive.

00:32 Eric Schurenberg: He had no mining experience.

00:33 Useem: Zero. He was an engineer by background, but definitely not a mining engineer. Eleven o'clock at night, August 5th, 2010, he looks at his BlackBerry and there was a message from his chief of staff saying there's been a mining cave-in in the Northern Chilean dessert, 33 miners. That was it.

Laurence Golborne arrived at the Copiapo mine on August 7, 2010, two days after the collapse.

His first task was to tell the families there was little hope of finding the miners alive.

01:03 Useem: They began to audibly sob. At which point, Lawrence Golborne himself, loses control of his voice. But -- and this was the turning point -- one of the wives near the back of the tent shouts out, "Minister Golborne, you've got to hold it together. If you can't hold it together, we're all lost."

01:25 Schurenberg: Wow!

01:25 Useem: At that point, he says in effect, "You're right. I've got to pull it together and given all the circumstances here, I'm not a mining manager or an engineer. I don't own this place, but as Minister of Mines, 20 million people in Chile are going to expect me to get involved. The families certainly want me to be involved, and I'm probably the only person around who can bring resources in, mining equipment from Australia and the US to put together a rescue package." So a quick summary point there, it really is a statement about anybody's leadership. If you're in the position to make a difference, and probably more in a position to make a difference than anybody else, don't hesitate to take charge, even if you're not wanting take charge.

02:16 Schurenberg: That is one of the items on the checklist.

02:19 Useem: Absolutely.

02:20 Schurenberg: What other items did you say in this case he checked off?

02:23 Useem: Think Jack Welch had GE, think Steve Jobs had Apple, we tend to look at these great figures for the enormous impact they had on the world. But an item on the checklist is that if you're leading more than just about nothing, you can't do it yourself. You've got to pull together a team. You want people who are a little bit different from you -- you don't want you replicated -- you really got to work that team and work through that team. And Golborne, by the way, did exactly that.

Golborne brought in a team of people to aid in the process, including a media liaison, doctors and mining experts.

03:00 Useem: Really, just to come back to the main point, anybody's checklist, you're a leader, you've got to think about what you bring to the table equally you've got to bring a lot of other people to the table who can work all those problems.

03:13 Schurenberg: But what do they say are the things they most often leave off in their own presentations, their own leadership?

03:17 Useem: Number one -- and this is the top item on the checklist -- talk your vision, talk your strategy and talk how you're going to make that happen. Call that execution. When it comes to leadership, you've got to view these principles or the lack of their expression, not through the eyes of the person delivering, but the people who're receiving leadership.

03:41 Schurenberg: Is there one... If you had to boil it down to one?

03:46 Useem: If you ask yourself what kind of a person do you want to work with? Who do you want at the top of your organization? You want somebody who can think strategically, who can communicate persuasively and who can decide decisively. Put those together, I think you're getting pretty far along. I think with that, people are going to take a look and probably decide to go in your direction.

All 33 miners were rescued on October 13, 2010.

Last updated: May 17, 2012

ERIC SCHURENBERG | Staff Writer | Editor-in-chief, Inc.

Eric Schurenberg is the president and editor-in-chief of Inc. Before joining Inc, Eric was the editor of CBS MoneyWatch.com and BNET.com and managing editor of Money Magazine. As a writer, he is a winner of a Loeb and a National Magazine Award.




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