Few, if any of us, will ever experience the harrowing ordeal the 12 young players of the Wild Boars soccer team in Thailand experienced these last few weeks. For 18 days, the team survived near dehydration, starvation and rising flood waters in a desolate cave complex in Northern Thailand after a team-building exercise led by their 25-year-old coach went dangerously awry.
While millions marveled at the magnitude and complexity of the rescue mission, others questioned the young coach's decision to take his players into the cave in the first place. Officials and family members have been quick to dismiss the criticism, reminding skeptics that it was the coach's leadership that helped the team stay alive long enough for aid to come.
Entrepreneurs and businesses can learn a lot about leadership from this remarkable story.
Leaders are not meant to be perfect. They will falter and make mistakes -- in some cases, monumental mistakes. They're human, after all. But it's a leader's ability to acknowledge and learn from his mistakes while inspiring confidence in the people he serves that are the hallmarks of great leadership.
Coach "Ek," as the young Thai coach is known by friends and teammates, may have made the biggest misstep of his life when he led those boys into that cave. But he also exhibited strength, courage and resiliency when the team needed it most. Here's what all leaders can learn from him.
Keep calm under pressure.
It'd be easy to lose one's cool under such a trying circumstance like the one the Wild Boars found themselves in. But when things get tense, that's when staying calm is most important.
Because of his extensive Buddhist training and meditation practice, Coach Ek was able to keep himself and the boys steady while help arrived. "In the cave, he taught the boys how to meditate so they could pass the time without stress," a monk from the monastery where Coach Ek serves as a custodian told The New York Times. "That helped save their lives."
Indeed, when expert cave divers found the team 10 days after their disappearance, the boys were gathered together meditating. They weren't frantic or crying. In fact, the divers remarked, the boys appeared to be in good spirits.
It's just as easy for a leader to become rattled, say, in a financial shake-up, merger or PR crisis. Leaders set the tone in a crisis and can either inspire or disappoint those under their charge.
Own your mistakes.
Strong leaders acknowledge their mistakes and look to set things right. They accept responsibility for their actions and make amends to those who have been impacted.
While in the cave, the young coach sent out a note with Thai Navy divers apologizing to the boys' parents for having led the team astray. His words appeared sincere and he reassured the parents he would take care of the children.
"I promise I will care for the kids as best as possible," he wrote in a note that was published by ABC News. "I want to say thanks for all the support and I want to apologize to the parents."
See it through to the end.
The Wild Boars' 18-day saga ended Tuesday when divers from the Royal Thai Navy extracted the last five members of the team from the treacherous confines of the cave. The last person to exit the cavern was Coach Ek.
Now, that may seem like common sense. But common sense is not common practice. One need look no further than our leaders in Washington for evidence of this.
Simon Sinek, author of Leaders Eat Last, says leaders should put themselves second to their employees because "it creates an environment of trust and cooperation."
"When the people in the organization believe, to the core of their being, that their leader would sooner sacrifice their own interest to take care of them and their growth, the natural biological reaction is trust and cooperation," Sinek says in this interview.
Perhaps this is why Coach Ek commanded such respect and cooperation from his young players. Nopparat Khanthawong, the team's head coach, told the New York Times that Coach Ek had "even withheld food and water from himself" choosing instead to give his rations to the boys.
"He would rather die than lose a single Wild Boar," Nopparat told a reporter. "That's the kind of person he is."