Lessons in Leadership and the Thai Soccer team rescue
Vice President, Corporate Class Inc.
As news of the last soccer player and coach rescued from the cave in Thailand broke, the world breathed a sigh of relief to cheer this modern-day miracle. The story is one of community, strength, resilience and bravery. It demonstrates the power of mental and emotional agility and effective leadership, in times of crisis. Like most of you, I followed the story daily, praying for their safe return. I was in awe of the courage and positivity reflected in the photos of the rescued boys’ faces.
As I reflect on the high-risk mission, there are many leadership lessons that can be learned:
Community builds resilience
Knowing you are not alone is powerful. Although the rescue mission was described as “impossible,” the community and extensive search-and-rescue operation from various nations responded with a focus that demonstrated unity and brave solidarity. In the face of challenge, resilience was cultivated through a sense of community. The world watched as a makeshift village appeared at the rescue site. This created a safe space for people to problem solve, listen, learn together, share ideas, test assumptions and receive emotional support.
Community activates connection and builds courage to provide clarity and confidence. This creates collective resilience. The leader doesn’t need to have all the answers; the power is the team.
There is power in the mind-body connection
Experts have attributed the boys’ mental and emotional agility to meditation. Their coach encouraged mindfulness, inherent in meditation, to build their sense of calm and resilience.
Dr. Kristin Neff describes the power of mindfulness as, “taking a balanced approach to negative emotions so that feelings are neither supressed nor exaggerated. Mindfulness requires that we not over-identify with thoughts and feelings in a way that we get caught up and swept away by negativity.” By teaching the boys to meditate, the coach created a space where the team did not ignore their fear but addressed it, head on. Instead of being consumed by fear, they focused on what they could control, to create an emotional balance that enhanced their capacity to remain positive.
Leadership does not come with a playbook.
Leadership does not come with a playbook for every crisis that arises. The rescue team remained objective about the hard reality it faced and consistently demonstrated the capacity to work together. In times of crisis, emotions run high to often cloud judgement and decision-making.
As a leader, effective decision-making demands not being derailed by personal emotions. The ability to look past emotional biases and see situations objectively is key, to ensure focus and well thought-out, timely decisions.
Trust, compassion and empathy are the foundation
Effective leadership starts from within to bring the right balance of competence and humanity.
What do team members want to feel about their leader during times of uncertainty or crisis? Trust. Trust in knowing that when making decisions, the leader has their best interests at heart. The soccer team’s trust in its coach provided a sense of hope and future-focused confidence.
Faced with a potential tragedy, the boys’ parents could have lashed out in anger. Instead, they demonstrated empathy and compassion, with many parents crediting the 25-year-old coach, Ekkapol Ake Chantawong, for keeping their children calm and safe during 18 days underground. Although he proactively took accountability for his actions and apologized to the parents, this young man created an extraordinary culture of care. Sharing his food, teaching the boys to meditate and his eternal optimism instilled a psychologically safe environment. Coach Ake’s reassuring presence and confidence strengthened his team’s trust and confidence.
Rest and Recovery are key
For the rescue team, the high-risks surrounding the mission and weather conditions outside its control produced tremendous pressure. Experience and technical capabilities aside, the team members understood they needed to pace themselves to ensure they received the rest and recovery required to optimize performance.
The journey ahead…
Leadership is hard. Watching the past few weeks unfold has been full of fear, hope and inspiration. I want to praise every member of the rescue team, and those who risked their lives for stirring determination and bravery.
Given the potential health and psychological ramifications, the journey for the soccer team, coach and rescuers is far from over. I believe, however, that the collective resilience of the community will provide the strength and support they need to thrive.
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