Bob Sutton on Luis Urzua, the Trapped Miners and Leadership

Trapped Miners Rescue-San Jose Mine, Copiapo, ...Image by DigitalGlobe-Imagery via FlickrVia Work Matters from one of our favorite authors, Bob Sutton:

I first wrote this post on September 6th.  I am highlighting it today to celebrate the rescue and to show some of the nuances of Luis Urzua’s impressive leadership.

When people ask me for one sentence summary of a great boss, I answer “He or she promotes both performance and humanity, and strikes a healthy balance between the two when trade-offs are necessary.”   In Good Boss, Bad Boss, I quote a cool 2008 American Psychologist article by Mark Van Vugt, Robert Hogan, and Robert Kaiser who, after examining descriptions of admired and effective leaders in settings ranging from ancient human tribes to modern corporations and sports teams, conclude the best leaders are both “competent and benevolent.”

In light of this perspective, I am intrigued with reports (see here and here, for example) about 54 year-old foreman Luis Urzua and the impressive steps he is taking to oversee, organize, protect, and tend to the emotional needs of the 33 men trapped in the mine in Chile — a group that faces months trapped underground.  Urzua kept the men alive by immediately rationing food (two spoonfuls of tuna and a glass of milk every 48 hours for each man), which enabled them to survive and to avoid dysfunctional conflict until food started arriving through a small hole drilled be rescuers — a crucial move because none the miners had run out of food 48 hours before despite the rationing.  Uruza has organized the underground space (he is a skilled topographer) into a work area, sleeping facility, and so on, and is keeping the men on 12 hour shifts by using the headlights of trucks in the mine to simulate daylight.  He not only needs to keep the group healthy and focused to survive the ordeal, he  needs to stay in control because, under some rescue scenarios, the men will need to remove many tons of rocks to help with their own rescue operations.
There is no doubt that he “has his people’s backs,” that he will do whatever is possible to protect them.  One way that good leaders protect their people is by limiting outside intrusion, and you could see this mindset when he urged experts to keep the medical conference call short because “We have lots of work to do.”

This is clearly an extreme situation, and you could argue that parts of it don’t transfer well to the mundane organizational settings where most us work.  But I do think that extreme situations sometimes bring into focus what human groups need to thrive in terms of both performance and well-being, and what the best leaders do to help make that happen.  Indeed, I gleaned the five elements of the mindset of great bosses — being just assertive enough, grit, small wins, avoiding power poisoning (and being aware that followers are watching the boss very closely), having people’s backs largely from research and cases in ordinary and mundane settings.

Read the whole thing here.

The last man to be rescued after 60 days plus of being trapped underground in Chile’s San Jose mine is you guess it, foreman Luis Urzua.

NYT Review on Condi’s book: "rarely a hair out of place"

Condoleezza Rice - World Economic Forum Annual...Image by World Economic Forum via FlickrYou know, of course, that the former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, also known as 66th  has written a memoir, “Extraordinary, Ordinary People A Memoir of Family” (342 pages. Illustrated. Crown Archetype. $27), right?   NYT’s Dwight Garner has written a review of the book in its Books of The Times. Excerpt below:

For all this, “Extraordinary, Ordinary People” is often aloof. There are few unguarded moments, little humor. There’s rarely a hair out of place. (She does talk about several of her boyfriends over the years, including, in the mid-1970s, the Denver Broncos kick returner Rick Upchurch.) Like so many public figures and those in government and politics especially, Ms. Rice is not especially reflective. Her energy is directed out, not in.

It’s frustrating. Here’s a woman, you think, who has been secretary of state and provost of Stanford University. During the fall of the Berlin Wall, she was George H. W. Bush’s adviser on Soviet policy. Her doctoral dissertation was published by Princeton University Press. Surely there’s a keen and kaleidoscopic mind in there. But that mind is rarely apparent in this softly flowing book. Reading it, from the perspective of ideas and intellect, is like watching a Toyota Prius compete in the Indianapolis 500.
“Extraordinary, Ordinary People” follows Ms. Rice to the University of Denver, where she studied international politics with the former Czech diplomat Josef Korbel, the father of Madeleine Albright. Korbel would become the first of her many influential mentors, who would come to include Brent Scowcroft, George H. W. Bush’s national security adviser, and George Shultz, secretary of state under Ronald Reagan.

This book takes us through her years at the National Security Council under Mr. Scowcroft and her disputatious tenure as the Stanford provost, where she slashed budgets and alienated much of the faculty. Ms. Rice skims quickly over both of these periods. Much fuller accounts can be found in the New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller’s comprehensive biography, “Condoleezza Rice: An American Life” (2007).
The most ringing line here may belong to Barbara Bush, then first lady, who said to Ms. Rice as she was preparing to leave the White House to return to Stanford: “You are such a good friend of the Bushes. This won’t be the last we see of you.”

Active links added above.  Read the whole thing here.


See SPOT run. Run SPOT run. Um, sorry SPOT can’t run and count…

A spotted dog from Kalimpong, West Bengal, India.Image via WikipediaThat SPOT is not a dog, unfortunately, or the results might be altogether different.

SPOT is Synchronized Predeployment and Operational Tracker (SPOT). Quite a mouthful, yeah?

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released  its report on Iraq And Afghanistan: DOD, State, and USAID Face Continued Challenges in Tracking Contracts, Assistance Instruments, and Associated Personnel

Quick highlights from the report:

The Departments of Defense (DOD) and State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have relied extensively on contracts, grants, and cooperative agreements for a wide range of  services in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, as GAO previously reported, the agencies have faced challenges in obtaining sufficient information to manage these contracts and assistance instruments.

As part of our third review under the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2008, as amended, GAO assessed the implementation of the Synchronized Predeployment and Operational Tracker (SPOT) and data reported by the three agencies for Afghanistan and Iraq for FY 2009 and the first half of FY 2010 on the (1) number of contractor and assistance personnel, including those providing security; (2) number of personnel killed or wounded; and (3) number and value of contracts and assistance instruments and extent of competition for new awards. GAO compared agency data to other available sources to assess reliability.

What GAO Found:

While the three agencies designated SPOT as their system for tracking statutorily required information in July 2008, SPOT still cannot reliably track information on contracts, assistance instruments, and associated personnel in Iraq or Afghanistan. As a result, the agencies  relied on sources of data other than SPOT to respond to our requests for information. The agencies’ implementation of SPOT has been affected by some practical and technical issues, but their efforts also were undermined by a lack of agreement on how to proceed, particularly on how to track local nationals working under contracts or assistance instruments. The lack of agreement was due in part to agencies not having assessed their respective information needs and how SPOT can be designed to address those needs and statutory requirements. In 2009, GAO reported on many of these issues and recommended that the agencies jointly develop a plan to improve SPOT’s implementation.

The three agencies reported to GAO that as of March 2010 there were 262,681 contractor and assistance personnel working in Iraq and Afghanistan, 18 percent of whom performed security functions. Due to limitations with agency-reported data, caution should be used in identifying trends or drawing conclusions about the number of personnel in either country. Data limitations are attributable to agency difficulty in determining the number of local nationals, low response rates to agency requests for data, and limited ability to verify the accuracy of reported data. For example, a State office noted that none of its Afghan grant recipients provided requested personnel data. While agency officials acknowledged not all personnel were being counted, they still considered the reported data to be more accurate than SPOT data.

Only State and USAID tracked information on the number of contractor and assistance personnel killed or wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan during the review period. State reported 9 contractor and assistance personnel were killed and 68 wounded, while USAID reported 116 killed and 121 wounded. Both agencies noted that some casualties resulted from nonhostile actions. DOD still lacked a system to track similar information and referred GAO to Department of Labor data on cases filed under the Defense Base Act for killed or injured contractors. As GAO previously reported, Labor’s data provide insights but are not a good proxy for the number of contractor casualties. (italics added)

DOD, State, and USAID obligated $37.5 billion on 133,951 contracts and assistance instruments with performance in Iraq and Afghanistan during FY2009 and the first half of FY2010. DOD had the vast majority of contract obligations. Most of the contracts were awarded during the review period and used competitive procedures. State and USAID relied heavily on grants and cooperative agreements and reported that most were competitively awarded.

In response to GAO’s 2009 report, DOD, State, and USAID did not agree with the recommendation to develop a plan for implementing SPOT because they felt ongoing coordination efforts were sufficient. GAO continues to believe a plan is needed to correct SPOT’s shortcomings and is not making any new recommendations.

Related item:
GAO October 2010 | Iraq And Afghanistan: DOD, State, and USAID Face Continued Challenges in Tracking Contracts, Assistance Instruments, and Associated Personnel