5 Critical Leadership Lessons: The Thai Soccer Team Rescue

by Nancy Eberhardt

Earlier this summer, we all read and watched the rescue of the boys soccer team stranded in the depths of a cave in Thailand. As the story unfolded, no one knew if saving the boys was even possible. Their dire circumstances included cultural, language and procedural differences; severe logistical and environmental challenges; and the stakes were literally life-or-death. And yet, they were rescued—a mission that exemplified success through tremendous crisis. So how and why did they succeed when organizational leadership fails at crisis management all the time?

I have some ideas. And you can use them to help your organization navigate its next inevitable crisis. Here are my five critical takeaways from the story:

1. The Outcome Outweighs the Ego

SEALs from several countries contributed to the rescue. As the world’s most high-functioning teams, they are the ultimate experts in underwater search and rescue, and in this case, their expertise equaled success. Despite different backgrounds, perhaps contradictory training, language barriers, and likely very different perspectives and opinions, they were laser-focused on the task at hand and the requirements for success. There was no margin of error to allow for egos or other irrelevant distractions. This is teamwork at its optimal best.

In your own crisis, ask: What are the dynamics among your team? Whose ego is getting in the way at times of urgency and crisis?

2. Have a Plan, but be Agile

Rescuers were strategic in planning the effort down to the precise moment of execution. They planned for wait-times to allow both the rescued and rescuers to recover; they anticipated changes in weather and conditions in the cave; they provided the exact amount of support that would be helpful but not draining to resources; they set up safeguards along the way. And yet, when the weather forecast changed, they were prepared and able to adjust their timing for a better chance of success.

Ask: Do you have a current crisis plan in place? Have you considered multiple scenarios?

3. Focused Leadership

While accepting help from many other resources, the Thai Navy retained the leadership role throughout the effort. Too often, crisis management crumbles under the old adage about “too many cooks…”, or turf wars.  There must clear leadership, someone or a small team at the top managing the intake of information from multiple sources, making informed decisions based on facts, and communicating with the greater team or audience at large.

Ask: Who is your designated leadership team in a crisis? Do they have the necessary resources to make good decisions?

4. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

As the world watched, Thai government leaders delivered press conferences and provided regular updates. They knew people were watching and waiting for news; a void would have created panic. Their communications managed the world’s expectations and did not allow for false hope. They were clear about the risk and the potential for failure. And when the rescues – in stages – were successful, they provided immediate updates on the progress, and what to expect next and when.

Ask: Do you know who your audiences are? And do you know what they need to know?

5. Invite New Perspectives to the Table

On their recent press tour, the players and their coach explained how they selected who would be rescued first. Their decision was to send out the players who were farthest from home to give them a head-start on telling their families of their rescue. Perhaps it wouldn’t have mattered much who was rescued first or why. However, there is tremendous value in including the most critical stakeholders in the decision-making process. It allowed them to be a part of the successful outcome of the rescue operation, not just passive victims. And it demonstrates the power of teamwork to build compassion and respect. They wanted each other to make it to safety, not just themselves.

Ask: Who else should have a seat at the table? Who is most invested in the outcome?

Are you ready for the crisis challenges, known and unknown, which lie ahead? Executive coaching helps leaders work together to navigate change and realize success (read this Case Study).  Contact Nancy Eberhardt and Pathwise Partners today so you can feel confident in your future.


Nancy Eberhardt is an executive coach, CEO and owner of Pathwise Partners. Her book, Uncommon Candor, is published by ForbesBooks.

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