‘The 33’​ – Leadership Exemplified

Though not a movie buff, true stories always get my attention, and the movie ‘The 33’ was a snug fit in this category. I wasn’t sure of what to expect but as the plot unveiled, I developed a sense of awe and admiration towards the directorial prowess of Patricia Riggen. The story revolves around a collapse that occurred at the San Jose mine in Chile on August 5, 2010, which entombed 33 miners 2000 feet under for 69 days. A one of a kind quarantine.

While the movie exudes powerful leadership insights that helped these 33 men survive in the earth’s darkest depths, these approaches are highly pragmatic and can be utilized by every leader. Irrespective of titles and placement.

Be at the Helm – When disaster struck and reality was overwhelmingly agonizing, Mario (played by Antonio Banderas) mustered all his courage and held the fort. After leading the men to the ‘refuge’, along with another miner, Mario put his life on the line to check the condition of the ladder that connects the mine to the outside world. After a near encounter with death, he quickly analyzed the resources and amount of supplies that were available to his men – food and water for 3 days. The precision he exercised to divide the few cans of tuna, cookies, etc. among the 33 and stretch out the supplies for a couple of weeks is commendable. If not for this act of leadership, there would have been unwarranted brawls and likely, not all 33 would have survived.

Hope Against Hope – When a rock twice the size of the empire state building is the problem, the option of giving up will seem to have a firm grip on us. Albeit every leader is human, the ability to maintain poise amidst precarious circumstances and playing the role of a cheerleader is paramount. Don Lucho, the shift foreman was being an ambassador of negativity, spewing out words capable of destroying the final ounce of morale left in the men. Aware of their degenerating psyche, Mario said the following statements to his crew – “You are my brothers. We got to pull together to get out of here. I believe we will make it out of here because I choose to believe it, all 33 of us.” To some, this may sound cliché but perhaps, these words helped the miners see a ray of hope.

Collaborations are Key to Success – While Mario had an unprecedented task of keeping 33 men alive under highly non-conducive circumstances, Chilean government officials, especially the minister of mining, Laurence Golborne (played by Rodrigo Santoro) had an equally critical task at hand – the need for a viable rescue strategy. Laurence stepped out of his comfort zone to convince the Chilean government of the need for an intervention when the mining company wasn’t prepared to lead any rescue efforts. The rescue strategy that saved the 33 men was the result of timely collaborations with agencies around the world. Drilling technologies developed in various countries were utilized for this behemoth operation.

View Crisis as an Opportunity to Innovate – Most often than not, ‘innovate’ isn’t a word that reverberates amidst chaos. However, the Chilean government’s collaboration with NASA gave birth to the ‘Fenix’ capsule that extracted the miners. The capsule was built keeping in mind the numerous limitations at the site. To take the role of innovation a notch higher, 2 more capsules were built as back up. A sense of soul-deep determination to save the miners.

The movie has a joyous ending with all 33 miners reunited with their loved ones. It’s the leadership of a few good men that enabled the 33 miners to survive a tragedy of such gravity. Positively influencing people and helping them march towards solidarity, irrespective of the circumstances is a hallmark of true leadership.

During this unprecedented time, as a leader, what new flavor of leadership have you allowed your flock of sheep to enjoy? Would love to hear your thoughts.


Ranjith Abraham
Ranjith Abraham
Ranjith Abraham is a pharmaceutical professional focussed on patient safety through accurate labeling. He is also the songwriter/piano player for Miles Apart, a global musical endeavor that enables friends around the globe to collaborate and create music virtually. He believes in storytelling and in the mantra that no matter how trivial our offerings are, we must allow the recipients to define their worth. Though challenging, Ranjith is grateful for the opportunity to parent his son and daughter. Born and raised in India, he now lives with his wife and kids in Philadelphia. Ranjith draws inspiration to write from life lessons that are tucked away in the insignificant happenings around him. His passion for music/photography fuels creativity and helps him genuinely connect with people. A firm believer of the equation ‘Leadership = Servanthood’, Ranjith’s vision is to positively influence people so they can impact their world through timely and meaningful contributions.

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